MINI LIFE LESSON FOR TODAY: The Importance of Doing What We Do

I had a little existential crisis a few days ago. No worries, it’s solved.  That is, I politely (I hope!) disengaged from a venture that wasn’t really a good fit for me. (I only took it because I’ve been freaked out by a major writing gig I’ve had for years, and had to walk away from recently.)

Anyway, a good friend and wise woman called me on it. Called me on wallowing in self-pity, when I’ve already proven I have something to give that the world needs.

So…

A few years ago, I met up with another wise woman I’d taken a workshop with, and told her how much her words had affected me.  I can still see her face as I recited several things she’d said, powerful words that have stayed with me for years.

She said, “I don’t remember saying that. You must have a good memory!”

I said, “Not really. But it was exactly what I needed to hear, and I carried them in my heart for a looooong time.”

It made me realize then (and hey, right now!) how we never, ever know how far our words will travel.

We may never know who needs to hear them almost as much as we need to say them.

And maybe we’ll find that someone has held our words in trust for us, for a time when we ourselves will need to hear them so badly.

4 Comments

Filed under life lessons

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: The Student

Lessons From the Gym: The Student

by Luann Udell on 5/7/2015

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews.  Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores 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.  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….”

 The insights and ideas continue to flow at the gym, and this week is no exception. Today’s thoughts came from someone who will be leaving soon–the intern.

 There are many professions aligned with the health industry that, after meeting the educational criteria, also require an internship–a period of in-the-field training, under the supervision of a licensed professional, to gain the insights and knowledge that can’t be learned any other way, except in the field.

 There’s such a student now, in the last stages of their credentialing. They’ve been working alongside one of the physical therapists as long as I’ve been there. And in another week or so, they’ll move on.

 I asked them what were the most important things they’ve learned in their internship. Their answer might surprise you.

 “I think watching everyone here interacting with their clients has been eye-opening. Each client is different, personality-wise, and the therapists here always meet them where they’re at. Some people are more assertive, some are overwhelmed… You need to take that into consideration when you’re working with clients. I’ll have two people, back-to-back with the exact same issue–but the approach and the treatment won’t be the same, because this person needs to go slower, or needs more encouragement, and that one wants to be challenged. I know HOW to treat their issues, from my schooling. But this part of the healing–I had no idea! And it’s so powerful…”

 A thoughtful and insightful reply, on so many levels.

 And how does it connect to making and marketing our art?

 I immediately thought of how artists can use this same principle. We learn to interact with customers by meeting them where THEY’RE at.  (And by ‘customers’, I mean ANYONE who’s in a position to buy/support/market our art–buyers, gallery owners, journalists, etc.)

Over time, we may realize that some are assertive and confident, and we adopt a certain style of response with more energy. Others are more contemplative, quiet, not wanting a lot of interaction until they’ve processed what they’re looking at. They will read every sign in your display and look at every piece of work. They don’t want to be pressured, but they don’t want to be ignored, either. Others will stride in, look around, and exclaim, “Wow, this is GREAT! Tell me about it!”  You need to immediately jump on board, or they will lose interest and walk away. Overwhelming an introvert or underwhelming an extrovert can seriously hamper our efforts to connect others with our art. Knowing how to match our interactions with the situation, in the moment, is a powerful tool.

Then I considered the notion of apprenticeships in the arts and crafts. It used to be the main method of education for artists and craftspeople. Now, not so much. Oh, there are still plenty of workshops and classes. But the idea of working long-term with a master, while not rare, is certainly not the norm these days.  Even then, perhaps much of the focus is on technique–not the bigger but less-obvious insights of how to connect to our own artistic vision and purpose.

I think, though, that instinctively, we DO seek out those people who offer us something else besides technique and practical knowledge (which are valuable in their own right). Just the fact that FASO has articles like these, where we can all share insights about what makes us tick (with our art), and what rules are solid (“Do the work!”) and which aren’t (“It’s actually OK to just walk into a gallery and ask to show them your work!”) show how important this is for many of us, in all stages of our professional life.

 In fact, for me, becoming an artist really opened my eyes to the idea of being a life-long student–a student of life.  That’s what my writing (as much of my creative process as my artwork) is all about: Sharing what I’ve learned, with others who’d like to know.

 Finally, I realized that the Student also has something to teach US. Through them, we get to look at what we’re doing with new, fresh eyes. The exhilaration, the wonder, the excitement of those first few years of making our art–remember? When everything was possible, and nothing stood in our way.  This enormous body of knowledge and skill we’ve acquired over the years, something we perhaps have begun to take for granted–we get to see it from their perspective, as a massive achievement, something we can be proud of.

