BE THE HERO IN YOUR OWN STORY: Framing Is Everything!

It takes time, but somewhere down the road, there’s a powerful story in our darkest hours.

 We attended a gathering this weekend. Good food, great people, and beautiful scenery. That’s where the idea for this week’s article comes from.

I was talking with a younger person there, who’s right smack in the middle of a difficult life stage. I listened to their woes, which, to be fair, they put a good spin on. In other words, they weren’t whining, but they were definitely struggling, in a situation all too familiar to me.

Without loading them with too much advice, I mostly told them they were doing it right. They had the right attitude, they were seeking the help they needed, and they knew they were fortunate in so many ways, they hated to complain about the exhausting situation they found themselves in.

I gave them two pieces of advice. Or rather, insights.

One, I told them that people who have been through the same thing, will understand. And those who haven’t, won’t. I said, “Seek out the first group, and just ignore the second.”

Two, I told her this, too, will pass. It’s hard, and it’s hard to make it easier. But in the end, they will be okay. And when they get through it, they will be able to see the gifts and blessings along the way.

I get that when we’re in the middle of a big muddle, it can feel like there’s no way out. No solution, no quick fix, no “magic mushrooms” to make it right. It can be hard to have hope.

And yet…

When I look back at some of the hardest times in my life, I can see something of value there.

I can see the goods things that came out of it. I can appreciate the people I met along the way, people who often had exactly what I needed to get through one day.

I can see the hard-won lessons that proved so valuable later in life. I can see the blessings, the gifts, the jaw-dropping miracles that not only helped me get through, but formed me into the person I am today.

“You can’t see it when you’re in the middle of it, and that’s okay,” I told them. “Because right now, it just sucks. So take exquisite care of yourself every chance you get.”

“But years from now, there will be something beautiful here, something that will encourage you, inspire you, help you find your way. This will change you, and some of those changes will be powerful. You will find yourself in a place you never even dreamed of, yet.”

“It will always be part of your story, and YOU will get to decide how to tell it.”

No one would ever choose to be in that hard place. It will simply find us, no matter who we are, no matter what we do. We are going to have very, very hard times in our lives.

And not everything has a happy ending.

But there will be gifts, if we chose to look for them.

The trick is in how we tell our story.

In a slump with our artwork? Uninspired? Tired of the same ol’ same ol’? Someday, we’ll look back and see the wall we hit—and how it led us to an exciting new body of work.

Didn’t get into art school? Maybe the wild and crazy path you DID take, is what makes your art so powerful today.

Didn’t get into that gallery? Or exhibition? Or that top-notch show? Rejection feels like failure. But failures have a way of making us dig deep for our art. We can crumple up and walk away, leaving our creative work behind. Or maybe we realize someone else’s “no” can be our next “maybe”. Maybe I’ll try another gallery in the next town over. Maybe I can simply apply for more exhibitions, hoping I’ll get into just one.

Or maybe I realize that no one can keep me from my studio, and it’s time for me to get back to work.

It can be hard to be Pollyanna in the middle of despair. And yet…

What if we actively thought of ourselves as the hero of our own story?

What if the challenges we face, force us to rise to meet them?

What if that difficult person in our workplace finally inspires us to find another job, a better one, too?

What if our loneliness when things get hard, creates compassion in our hearts for others in the same boat?

What if physical setbacks force us to choose another path, one that has its own rewards? (I’ve met TWO potters this month who had to find another form of creating when their bodies couldn’t take the “weight” any longer.)

What if lack of sales, fame, and stardom as an artist, actually encourages us to focus more on the “why” of our creative work? Helps us pay attention to the joy we get from making our art?

What if all we really need to get through this day, today, is a six-minute film to bring us nearly to tears, filled with awe of the beauty of this perfect day?

Last week, I read an old journal from our last two months in Keene, NH, just before we sold our house and 80% of our possessions to move across the country.

I’d made note of some difficult times, people, and situations. But I was surprised at how little of them I actually remembered! I would read, “I hate Doris!” and think, “Who the heck is Doris?!”

When we were in the middle of that move, all I could see was total chaos.

But as I look back, I see what a powerful experience it really was, on many fronts.

The things I loved so much, it felt impossible to leave them behind—only to find out they were in much worse shape than I’d realized, and couldn’t go anywhere except the dump. (My cheetah-patterned sofa!)

The person who gave me a hard time, and now I can’t even remember who it was, nor what it was about. (As I deal with difficult people here in CA, I’m reminded there are difficult people EVERYWHERE.)

The people who didn’t show up to help (“I’m not going to do one thing to help you leave, because I want you to stay!”) and the amazing gift of the people who DID show up, every day, for weeks.

The fear that I would lose my audience in NH (which DID fall off for awhile), and yet realizing how quickly I could start growing a new audience here.

The people who were upset by our choice to move, until I shared with them our own “hero’s journey” that led us to that decision. (Hallelujah, they came around!)

Now, sometimes we just need to gritch. I get it. I love to gritch, too. It feels good to get a good whine in (with a glass of wine, too!) And it can be cathartic to blow off steam with a good friend who’s willing to listen.

But in the end, I choose to see the miracles, the gifts large and small, the Angels In Odd Places I find in almost every step along the way.

So the next time you get slapped in the face with a big ol’ whipping cream pie of rejection, or lack of sales, or whatever, take note. My bears’ story: “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

Bear tells me, “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

I process things by writing, but you may have another process. Maybe painting your heart out, or creating a song, or poem, or prayer. Maybe do something kind for someone even worse off than you. Perhaps a chance to simply blort with a loving partner, or a really good friend who is truly there for you.

Whatever works for you, embrace it.

Be the hero of your own story.

Tell the story only you can tell.

Because your story might  just inspire someone else to be a hero.

