EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #10: Vary the Intensity.

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.

Know when to push through, and when to take a break!

Studies on exercise show that mixing up the intensity, even a little in a single workout, burns off more calories than a slow, steady pace. Perhaps because it catches our body metabolism off-guard a wee bit, causing it to “rev” a little higher, even when we slow back down again. It helps with training, too. Swimmers use this technique to increase endurance and strength.

I don’t ascribe to the “no pain, no gain” school of thought–too much pain for not much gain when I injure myself! But I’ll admit, I can tell the difference between a workout when I push myself a little bit more than usual, and one where I hang back, “saving” my strength in case I need it later.

It’s a human thing, and not necessarily a bad one. There are times to ease up, come up for air, and take a look around.

But here’s the thing: There’s no “later”.

Yeah, there is a slight chance I will need to lift a car off someone today, and I will need a lot of strength for that. But easing up and saving my strength doesn’t go into a penny jar someplace, where I can extract that strength back. (Have I labored this metaphor enough? Moving on….)

In the end, “saving our energy” is just an excuse to not put in that extra effort.

There is also no “later” when it comes to making your art.

There’s a tendency for artists to hang back sometimes, too, to “pace themselves.” Not stretching themselves to reach further, or pushing themselves to go farther.

We say we’re just too busy with other stuff. Or we say we’re just taking a break. Maybe we feel a little bored….

But for me, often, that’s not really it. So why do we procrastinate about getting to our studio?

Honestly, I think it’s this:

We’re afraid we’ll run out of ideas.

If you’re like me, then every time I make my “best piece”, I secretly worry it’s my LAST best piece. I can’t imagine coming up with an even better design. I worry I will run out of stories. I fret about whether a new animal will join my menagerie.

So we stick to the same ol’ same ol, never trying anything new, never taking risks or putting our work out there.

Here is the most important five words you will read in this article: Trust me.

You won’t run out of ideas.

Working on new ideas generates MORE ideas. Perfecting a technique gets your hands busy on cruise control, freeing the mind to wander further ahead–“And what if instead of doing THIS, I tried THIS…?” “What if I use THIS color here instead?”

Every single time I’ve been stuck–and oh Lordy, have I been stuck the past few years!–pushing myself to do the work has helped me break through.

So try mixing it up in your artistic workout today. Warm up with the stuff you know how to do.

Then push yourself a wee bit…and see where it takes you.

Let us know!

ALMOST FAMOUS

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

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

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

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

And I felt awful after I did it again recently.

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

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

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

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

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

I have a confession to make…

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

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

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

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

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

Where am I going with this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #9: Stretch!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #9: Stretch!

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.

Strength needs stretch to reach maximum potential.

We all know it’s important to stretch. Everyone says so! But who has the time?? It’s hard enough squeezing in work-out time.

Turns out we must make the time. Because stretching is important to the balanced interplay between your bones, your tendons and your muscles.

When you have the right balance of tension between these three systems, they all move easily and freely. Each interacts with and supports the others.

Tight muscles tear when you put too much “reach” on them. Bones take too much impact when muscles and tendons aren’t working smoothly together. And too much stretch with not enough strength means joints can overextend or over-rotate.

Stretching can be part of the body’s process of laying down new muscle fiber. And stretching helps maintain the body’s range of motion as we age.

Best of all (in my mind), stretching connects you to your body. Done correctly, and gently, it simply feels good to stretch.

There’s a lot of debate over when and how much to stretch. Most experts seem to agree it’s best to warm-up gently, start working out slowly, then make it harder, saving the mega-stretches for after your work-out when your muscles are thoroughly warmed and relaxed.

However and whenever you do it, stretching strengthens the “rubber band” in you.

It’s the same with our artwork and art biz.

I think of stretching as the things that encourage us to be more flexible, more in balance with ourselves as artists. This includes the things that encourage us to lay down more “muscle fiber”–that force us to be better at what we do.

