THIN SECRETS FOR SUCCESS no. 1: Put Yourself First

by Luann Udell
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 how to say “no” can help you say “yes” to your art.

 (5 minute read) (I had to put this in because someone complained repeatedly that my columns are way too long. So, you’ve been warned!)  :^D

Inspired by Lorie Parch’s article “Secrets of Thin People”. It’s been years, but the secrets still apply.

So here we are, Thin Secret No. 1:


Thin people can put themselves first.

People who have a hard time losing weight often put other people first. Then they find they have no time to exercise, no time eat right, or to prevent stress–which causes them to gain weight.

And people who want a successful business, have to do the same: They have to put their business first, and learn to say “no” to the demands of others.

It’s the same with the business side of our art.

When I start to feel like I have no time, all it takes is a quick look at my calendar to see where I’m “spending” it. A volunteer commitment here, board service there, a school project here, family commitment there. And sometimes a little “trim” is in order.

I’m not speaking about the delicate balance of having a rich family, social and professional life. I’m talking about the commitments we take on, with good intent, that end up be a distraction.

How do we know when that delicate balance is tipped? Simple. You don’t have time to make art or grow your business.

Is that always a bad thing? No. As human beings, we enter and leave different phases of our lives that call for constantly changing balance. Very young children and teens need a lot of time–the former because they keep trying to explore electrical sockets, the latter because they do the same with the “electrical sockets” of adult life. Other life demands intervene, and sometimes art and business have to take a back burner for awhile.

But when you constantly find yourself responding to everyone else’s crisis, and your own business suffers, it’s time to find a different fulcrum. (Aha! I KNEW physics would come in handy someday!) We once invited a couple we really liked for dinner. But they couldn’t come, because their cousin’s husband’s mother’s brother (or something like that) was having a birthday party.

Either it was one hell of an excuse to get out of having dinner with us, or they needed a new fulcrum, and fast.

When I was an at-home mom, I had many requests for my time. Possibly people perceived me as having “tons of time”–because I wasn’t really working, right?

But as my business grew, the requests continued. I was perceived as having tons of time because I worked out of my home. That seemingly infinite flexibility was interpreted as constant availability. (By me, too, I should hasten to add. I still find it hard to say no.)

Then when my business was more established, I still received many requests on my time–because I was perceived as “knowing how to be successful” and “having figured it all out”–and everyone wanted a piece of that.

And even now, as I reboot my biz and grow my audience on the West Coast, I still get such requests. I’m now part of an art community (loosely) and I’m (somewhat understandably) expected to support that community, often. (I actually did take on a huge project a couple years ago to do just that. After spending weeks on the project, a technical glitch made it all blow up in my face. And rather than saying ‘thank you’, many people made it clear they found it amusing to see yet another “naïve newcomer” take on such a project, and fail. (To the few people who were thankful, I am so grateful!) 

What makes it hard to say no is, many of these requests are made by worthy people for perfectly worthy causes. And it’s not wrong for them to ask.

But I have to be responsible about saying YES. Or NO.

Also, people have been very generous to me in this industry. It seems only fair to “give back”.

But ultimately, I have to come first.

Only I can make the work I do, to tell the story that’s my story. The art that’s in ME, I’m the only one that can let ‘er rip.

I’m learning to limit the one-on-one “giving back”. I now try to keep it to “one-to-many” model. That’s one reason I started a blog.

And why I joined the Arts Business Institute faculty for a year. And why I write a column for (the former) CraftsBusiness magazine, and now, the Fine Art Views newsletter. These are all ways of “giving back” to my community without feeling I have to constantly respond to requests for free consultation sessions. (It’s no coincidence that they also serve my desire to write, too!)

And as for larger commitments, well, sometimes before another door opens, a window has to close. Another commitment has to draw to a close before I take on another one.

But there’s another, less obvious corollary to this “put yourself first” secret. And that is: Only YOU can do what it takes to make yourself successful.