 Beginnings, middles, and endings. All have something to teach us, to expand our understanding and broaden our horizons–if we just take the time to listen.

4 Comments

Filed under Fine Art Views

RETURN TO WONDER

Because the world can never have too many horses in it.

Because the world can never have too many horses in it.

Well, it had to happen eventually. The end of a long-running, highly-satisfying writing gig.

I just didn’t think it would end with a whimper.

Today I turned in my resignation to the magazine formerly known as The Crafts Report, now Handmade Business.

It’s been a wonderful 8-and-a-half year run. (It would have been more than ten years, if I’d taken the gig when they first asked me, but I was working for another fine craft magazine at the time, that they felt was competition.) And I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to share my incredibly disfunctional delightfully wacky sense of humor with thousands of people every month, for more than a hundred issues.

I knew the writing was on the wall when my column was cut back to every other month, then again, when I wasn’t given any deadline at all (they’d switched editors and my email requests weren’t getting through–something that happened with disturbing frquency during my time there.) (And no, that wasn’t my fault!)

I did one last series of four articles for them, on finding, telling and expanding our story to connect our work with others more effectively. The last one should appear in this next issue.

Like the pathetic idiot dedicated writer that I am, I pitched one last column idea to them last night. And received the answer today: “Mmmmmmm……no.”

And so I’ve tendered my resignation, wished them well and moved on.

Okay, that last part? A huge lie. I collapsed in a puddle of self-pity and tears. The magazine seems to be headed on a fresh path with great energy, and I wanted to be a part of that.

They say one door closes and another opens. So far, only a query from a new online publication that wants how-to projects only, for no pay. Nope. I love tutorials as much as the next person, but writing them is not what I’m here on earth to do. (Not that I’m very clear today about what I am here for, and please don’t rub that in.) And even that came by way of a dear friend who knows I’m flailing.

You know what it’s like when it feels like the world doesn’t want your gifts? That’s how I’m feeling today.

And in the midst of this swirl of self-imposed demoralization, a small miracle happened here.

Someone posted a link to this incredible, exuberant, life-loving, robot-hugging truly free spirit, who only brightened our world for a heartbreakingly short time, Zina Nicole Lahr, a delightful woman who died so young, yet leaves a legacy that is simply, joyfully, inspirational.

And I am ashamed of myself.

I am embarrassed that I allow myself to take so much for granted. I’m mortified to act like the world owes me a living. I’m horrified I am not instead simply grateful for what I have–which is a lot.

Of course I want more. That’s human. But wanting is not doing. Nor is standing in a corner pouting because things aren’t going my way today.

It’s up to me to say my piece/peace to the world.

It’s up to me to bring my art into the world.

It’s up to me to create my purpose, my dream, and my journey, no matter what life throws me here and there.

And it’s up to me to embrace my happy thought. Zina’s amazing life reminds me that we are never too old for a challenge, for exuberance, for a sense of wonder.

Wherever you are today, whatever you’re doing, take a moment to think about what good work you brought into the world today.

And know in your heart that the world is truly a better place for it.

16 Comments

Filed under The Crafts Report column, writing

OVERHEARD CONVERSATIONS: How to Be a Better Matchmaker

Overheard Conversations: How to Be a Better Matchmaker

by Luann Udell on 4/23/2015 7:54:01 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews.  Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores 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.  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….”

  Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match….but what’s the catch??

Today’s lesson didn’t come from the gym, although it was another conversation I overheard this week.

Person A told their friend, Person B, about an opportunity they might be interested in. (For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to call them Ann and Bob.)

Ann knew Bob was looking for an opportunity just like this. Ann listed the reasons why this might be just what he was looking for–the price, the time, the location, the trade-offs. Bob listened enthusiastically.

Ann also knows a lot about Bob–his strengths (and weaknesses), his habits, his way of doing things.

So, although Bob was saying “yes”, she asked him an unusual question before taking the matter any further.

“On a scale of one-to-ten,” she said, “How committed are you to this opportunity?”

Bob was taken aback. He said, “Wow, you sound like a nurse! ‘How bad is the pain, on a scale of one-to-ten?’ Heh heh!”

But Ann stood her ground. “Look,” she said. “Before I approach the guy about talking to you, I need to know how seriously you are considering this.”

Bob quickly replied, “Nine!” and that’s the last of the conversation I heard. I had to get back to my studio.