Here are some of those “artistic stretches” I’ve encountered:

1. Applying for bigger and better shows/events than I thought I was ready to do.

This forced me to speed up my production to increase my inventory. It forced me to figure out display, lighting, booth wall. I had to create support materials–postcards for pre-show mailings, catalogs, other promotional materials. It forced me to learn how to sell my work and to sell myself as an artist.

In short, it forced me to “grow up” and “get big”–fast!

2. Applying to juried exhibits.

This forced me to quit messing around photographing my own work and find a professional photographer. Yes, I still use my smartphone for social media, email newsletters, my shop. But for big-ticket events and advertising, there’s nothing like a high-quality, perfectly-posed and produced photo for best results.

3. Having my work copied.

At first this made me more proactive in protecting my designs, which is a losing battle. But it also got me out of my “safe area” and made me rethink how to combat copycats. I had settled into “sure thing” designs. This forced me to kick it up a notch.

I don’t take any shortcuts with my designs. I emphasize the work, the experimentation, and the research that goes into my artifacts. I share my stories more easily.

All of this helps establish me as an original maker, with a personal story, and a unique approach to telling it.

4. Taking a class outside my “safe zone”. It’s good to take a class that’s outside your normal field of expertise. For one thing, it can refresh and inform your art. For another, it puts you back in student/learning mode–always a good place for your brain to be!

Caveat: Some people get carried away with this kind of stretch, and remain perpetual students. Too many classes and workshops without doing the work is kind of like too much stretching before your workout–too much demand on your muscles before they’re actually at work.

That’s okay if this perpetual learning stage is enough for you–and for many people, it really is enough.

But if you yearn to be a “real artist”, you eventually have to do the work(out), too.

Also, using an instructor’s designs and patterns is a good way to get your artwork outside its usual box. But you must continue the “stretch”. You must find ways to make the technique “stretch” your artwork, and not simply recreate the instructor’s work. (They don’t need any help making their artwork, thank you very much.)

5. Thinking outside the box.

Trying different ways of making, marketing and selling your work than “everyone else” is doing. People who were early adapters of selling on the internet, home parties, alternate markets and niche markets refused to accept the status quo of how to sell art and craft. They saw what wasn’t working and tried something different.

Again, the work(out) after the stretch is just as important as the actual stretch. These early adaptors and innovators know these weren’t easy solutions or short-cuts to success. It took just as much work (if not more) to research these new ways of doing things, and to get them off the ground. But when it worked, it gave them increased flexibility than people who were still stuck with the old ways of doing things. This in turn brought them sustainability, and success.

Over the past few decades, there have been plenty of tough stretches for artists and craftspeople. After the 2008 recession, many artists and galleries gave up and left the industry altogether. Others hung on for dear life. A very, very few took up the mantra “Change or die”.

These hardy souls changed their outlook, their attitude, their product, their marketing, their strategies–everything. And they not only hung on, they thrived. They had to stretch, and the process restored balance in their business.

6. Dealing with negative and hostile people.

This is an odd one, but for me, it was a necessary stretch. I learned to stand up for my art in ways I’d never done for myself. When I met a person who was a roadblock to my success, I wouldn’t quit and go home. Instead of being reduced to a puddle of self-pity, I learned to flex my newly-discovered professional mettle. They forced me to find ways to go over, under, around and through them.

I learned to not internalize the judgments they passed or the nasty things they said. I learned to set them aside and focus on what really matters–making my art, and focusing on how I intend to bring it into the world.

Some became so toxic it forced me to stop hanging out so much at on-line forums (remember those??) and start a blog instead. Which forced me to write every day. Which eventually led to professional writing gigs, and a long history of articles and essays that I believe still have something of value to say.

Nice stretch!

 7. Keeping it fresh.

Art centers, organizations, guilds, and other supporters of the arts are facing a new challenge. As they become more sophisticated and pickier in their artist selection, many younger, newer artists aren’t considered “good enough” or “traditional enough” to get in. We tend to forget that when we first started out, we weren’t at our peak, either. But the “safety net” of a supportive, encouraging art org gave us the opportunities to make our work, improve it, find an audience, learn how to talk with them, and make our work even more appealing to our collectors.