Parch quotes Anne Fletcher, a registered dietitian who wrote the book THIN FOR LIFE  (2003) which Parch based her article on.  Fletcher says, “When people take the reins (responsibility for their own weight loss), they realize that the solution to weight control is inside them, not in some magic potion or fad diet that their mother or sister is on.”

hmmmmmm……The secret of a successful diet. Doesn’t this sound like what I wrote last week?

Yes, there will be many times when life forces us to make different choices, to take on different priorities.

And yet….

Knowing when—and how—to say “no”, may be the biggest ‘secret’ to creating success for yourself with your art.

(Disclaimer: I’ve used the ideas in the “thin people” article only as a metaphor for other life goals we have, in this case, our art. And not to “lecture” anyone about losing weight. Because, well, look who’s talkin’ here!)

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Editor’s Note:

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Jewelers’ Tea! This Thursday!

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YES, this is last minute!

YES, because I forgot about it twice! And then forgot to let you know!

YES, I’ll be there! I will be talking about my ancient artifacts, and also my Roman Glass jewelry!

YES, there will be snacky thingies! And tea!

Please pass this on, and I hope to see you there!

(YES, there are a lot of !!!!! in this post!)

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I actually like this pic better, but there’s no information in it.

THIN SECRETS FOR BEING SUCCESSFUL: A Series of Small Strategies to Help You Get Big(ger)(ish)

My latest article on Fine Art Views, a daily email newsletter on growing your art career.

(Spoiler alert: The choices are small, but many. And you have to keep at it!)

Years ago, I sat on a panel of artists and crafts industry professionals, speaking on various issues and answering questions from the audience.

Near the end, an artist badgered me unmercifully, repeatedly asking me to reveal my marketing “secrets” for the entire audience to hear.

I felt extremely uncomfortable, even resentful, about the demands for several reasons.

First, I wasn’t even sure what was being asked. A list of all my marketing efforts for the past 18 months to promote my artwork? For the last 8 years? The efforts before or after 9/11, the dot com crash and the recession? Did they want to hear all my mistakes, too? Or just my successes? Did they want to hear what I learned? Or what I’m learning now?

How much time do you have?!

I was also frustrated because I had no context for the person asking the questions. I had no idea what their work is like, where they are now in their business plan (or if they even HAVE a business plan) and what they are willing to do to succeed. I had no idea what their personal, financial and professional goals are for their art/business. I had no idea who their market is and what they’ve done to target it or even identify it. How do I know what will be of use to someone else unless I understand where they’ve been, where they are now, and where they want to go?

Finally, I was confused by the assumption that I’ve figured it all out and can neatly box it up and simply give it to someone else. I’m still learning, changing, growing as an artist. I have no idea if I’m even thinking the right way about MY marketing plan. How on earth do I put all this in context for THEM?

But I also felt vaguely guilty. After all, wasn’t the panel discussion a culmination of an entire weekend doing just that?–helping others take their next step by sharing my own experiences and learning? Hadn’t I already mentored a number of people here, and at previous conferences, offering insights and advice freely? Don’t I do that daily with my blog, in my magazine articles, and in other professional development classes I teach?

So why was I feeling intense resistance to this artist’s demands?

I’m been thinking about why these scenarios seemed so vastly different, why I would respond wholeheartedly in one instance and clam up in another.

The next day, as I ate breakfast, I read an article about long-term weight loss in the April 2006 issue of REAL SIMPLE magazine. The article was called “Secrets of Thin People” by Lorie Parch. And I had my “aha” moment.

The demanding person was asking me for my “secret diet” for losing weight.

And I don’t HAVE a secret diet for losing weight.

What I DO have is results from deciding from time to time that I needed to change the daily choices I make in my diet, my activities and my attitude–to achieve a different outcome in my life.

What I feel comfortable sharing is how I got from a person who constantly made unhealthy choices, to a person who (periodically) will make consistent, healthier choices–which, as a consequence, RESULTS in me being thinner. (Er….now and then.)