Ann’s question stayed with me. Obviously, she didn’t want to go out on a limb to introduce the opportunity-holder to Bob. If Bob is truly eager to act, it will benefit all three of them. But if Bob isn’t really interested, it will be lose-lose-lose, a waste of time and energy for everyone involved.

“On a scale of one-to-ten….”  What a wonderful, non-confrontational question to ask, to qualify the ‘buyer’.

How many times have we been in situations like this, acting as the agent of change for someone else? For the sake of clarity, let’s continue this as us trying to do something for someone else. But picture it the other way, too–someone trying to do something for us.

We recommend a gallery to a fellow artist. Or we think a friend might like another artist’s work, and urge the artist to contact that friend. Or we think we know the perfect space for someone who says they need a studio. A customer is waxing enthusiastic about our artwork, and we want to get it into their hands/home/heart.

In every case, we see ourselves as ‘helping’ someone out, doing them a favor out of the goodness of our heart. We’re simply giving them what they want, right?  We’re trying to match up their need with the right opportunity.

Sometimes, it is a simple thing. That space really is perfect for them, they really are looking for that opportunity, they really do want that painting–and the matchmaking is complete.

Often, however, there are reasons why it just won’t work for that person. The cost might be out of their range. They’re actually not ready to take that step. They’re just not into doing anymore shows, right now, or not interested in doing the gallery thing.

In fact, more often that not, what people say is holding them back, isn’t. Either they’re not ready to say why, or they just don’t know.

Whatever the reason, without us knowing what they’re really thinking, this might result in us giving even stronger encouragement, to the point of arm-twisting. And when they don’t take us up on our offer/favor/opportunity, we might get frustrated and annoyed.

Now imagine the situation reversed. Usually, when someone offers me something like this, I appreciate their intentions. I try to stay open rather than squish their offer with a fast ‘no’.

 But eventually, I need to also be clear about how serious I am about following their suggestion(s).

 “On a scale of one-to-ten”…. What a nice way for all of us to get clear on what we really want! And on what we’re willing/not willing to do to get it.

 Now instead of yes-or-no, we can talk about where we are on that scale. “One, two, three” means “no way!”. “Three, four, five” could mean “probably not, but I’m still listening.” “Six, seven, eight” means “Mmmmm….I’m open to negotiation”. And “nine or ten” means, “let’s make it happen!”

 See? Sometimes crunching the numbers makes a great match!

Leave a comment

Filed under 25 Random Things, Fine Art Views

LESSONS FROM THE FUNNY PAGES: Big Dreams SHOULD Be Scary!

No, I’m not running out of ideas for other ‘Lessons’ series I’ve started. It just seems like lately, lessons are everywhere!

Today’s insight came this morning while reading our wonderful local newspaper, The Press Democrat. I always save the comics (In color! Every day!!!), crossword and Dear Abby for last–like dessert. There’s also not just one word scramble but two: JUMBLE, and a new one for me, SCRAM-LETS. (I can’t find links to these, sorry!!)

The mini-lesson about these word scrambles is, I used to work really hard to solve them. I had a couple of logical, methodical strategies for attacking them. I got really good at it, too. Until one day, I wasreading up on why those CN Y RD THS? thingies on Facebook are actually easy to read. (Turns out our brains automatically fill in missing vowels and out-of-order letters, as long as the first and last letter are in the right places.) I realized word scrambles are similar. I could identify almost every scrambled word by simply glancing at it. The mini-lesson? Quit trying so damn hard!! (see example below)

The big lesson, though, was buried in the SCRAM-LET, which usually features a wise saying or adage with the last word or two missing. These are so easy, you can actually work backwards–figure out the missing word, fill out the letters to the word clues you have, and discover the missing letters in the unsolved scrambled word. (Why is explaining it so much harder than simply doing it?!)

Today’s adage was, If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not BIG ENOUGH.

Yeah, yeah, I thought as I finished. Dream big. So trite.

And yet……

The things I’ve been worried about as I go to sleep at night, the things I worry about as I start my day… They all involve taking the next steps to rebuild my artist reputation out here on the west coast.

They are all about starting over. Only this time, knowing how much time and energy that’s going to take.

Even worse, they’re about worrying that this time, it’s not going to work.

If I approach a gallery, and if they accept me, and I give them the best of my current work, I worry that I won’t have any more good ideas in me.

If I sell an item online, I worry that the buyer, not having seen it in person, won’t like it.

If I pitch a column to a new magazine (because I think I’m being slowly ‘let go’ from my current gig, and no one wants to tell me), I’m afraid I’m not good enough to get another gig.