And our audience, too, as I mentioned earlier, gets older. They run out of wall space, or downsize, or….gasp….die. (Remember my horse sculpture that was bought at a yard sale? I’m sure the original collector didn’t put it there!) We need to constantly reach out (aka, “stretch!”) to attract and grow a new audience for our work.

Take stock of where you feel hidebound and muscle-bound. Where could you use some increased flexibility and suppleness?

What forced you to stretch, and how did it help? Let us know!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #8: Get the right support.

Luann Udell discusses the importance of support.
Luann Udell discusses the importance of support.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #8: Get the right support.

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.

Find ways to “hold it together” during the hard times and the slow times.

We all need the right support, literally and figuratively.

In martial arts, no guy goes out on the sparring floor without a cup. And those of us women who are, er, heavily endowed on top need a sports bra for those more vigorous sports–jogging, kickboxing, etc.

And here’s my $100 tip for those women today: I used to spend big bucks and much time searching for the perfect sports bra, even by mail order. They either didn’t work as promised or I felt like I was girding chest armor for battle. Yuck!

Then I discovered you can simply wear TWO regular sports bras, even the cheapie brands. Together they work just as well as the much more expensive kind.

But the other kind of support that’s vital is the support of your community.

On the first level, in your intimate community, someone who genuinely wants you to lose weight and get fit (and surprisingly, not everyone in your circle wishes that for you.)

On the second level, in your immediate community it’s more fun to work out with others who are just as dedicated as you are to showing up.

And on the highest level, your bigger community, it’s a lot easier when you have the facilities of a local gym or Y. Or when your town provides safe places for you to run (good sidewalks, well-lit recreation areas, bike paths and bike lanes on roads, public-access basketball courts and ball fields, etc.) Sometimes we’ve lived in areas where even WALKING was not a safe activity, and pedestrian-access was limited.

The communities you find, develop, and grow for your art is just as important!

I wish our country’s public schools in supported the arts as vigorously as they do sports. (And I wish they supported the kind of sports EVERYONE could do for the rest of their lives (swimming, jogging, biking, walking, tai chi, etc.) rather than focusing on team sports only the best athletes can try out for after a certain age.)

That’s true with artists, too.

If your intimate circle is not supportive of the work you do–if they can’t respect your work time, or don’t value what you do–you need to keep your hopes and dreams to yourself until you find people who do. Write in a journal, or a blog instead. Find a family member who is on your team and share with them. Or mentor another family member–maybe you are someone else’s inspiration and cheerleader!

Find ways to share your art with schools, community centers, and other town/city resources. Show people that art isn’t “something special and precious” that only works for a privileged few. Show them that our creative work is a lifelong activity, a way to have a voice in the world, and a healing balm for our spirit.

Find people in your community who share your dreams and visions for success. Some of them may not be in your medium, some of them may be further ahead or behind than you in their progress. Some of them may not even be in the arts. They could be other small business entrepreneurs, or people who have strong personal vision for other good causes. You’ll find many of the same business strategies and exercises for staying focused and staying on your core vision are still similar.

And finally, find ways to make your greater community at large more supportive of the arts.

Tell people about what you do–open studios, press releases to your local paper, demonstrations and presentations to professional groups and schools.

Show up when development proposals come to your city council, and advocate for the arts.

Join local art organizations, and support them. Some of them are a time drag, and some are sorry things. But all of them work to increase the visibility of the arts, and their efforts may be the only way many people ever experience the arts. They at least deserve your money and word-of-mouth support. And you can always join their team and encourage them to find ways to be more effective and focused.

At their best, ones like the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen here in NH work tirelessly to promote their membership and the arts and crafts.

Support. We all need to get it and we all need to give it.

It’s the, um, foundation garment for what we do.

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EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #7 Work (gently) through your setbacks.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #7 Work (gently) through your setbacks.