I still don’t actually diet nor are all my choices perfect even now. But I’ve been successful in MODIFYING many of my choices slightly over a long period of time. And when I make those modifications, the side effects are, I lose weight, I get more fit, I lower my blood sugar and cholesterol to within healthy limits, and I walk/talk/carry myself, and care for myself, differently.

(The ONLY physical “shortcut” I’ve taken through the years is, brilliant red hair. Better living through chemicals and all that.)

I’ll share some of the professional, artistic and emotional changes I made years ago that got me where I am today professionally (with apologies to Ms. Parch for using her article for the structure.)

But for today, rest assured there are no “secrets”, no insider information that is being systematically withheld from you.

I know it feels like that sometimes…. It feels like other people KNOW what to do and when to do it.

But that’s not the case.

Success in the arts, like any other success in life, means staying the course. Staying with one course of action until it has a chance to provide results.

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One thing that helps you achieve success is getting better at what you do. â

But also recognizing when to switch because it isn’t working for YOU.It means making daily choices, often small choices, that eventually… EVENTUALLY lead to big results.

Because, just like losing weight is an END RESULT of making many different, healthier life choices, being successful is an END RESULT of making many different, “healthier” artistic, professional and personal choices.

 

 

GRATITUDE

Take a tiny moment to say ‘thank you’, and count your blessings!

I’m an artist. And as an artist, my first responsibility is to make my art. It’s what restores me to my better self, makes me whole and centered. I make it for myself, first.

I know this first-hand, and many good friends remind me of this constantly. For example, the one who sent me a card with this quote:

People like you must create.

If you don’t create, Luann, you will become a menace to society.

(the note also says, “With apologies to Maria Semple, author of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”. See last paragraph in Part 3.”) (Thanks and a hat tip to Amy Helen Johnson!) (Yes, I bought the book.)

Our second responsibility is to put it out in the world. We mostly interpret this as selling our art, and making a living with our art. Some fortunate, hardworking few can do this. But walking away from the work of our heart, simply because we can’t sell it, is  hurtful. (See “first responsibility”, above.)

There are lots of ways to get our work out into the world. If you make art, you can make it, share it, give it away, sell it, exhibit it, teach it, collaborate with it, write about it, donate it, etc. etc. The same with writing. The internet makes this almost effortless.

Yes, selling is wonderful–unless you get caught up in the selling, to the exclusion of everything else. Vincent Van Gogh’s work was only sold to his brother. (Do you have 3 minutes? Watch this heartbreakingly powerful snippet of a video about this.) (I dare you not to tear up.) And ironically, the most commercially successful artist of our time seems to have lost everything of value in a life dedicated to fame and fortune.

Somerwhere in the middle is where I’d like to end up.

So I recently stepped up my game in regard to selling. This came after realizing I was struggling to sell a $24 pair of earrings to a casual visitor in my studio. Realizing that one gallery hadn’t sold one single piece of my work in a year. Reflecting that most of my out-of-state galleries were struggling to sell my work.  A local gallery that reached out to represent me, finally said they love love love my work (another line that’s fun, but not my “heart” work) just wasn’t selling, and they needed to set me free.

I felt like a failure. (Hey! 2017 was a weird year!)

Then I realized, why should I focus on making $24 earrings??? Why should I base my definition of success on income alone? Why was I falling for the same emotional/spiritual/inaccurate measuring stick I constantly counsel and warn artists against????

So…I upped my game.

I cleared my studio of the fun-but-inexpensive work, focused on the work of my heart.

I realized that just because I’m now writing weekly for an art marketing newsletter doesn’t mean I’m off the hook with my blog.

I reevaluated, recentered, and refocused on my biggest vision for my art. And I cleaned house on my Etsy site, and focused on the work I have on hand, my best work, and moved forward.

I decided to make the work that makes me happy, and not the work I think I can sell.

What happened?

Another gallery in the same town as the one that cut me loose, took on my work two weeks. And they’ve already made a sale.

The gallery in Santa Rosa has been selling steadily, and it just keeps getting better and better.