Part of me just wants to kick myself. ALL artists worry about running out of good ideas. ALL artists worry that, like Hollywood, we’re only as good as our last movie. Er…exhibit/show/column. ALL artists worry that somebody is going to be disappointed in our work.

But the rest of me knows we never learn a lesson for keeps. (Well. Not me, anyway.)

We need to learn those lessons over and over, practicing them, internalizing them–until our work habits are so solid, we finally learn to believe in ourselves. Til we know truly, in our hearts, that one setback will not break us.

Even then, life can kick us back to the starting line. A family crisis. A health issue. Losing a job, a cross-country move, AND NOT BEING ABLE TO FIND THAT TUBE OF RAW UMBER PAINT I KNOW IS IN MY STUDIO SOMEWHERE!!!! (Sorry about that. Once again, I have to go buy a replacement for something I KNOW is somewhere in my studio…..)

So I’m going to make an appointment to visit the gallery that’s expressed an interest in my work. I’m going to send a pic to a new customer who’s ordered from my online store, of the exact piece I’ve made for her. And I’m going to submit my images to a big art tour coming up this fall.

If I fail? Well, there’s always another opportunity. There’s another chance next week, next month, next year.

And I must remember that other life lesson that’s so hard to learn:

Sometimes, in order for a new door to open, an old one has to close.

P.S. A few people have contacted me, asking where the heck my online store is. My Etsy shop is dormant for the time being, but my shop at Bonanza is still open. http://www.bonanza.com/booths/luannudell

My goal is to replace “sample images” with individual images of each piece of jewelry. And hey–maybe I could start, like, today!

A sample 'hard-to-read text" (NOT) as found on Facebook.

A sample ‘hard-to-read text” (NOT) as found on Facebook. And oh! Notice it spells ‘without’ wrong!

1 Comment

Filed under life lessons

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: The Whale Watcher

My column today at Fine Art Views, a marketing blog for artists and craftspeople.

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores 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. 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….”

We make our own luck in the world.

There are lessons to be learned everywhere, if we’re open to them. Today’s lesson from the gym is courtesy of a therapist there with an unusual hobby.

This guy loves to go whale watching. When he found out I’m a recent transplant to the west coast, he suggested I check out the whale migration scene on the coast.

We aren’t that far from Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” is set. There ARE a lot of birds out there, but so far, none have shown signs of turning on the human race….! Still, I’m careful to be very nice to all of them.

Bodega Head is a beautiful stretch of land reaching out into the ocean to form one side of the Bay. Bodega Head, with its open vistas from towering cliffs, is a popular whale watching spot. Volunteer ‘docents’ are present on the weekends to offer advice and help with identification.Whales migrate south to feeding grounds off the coast Baja Mexico, then return north after the mating season. Mother whales travel more slowly, and closer to the coast, with their new offspring.

This guy regularly reports back every Monday with exciting ‘spots’. And so my husband and I began making a trip every week or so to watch, too.

We haven’t seen any whales yet–just seals, sea lions and pelicans. And of course, after our fourth attempt to spot a whale, my husband concluded that guy is “lucky” to have seen so many whales.

Is he? Let’s dig a little deeper….

The whale watcher goes out every week he can, and sometimes multiple times in one week.

He and his family stay for hours at a time–not an hour, or two at most, like we do.

He knows a lot about whales, from talking with the docents and his own reading. He knows when they go, where they go, and why they go along our coast. He knows the best weather for watching, and the worst weather; and he knows how to get in-time local updates about that area’s weather. He knows what to look for–blowholes, pods, fins, breaches.

He’s invested in a good camera and a great lens to capture good photos.

So….Patience. Consistent effort. A practiced eye. And a passion for whales.

Is this luck?

Yes, there’s still a wee bit of luck involved. One first-time watcher spotted an amazing pod within a few minutes of arriving. A docent jokingly told her, “Don’t even bother coming back, you will NEVER see anything like this again!”

Mostly, though, this guy makes his own luck. And he deserves every whale spot he gets.

How many times have we heard about another artist’s success, envied their ‘luck’ and lamented our lack of same?

Now think how often we trouble ourselves to find out what they did to achieve that.

I’m guessing that ‘lucky’ artist is someone who’s practiced their craft with patience and persistence. I’d bet they have great images of their work, and a powerful personal story to go with it. I’d imagine they’re serious about getting their work out there, in a consistent fashion–through websites, shows, exhibitions, social media, getting published, personal invitations to collectors, and good selling skills.