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.

Hiatus hurts, for awhile. 

Getting back in the saddle again hurts, for awhile.

But never going back to what you love, hurts forever.

 When we work out, despite our best efforts, we run the risk of injury. Injuries can range from annoying to debilitating. And they can derail your fitness program faster than you can say billy blue blazes.

Nothing is sadder than someone who’s grown dependent on their workouts for their good mood, their steady frame of mind and their focus. When my DH had a serious foot injury a few years into our relationship, I didn’t know who would lose their mind first–him or me.

And when I was first majorly injured in martial arts, it took me almost ten years to work up the courage–and physical ability–to return.

But the second time I injured myself two years ago, it took me only a few months to get back out there. And a year later, when I tore my hamstring, it took only weeks to get back on my feet again.

Not at the same level of intensity and skill, to be sure. At first all I could do was show up. I would do my physical therapy while everyone else practiced their spinning back kicks.

But I’ve learned to show up. And to always do what I can. Because I learned my lesson in that ten years of relative inactivity.

For one thing, studies show that injuries heal faster and better when we use our bodies. (Being mindful of moving in therapeutic ways, of course.) In fact, our bodies are so dependent on movement for our well-being, muscles will start to atrophy after only days of idleness. I’ve been told that the weakness we experience after a rough bout of flu actually has less to do with the illness, and more to do with our immobility as the disease runs its course.

For another, the less we move, the less we CAN move. “Use or lose it” is vital to our physical, mental–and artistic–health.

It’s the same with our art.

I will now tell you the saddest story in the world.

It’s the person who says, “I entered an art exhibit once, and didn’t get in. So I never tried again.”

Or “I got into an art exhibit once, but I didn’t sell anything. So I don’t even try to sell my work anymore.”

Or “I used to paint but I couldn’t sell my work. So I quit painting.”

Or “This show used to work for me but now it doesn’t. I don’t know what else to do.”

Or “I just love to (whatever) but I can never find the time to (whatever).”

As my mom used to say, people who say they love to read but they don’t have time, don’t really love to read. Because if you do, you know you can ALWAYS sneak in a book somewhere.

Experiencing failure with our art is daunting. But it’s simply part of the process of making art. Making art means learning how to make art, and learning how market our art. And learning how to sell our art. AND learning how to make better art.

The people who are successful making art and marketing their art and selling their art, aren’t people who have never failed.

They are simply people who didn’t quit just because they failed.

They keep at it, doing what they can and figuring things out as they go.

If their early work didn’t sell, or later work quit selling, they either changed their style, changed their marketing or changed their venues. If shows started to fail them, they tried something else.

Not all of us will be world-class artists, or hugely successful artists, or even very good artists. But if you love it, and it’s important to you, you must find a way to keep doing it.

 It’s as important to your creative nature as moving is to our physical bodies.

Whatever your art means to you–whether you intend to support yourself, or make a name for yourself, or whether it’s something you do part-time or something you do to amuse yourself–find a way to do it.

Even if, somedays, that means just showing up.

At my last open studio, one of my customers recommended an affordable place to ride a horse. I haven’t ridden in five years! But I went yesterday for a lesson. Nothing spectacular, and I was never a “spectacular” rider to begin with. (I am the eternal “adult beginner”.) But I scheduled a lesson with the instructor (who is delightful) at the ranch (which is beautiful, and takes great care of its horses.) I rode around the ring on a gentle little guy for an hour, and it was wonderful.

Today, I hurt all over. My back hurts, my hips hurt, my knees are killing me. I’m exhausted, too. I didn’t do much at all, but that’s what it feels like the first time you get back to something after a long hiatus.

And yet….I am soooooo happy!

This is what it feels like to be doing what you love. Especially after setting it aside for way too long.

It hurts.

But not nearly as much as not doing it.

Whatever has taken you away from your creative work, find a way back. For your sake. For our sake!

Flex your creative muscles. Start slow, but go steady, and work your way back to your happy place.