A gallery that hadn’t sold any of my work in a year, sold a MAJOR PIECE. And another big (for me) piece the same day.

And I’ve had five sales in my Etsy shop this month. (A lot for me!)

But that’s not all. Every single sale has resulted in a message from the buyer, telling me how much they love love love what I do, how it speaks to them, and how even more amazing it is in person.

Wow. Just…..wow.

Today I got home to a beautiful email from a delighted buyer. I always respond, with gratitude and joy.

But because I’m human, because I’m afraid to be too happy, afraid to be too hopeful, I tend to respond well outside. But inside, I hold back. Thinking, “Well, that’s great, but…..” “Don’t get a swelled head, because…..” “Don’t get your hopes up because…..”

But this time, I read that email. And something told me….

Be in this moment.

Embrace this moment. Stop and celebrate it.

This moment is the blessing, the extra gift, that comes for making my work and getting it out into the world.

Take note of this moment.

I remembered, decades ago, a wise woman I crossed paths with, who shared a powerful insight with me.

When we really want something, she said, there is a centering, empowering way to ask.

Stand up, head bowed, humbly. Think of what your heart desires. Breathe in, breathe out. Then stand tall. Expand.

Raise your head, open your arms, and hands. Look to the heavens above.

And simply ask, with all your heart, what it is you desire.

The very first time I did this, I was in an antique store. I’d been looking for years for a wonderful book that was long out of print. (This was years before I finally discovered Bookfinder.com, the absolute best tool for finding any book in the world.)

I thought, what the heck? I did the mantra.

And when I was done, I look up. I saw a bookcase in the booth across the room. I walked to it.

And I found the book.*

So today, before I could diminish my joy, before I could “be logical” about my delight in this sale, and this email note from my buyer, I decided to take a moment to celebrate.

I did my little ceremony.

But instead of asking for anything, I simply said….

“Thank you.”

In these days of “Be careful what you wish for”, in these days of “Yeah, but….”, in these days of, as Anne Lamott succinctly put it, “…compar(ing) our insides to other people’s outsides”, in these days of internet fame and viral prodigies, in these days of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), in these days of wondering, “Will I ever be a successful artist?”, without ever stopping to think of what “success” means to YOU….

Take a minute to give thanks.

To count your blessings.

To feel the full joy of having a voice in the world.

And the unexpected delight of having someone else hearing your song.

Now…go to your studio and make stuff.

 

*David and the Phoenix (Illustrated) by Edward Ormondroyd, if you want to know, and it’s been reprinted since then.

(OH,  and you can see my Etsy shop here.)

 

SELLING YOUR WORK: What’s the Best Way to Sell?

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.

(Spoiler alert: No. Easy. Answers.)

Since I started my art biz 25 years ago, I’ve explored almost every permutation of selling my artwork that you can imagine:

  • Selling from my studio.
  • Small shows/fairs, indoor and outdoor.
  • Big BIG national wholesale and retail shows.
  • A shop. (I do get some walk-in business now.)
  • A blog with a link to my shop and website
  • A website with a link to my shop.
  • A website with a shop. (This one is still in beta mode for me.)
  • Galleries.
  • Mail-order catalog companies.
  • Sales reps.

They all drive me crazy. One big show was okay for wholesale, but I ended up hating making the same things over and over and over and… One big retail show was by biggest income boost. But it was a huge amount of work, it’s now on the other side of the country, and major shows can easily cost a couple thousand dollars in fees (not including travel, hotels, meals, advertising, shipping inventory, etc.) I hate outdoor shows, because…well, just because. I never do well at small shows. I’ve never sold a work at an exhibition. (Most artists don’t.)

booth photo

Such a simple streamlined booth! Three days to set up. OY!

So that leaves walk-ins, new consignment galleries, and online sales.

My Etsy shop was closed for several months last year. First there were wildfires. Then I had surgery. Then we traveled back east for the holidays. And worst of all, my online inventory was woefully out of date. But the even bigger worst problem was, not knowing where all my work was, if it wasn’t in the studio.