Above all, I know they’re truly focused and passionate about the work they create–enough to not only make time for it, but to make it a priority, as much as possible.

Me? I would love to see a whale pod, or a mother and baby, or an orca, someday. But I’m just as happy to spend a few hours enjoying the beautiful California coast. I’m just as delighted to find a wonderful pebble or a twisty piece of driftwood on the beach.

But when it comes to my artwork, I know the same qualities that make that guy a great whale watcher, makes me a competent artist.

And when my next ‘lucky break’ comes, I’ll be ready!

4 Comments

Filed under Fine Art Views, perseverence

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Trust Me (my Fine Art Views column for today)

Lessons From the Gym: Trust Me
by Luann Udell on 3/26/2015 7:37:41 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores 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. 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….”

I continue to eavesdrop at the physical therapy practice where I recuperated from surgery. I use their gym facilities several times a week, to get stronger in a safe, low-stress environment. And I continue to learn from my fellow patients every day.

Most of us who need physical therapy are at a scary point in our life. We’ve been injured, often during a favorite sport or physical activity. Or we’ve just had surgery. Or we’re recovering from a stroke, or a fall.

In every case, we are in pain. And we are afraid.

Afraid we’ll never be able to run/ride/bike/play soccer again. Afraid the pain will never go away. Afraid this is the beginning of the long decline that foreshadows a life ending in frailty, isolation and confinement.

The first few visits can actually be difficult not only for the client, but for the therapist! I hadn’t realized this before, nor had I recognized it in myself—until I saw many other clients acting the same way—crabby, resentful, defensive.

There is resentment when we are asked to do things that are too hard. (“I can’t do that yet!”) Conversely, there’s also resentment when we’re asked to do things that appear too easy. (“I know how to do this already! Why do I have to do it here?!”)

There is defensiveness when we realize our exercise routines are not serving our needs any longer. (“But I walk every day when I golf!”) There’s defensiveness when we have to admit we didn’t do our ‘homework’, the exercises we were supposed to do at home. One gentleman (who looked to be in his 90’s) swore he was just ‘too busy’ to spend 20 minutes a day to do his balance work. I winced when he used almost exactly the same excuse I’d used months earlier!

The conversations are terse and awkward. I feel sorry for the therapists, especially the one who had three back-to-back crabby clients one morning, all ‘dug in’ with their protests and barely cooperative.

But today, a few weeks later, I realize something has changed.

Those same crabby clients are now more relaxed, more open. They’re cooperative and good-humored, joking and laughing.

I wondered–What changed?

Their level of trust.

Over the weeks, the therapists responded calmly to each defensive, snippy remark. Each question was answered fully and appropriately. (More on this one next time!)

Information was given out freely to each client—but only as much as they could ‘handle’ at each visit. And as they made progress, as the pain began to abate, and as their balance/strength/flexibility improved, their milestones were acknowledged and celebrated.

The clients all recognized they were in good hands, with competent people, who had their well-being at heart. They could trust these people.

By consistently responding with respect, with compassion, but also with the confidence of competency and experience, each therapist won over every single crabby client in their care.

How does this apply to marketing and selling our art?

As artists, we show competency to our audience by the quality of our work and our reputation.

We gain their trust by treating them as more than just a bag o’ money.

We recognize them as individuals with unique tastes, preferences and desires.

We respond to ALL their questions—even the snippy ones, the rude ones, the ‘stupid’ ones—with patience and respect. Never taking someone else’s doubts or fears or ignorance, personally.

If they are worried your work won’t ‘go’ in their living room, we reassure them they can exchange the piece in 10 days for a different piece. If they worry about it breaking or tarnishing, we back up our product with a guarantee.

If they don’t understand what makes it unique or desirable, we share that information, too.

Once we can look into the eyes of another person and see another human being who’s every bit as complex, lovable, contradictory, and confusing as we are, even those who are as yet undecided about our work, then we can make better decisions on how to handle their complaints, their doubts, their questions.

We learn how to stay open and balanced, competent and confident.

By showing our trust in them, they learn to trust us.

I see this firsthand in my booth and studio. When I tell people they can pick something up and hold it, or open a drawer and look inside, or even simply give them a postcard, their astonishment is palpable. I’m treating them like I would a guest in my home. It’s sad how many folks just aren’t used to that!

Think about how you establish trust with first-time customers in your studio, at art shows, in your booth, at receptions. See it for the gift others will see it as.

Turn those former strangers into passionate collectors!

3 Comments

Filed under art marketing, Fine Art Views, Lessons from the Gym