My work is now carried by six galleries, five local galleries (all in different towns with different audiences) and one back in New Hampshire. I’ve had more, in the past, but when I got to the point of wholesaling directly to stores, galleries, and mail-order catalogs, I restricted myself to a handful of consignment galleries within the League of NH Craftsmen.

Sales from galleries have always been iffy for me. One gallery went from being my all-time best with sales, to the worst, within a month. (A gallery manager who LOVED my work left, replaced by one who didn’t dislike my work. And yes, that can make a huge difference!)

My gallery sales here in California have limped along, except for one that’s done very well (for me!) this year. And then December sales skyrocketed across the board. I had my biggest single gallery sale ever from one gallery that hadn’t sold anything up to that point. My January consignment checks have been extremely helpful for my bottom line!

But it was time to do over my Etsy shop, available 24/7 and to anyone all over the world. So I spent over 45 hours photographing work, editing images, uploading them, writing descriptions, tagging, and publishing a whopping 35 items.

Then I spent several hours updating my email newsletter list, creating that same newsletter, uploading more images, proofing, test-mailing and finally mailing an announcement that my Etsy shop was up and running again.

Four things happened:

  1. I realized I had a dead link and a spelling error in my carefully-edited and checked newsletter. Somewhere along the line, I confused a draft with my finished copy, or probably forgot to SAVE a draft. Embarrassing. Oh well.
  2. Almost half my list opened my email.
  3. Pretty good percentage, actually. One person immediately made a purchase. (Yay!)
  4. And one person wrote to ask why I wasn’t posting prices/selling on my website?

At first I was a little irked. All that work, and a complaint about where my “shop” is??  (Lizard brain in overdrive mode.)

My better-self brain kicked in. I immediately realized this was a perfectly reasonable question. Why wasn’t I using the sales potential on my FASO site? So I wrote back with this: “That’s an excellent question, and I’ll be thinking about the possibilities. I put prices up on some items because I want to give people an idea of what to expect. But the actual shopping experience is so much easier on Etsy!

Wow–This IS a good topic for a column!” (Ta dah!)

The person said they were wondering because most of their artist friends don’t post their prices on their websites, but blogs they’ve read on FASO tells us that we should- so they were confused as to which is the best way to go!

My first reaction is feeling overwhelmed. Selling is a hassle for me. Here’s a starter list:

  • I have multiple “lines” to sell: Jewelry, framed work, sculptures, ranging in price from $45 to $5,000. I don’t have a few dozen, or even a hundred items to track. I have several hundred items, at least. It’s hard to track inventory as it moves from studio to gallery, back home to studio, and out to another gallery, on to an exhibition, and back again. Plus I freshen stock at galleries, refurbish and/or redesign older pieces, etc. I used to be excellent at keeping records when I was wholesaling. But consignment is much more fluid than outright sales.
  • I started out with an Etsy shop. Then took up Amazon’s initial handmade marketplace, Thousand Markets, which was then sold to Bonanza, where I died a slow death, and finally moved everything back to Etsy. Each venue had a different process, different organization, and different modes. Even Etsy has updated since I reopened my shop. Part of my workload last week was updating older items I’d already listed. The thought of mastering yet another venue was uninspiring, to say the least.
  • FASO is one of the best web-hosting sites I’ve ever used, and the FASO team works constantly to provide quality services to their artists. Yet there is still a learning curve for on how to do things (hence my newsletter fiasco). So I hesitate to commit my entire inventory on my website per se.
  • In addition to my website, I have a blog I’ve maintained for 17 years; I now write a weekly column for FAV; I have a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. My business profile on Facebook is woefully neglected, and I’m still trying to figure out how to sell on Instagram. Oh, and that email newsletter that I know is so vital to staying in touch with my art audience, and which I mangled so gently. None of them get 100%, because, well, I’d rather MAKE stuff than spend time trying to sell it.
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Wait! Where is this?? In Healdsburg? Fulton Crossing?? At my shop? At that exhibition???

So where did I end up with all this? Here are the important conclusions I’ve arrived at.

  1. I realize I can’t do it all. But I can get better by working on everything a little bit at a time. (Except my column. That HAS to be in by Monday, or else.) This month, new work and Etsy get my best effort.
  2. One important note: I don’t pretend to market to every Etsy buyer. I use Etsy as the easiest place for MY CUSTOMERS to shop. It’s survived longer than any of the other online venues I’ve used. Almost everyone already knows about it. Working out packaging, shipping costs, and creating shipping labels is a breeze. And its payment process is safe and secure.
  3. I realize one reason I need to have prices on my website is, people need to have some idea of what they can expect to pay. And, in fact, half the items I have there ARE priced. But some are not, and I could do better. My resolution is to add 1-3 items a month, with prices, but put the bulk of my efforts into keeping my Etsy site fresh and up-to-date.
  4. My website is a great way to showcase all the elements of my online presence. There you can find “about me”, my blog, samples of my work, and my shop. It’s a way for people to get an idea who I am and what I do.
  5. And my website is also a way to prepare people for my prices

So I don’t have “the best way” to suggest to you about selling. Clint Watson and Lori Woodward are more “science-based” with those topics, and I’ve taken to heart Clint’s advice on really utilizing our email newsletters.

But in the end, it’s what works best for YOU. It’s what you have time for, and what you are willing to make time for. It’s what platforms have proved successful for YOU. It’s what works for you, and what’s not working for you.

So a big “thank you” to the person who inquired about my prices. You were the little kick in the pants I needed today.

I have a little more clarity today on how to move forward this week.

And I hope I’ve given you a little peace of mind about your own sales efforts. Yes, some ways are better than others, but some work better for some people, and some don’t. And nothing works in a vacuum—e.g., without an online presence, without creating some sort of connection to your audience, etc.

Please, feel free to share your own insights and experiences, especially what’s worked for you, and if you have insights on how we all could do better. Inquiring minds want to know!

P.S. I provided the “spoiler alert” because one reader felt deceived that I’d promised them the perfect way to sell, and then I didn’t. Which brings yet another idea for an article, but that’s the way my mind works!

 

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Those Who Teach, DO.

by Luann Udell on 12/23/2017 5:24:55 AM 

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.

We are now surrounded with working artists! Continuing with the insights I find at the independent gym program at my favorite physical therapy facility….

Today’s insight comes from a delightful young person who is in the final stages of their degree program in physical therapy. On their last day, I asked them the same question I ask every intern, observer, and student:


What is it you learned here, in the actual workplace, that surprised you? Something you couldn’t/didn’t experience in your classes?
 

D thought for a moment and replied with this surprising answer: “Actually, not much. In a good way!”

When I asked why that was so, they replied, “Because now almost all my professors and instructors are still working in the field. That wasn’t always the case. People would teach after, or instead of, actually being in the field. And so I learn first-hand what most people didn’t learn until they were in, or observing, the actual practice of physical therapy.”

Things like realizing different clients with the same physical issues might require different therapies, to meet their unique needs. Things like realizing simple treatments often work as well, or even more effectively, than new, complicated treatments. In fact, almost all the “Gym Lessons” I’ve shared to date were already presented, experienced, and explained in the classroom. 

(They also said they’ve learned that, if you listen more than you talk, people will think you’re smarter. (Talk too much, and you might prove them wrong!) But that’s a lesson for another day, and not only because it hits so close to home!)

How does that relate to our art world?

When I was a young hopeful artist, I knew of exactly zippo artists in our small agriculture community. Oh, there was ONE person who made pots, but I never, ever saw their work, or even met them. There were no art shows, no art fairs, and no community education classes, in arts or crafts. It was a barren land, as far as working examples of my dream life. The only art classes my high school offered were rudimentary. My first clay sculptures were ruined when the kiln blew out, and was not replaced. Art supplies were minimal, and the program was fragmentary, right down to being eliminated one year.

I waited eagerly for college, knowing I would finally be among others who wanted to pursue art as a career. But for many reasons I needn’t go into, that was not to be, either. The lack of a portfolio from high school was a factor, but so was encouragement. I majored in art history instead, but my textbook featured three women artists over 15,000 years of history, and thousands of male artists, mostly what I called impudently “dead white European guys.”

What would it be like to be an artist today?

In Sonoma County alone, I am surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of artists. Young students participating in public art projects, young people fiercely pursuing their creative life in many shapes and forms. Art shows, art tours, art exhibits, art galleries abound. Yes, many people wait until retirement from their day jobs before pursuing art full-time. But many, many more now find a way to make room for it right here, right now.

It’s possible many art teachers devote most of their time to teaching, and not to making their own art. This used to be par for the course, and I encountered many art teachers along the way, people who had gone from “artist” to “shadow artists”.  A shadow artist can be a supporter and admirer of others who pursue their art full-time. But some are full of envy and resentment, and find subtle ways of getting back at those they see as more fortunate in their field.

But though teaching can take away a lot of time, I see people who are also dedicated to making time for their art. Because supplies, classes, shows, exhibits, information, and community are more prevalent, they find encouragement and support from others who love their art. A good friend works full-time as an art teacher. But she still finds ways to make room for her art, and she has found a few venues that work for her. (And for all you folks whose media choices are sneered at, check out the amazing colored pencil work of Nicole Caulfield!)   http://www.nicolecaulfieldfineart.com/about-the-artist

A work from Nicole’s Zen series, and one of my personal favorites!

Thanks to a growing population who understand the importance of making, creating, showing, and even selling (yay!), we are now surrounded with the “do”. Everywhere we look, we see artists, creative makers, at work. Thanks to the internet, it is easier than ever to take a peek into someone else’s creative world. It’s easier than ever to find supplies, classes, ideas, venues, opportunities, support, and community.

We truly live in an age where the old “Those who can’t do, teach” maxim has been flipped on its head. Now we can truly say, “Those who teach, DO.”

Today, more than ever, we are surrounded by those who DO. I am so grateful for that, and you should be, too!

LESSONS FROM THE FIRE: “Safe” Is Relative

This weekend’s post for Fine Art Views, a free art marketing newsletter from Fine Art Studios Online

We are never truly safe. And that’s OK. 

It’s been exactly one week since Jon woke me, telling me we might have to evacuate from the now-infamous Santa Rosa Fire.

More manpower and resources, and less wind, have helped to contain the fires. Last night, we finally left our home, together, for a drive to the coast, taking the dogs but leaving the cats (they do not enjoy car rides) for the first time since that horrifying day.

It was restorative, in so many ways: Watching the waves peacefully roll in (unusual for the Pacific Ocean!) Poking around for pretty pebbles. (I find foraging extremely soothing. Hence the thrift shopping skills…) Stopping for a beer at a local pub in Bodega on the way home. (The Casino is an unpretentious, funky little bar and grill that serves some of the best food in the county. Check them out, here! ) To our astonishment, our dinners were free. A gift to our community, the waitperson said. We were only asked to consider donating money to the fire victims aid fund, which we did with gratitude.

Then, just before we got home, we saw it: More flames atop the ridge east of town.

Although this new fire is somewhat managed, with the aforesaid manpower and resources now available, it was a sobering thought: This isn’t over. And for thousands of people, who are now homeless, or out of work, for businesses destroyed, this won’t be over for a long time. That’s when it hit us….

We are never truly “safe”. 

Home again, we toyed with the idea of where we might relocate to that’s perfectly safe. Someplace without wildfires? That would eliminate the entire west coast. Someplace with no earthquakes? Hmmmm…. Someplace with no hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods, ice storms, blizzards??

We soon realized the futility of focusing on being “safe”.

There is actually a house in our neighborhood in Keene, NH that was a strange anomaly. It was totally made with concrete, slightly reminiscent of Brutalist architecture. A couple had built it and lived there, the story was, who were extremely paranoid about fire. So they build a house that was completely fire-proof, and felt completely safe.

They died in the Cocoanut Grove Fire in Boston, in 1942.

This sobering story is not meant to inflate your fears and misgivings. The thing is, we all walk on thin ice, every single day.  We just don’t know it! Every day, we may get that phone call, that evacuation notice, we may hear the shrill wail of dozens of sirens, or see the very flames that will drive us from our shelter.

But we can’t live like that.

In the middle of all this, I sent an email to someone at the wrong address. Three other people saw it, as they passed it on and on to the next person, before it got to the recipient. I was pretty embarrassed, and wished I’d been more careful….

Until I saw these words in one person’s signature line:

“If only this, then music. If only now, forever takes wing.” * 

In the middle of this conflagration, in the middle of our anxious days, this destruction, a stupid mistake on my part let something heartbreakingly beautiful cross my path.

For me, I hear, “This moment is enough. This experience will stay with me forever, if I chose to see its beauty, and if I hold it in my heart. All we ever have is “now”. Be here for it!”

(You, of course, may hear something different. That’s poetry.)

I’m not to saying, “Don’t worry so much” because that’s not helpful, or even possible. When I wrote last week about finding a tiny space of peace in the midst of chaos, I didn’t mean to imply I wouldn’t be devastated if we actually had lost our home, or my studio. (I keep telling people, I am not the Buddha.)

I just realized that worrying about it was useless, draining, unproductive. It’s just my buzzy lizard brain screaming, “DO SOMETHING! FIX THIS! FIGURE IT OUT!!!”

Our brains are hard-wired to solve problems. We instinctively try to find perfect, permanent solutions to whatever we face in life. Our brain spins and buzzes, trying to do the impossible.

When we recognize that, perhaps we can make different choices. My choice? I went to my studio, and found some peace.

Art and creativity, in all its forms, restores us to our higher selves. 

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I felt restored to my higher self in my studio.

 

If we are granted even a few moments of peace, a sparkle of joy, a ray of hope, it can inspire quiet grace. If we breathe deep, let go of the notion we can control every aspect of our lives, we can be open to those precious moments, those tiny gifts that help us go on.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his book, The Gulag Archipelago, shown a light on people who refused to give up their humanity under horrible conditions, thus giving us all a ray of hope. Solzhenitsyn chose survival. Did that make him less-than? No! Because his choice gave him the chance to share these acts with us. Through his creative work, his voice helped us hear those other voices, which otherwise would have been lost.

Moments of courage and kindnesses, great and small, are found in the ashes of concentration camps. Stories of crucial forgiveness (not excusing, but letting go) allowed for the restoration of Rwanda. In the middle of a firestorm, someone gave a ride to others fleeing the fire. Someone opened their home to those who had lost theirs. In the aftermath, a local pub fed its guests, and even the waiters put their tips into the donation bucket.

Tiny, magnificent acts of grace, and compassion, and courage.

I don’t know if I would have the courage to enter a burning building, or the compassion to give up my bit of food to another, or to let go of anger when someone else deliberately harms me.

But I am grateful for those who do, for those who give me the knowledge that our human history is full of moments like these.

They give me hope. They make me want to be better.

Making my art, and sharing my words, is a tiny way for me to restore me to myself. And in the process, maybe I can give hope and encouragement to others.

The message is loud and clear: Our creative work, the work of our heart, matters. Our art heals ourselves, gets us to our best place in the world. In our ART, we are safe.

And when we share that with the world, it can save and heal others, too.

If you can, go to your studio/kitchen/garden/shop/dance floor today. If not today, then soon. Be fearless with your art. Then share it with the world. Give a little courage, and hope, and solace, today. We need it, desperately.

*Thanks to Cynthi Stefenoni, she graciously gave permission for me to share her words, part of a poem she’s written. (Yes, I’ve been twisting her arm to publish the entire work!)

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More horses, please. And bears!