Do you have an example of a setback that proved to be a power booster for you? Share it here! It may be just what someone else needs to hear today!

And if someone shared this with YOU, and you like what you see, sign up for more articles at my blog here.

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: You Can Be Focused, You Can Be Diverse, It’s All Good!

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: You Can Be Focused, You Can Be Diverse, It’s All Good!

Topics: advice for artists | creativity | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell | originality

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.

Luann Udell shared how to be focused and diverse in your art career
Luann Udell shared how to be focused and diverse in your art career

You get to choose what you do, how you do it, how many things you do, and you can change it whenever you’re ready.

When the young art students came to my studio, most of them were still in the exploring stage of art-making. Some already felt “more comfortable” with a specific media, but most were trying this and that, and some hadn’t found what really felt right.

That’s normal! I encouraged them to keep exploring. This stage could take a few years, it could take a decade, it might take more than that. Maybe…..for the rest of their lives!

I think some of them were a little surprised by that. It seemed that some were already feeling the pressure to pick “just one thing” or “just one process” (painting, for example, or drawing, etc.) (It may have been more societal pressure than pressure from their teachers.)

I told them, “If you’ve already figured that out, good on you! But if you haven’t, that’s normal, too. These are the perfect years to explore and experiment. In fact, you might incorporate “new and different” for the rest of your life! And that’s okay.”

Focus is a good thing, of course. When we push all our efforts in one direction, into one medium or process, we can make enormous strides in our skill set.

But that’s not the only way to be a “real artist”. And when people tell us it IS the only way, and we don’t want to do it that “one right way”, it can feel soul-crushing.

Years ago, I attended a seminar with a well-known speaker who created a series of workshops about all kinds of artist/maker issues: How to market our work, how to display it at shows and in galleries, how to talk with customers, etc. All excellent information, garnered not only from their own career as a maker, but from dozens of others who shared their insights with him.

When it was my turn to ask a question, I started to frame my body of work: “So I do jewelry, fiber work, and printing, and I’d like to know…..”

They interrupted me mid-sentence: “FOCUS!!!!”

The whole room erupted into laughter, and I was humiliated. The speaker went on to explain that “certain clueless craftspeople” get into doing everything: “I raise the sheep, I shear the sheep, I spin the wool, I dye the yarn, I make the pattern, I knit the sweater….” They end up with a product that can’t be reasonably priced, and then wonder why their work doesn’t sell. The speaker moved on to the next person.

That wasn’t my problem, and I was pretty peeved. Afterwards, I went up to ask for clarification, and they apologized. “I wanted to make an example of you, because that comes up all the time! But I see now that isn’t what you were sharing, and I’m sorry.”

There’s a lesson there: Don’t make assumptions about the “stupid questions” people ask us. (As in, “How long did it take you to make that?” “It took me thirty years to make!”) (Yes, there are a dozen better ways to answer that question without making a joke at that potential customer’s expense!)

“Lack of focus” was not an issue for me. I already knew I was “doing it right”, FOR ME. I was perfectly comfortable with my multi-media choices, because I had a powerful story that united them. From the very beginning of my art career, people could recognize my distinctive style, use of color, and use of artifacts, even in the different ways I staged them.)

I wanted to know how to approach the top retail shows in the country that, typically, demanded I pick ONE medium to apply in. And usually my jewelry wouldn’t be accepted, because it’s a dense medium at high-end fine craft shows. Often half the applicants are jewelers! I wanted help figuring out how to get out of the “box” most shows and exhibits want to put us creatives in.

(I never solved that, but finally figured out ways around it.)

Nowadays, whenever I ask people about their creative work, I get a wonderful variety of answers. But the ones where I sense folks feel the most embarrassment is when they haven’t focused completely on “just one thing”.

“Oh, I’m not a real artist! I love oil painting, but I’ve also enjoy watercolor and pastels, and I’ve taken clay workshops and loved it, and I want to….” And then they sort of trail off, waiting for me to tell them to “focus”.

I refuse.

I ask them what their goals are, and listen. Unless they feel “held back” by their free choices, I almost always tell them to embrace their path.

From their reaction, I’m guessing no one has ever told them that’s okay. Which is sad.

Some of us know the medium that speaks to us. We leap into with all our heart, and pursue it, perfecting our skills, finessing our techniques, perhaps (hopefully!) even receiving recognition and acclaim for our work.

Others, like me, take longer to figure it out. We try different things, or keep up with several things, until we find our way through.

For me, I did fiber work for years: Cross-stitching (easy!), then embroidery (harder!), then quilting (so much time!!), getting smaller and freer and focusing on making something that looked aged and worn. I got to the point where I rarely bought new fabrics, and instead scrounged yard sales, thrift stores, and antique shops for unusual, vintage, and antique fabrics, and well-worn clothing. Eventually, when I couldn’t find what I wanted, I began to over-dye my own fabrics, and even carved my own stamps to print fabric.

When my kids were born, I knit them sweaters. (Hey, it’s faster to knit for a little kid than an adult, and they’re a lot less fussy about how it fits!) (But you also have to work fast, or they’ll grow out of whatever you’re making for them….)

Eventually, I was frustrated trying to find the perfect buttons for those sweaters, and so I began to make my own.

I couldn’t afford expensive jewelry, didn’t like much of it anyway. I loved the look of old pieces. I started buying broken or out-of-date bits and pieces, restringing them or salvaging the beads for other projects. One year, I was accepted into an exhibit for art quilts, and forgot to read the fine print: Beadwork was required. So I “explained” that the beads I used were too tiny to be seen in the photograph, and frantically added seed beadwork to the finished pieces. (I won a Judges’ Choice Award!)

And I also began using those sweater buttons as embellishments on my art quilts.

Are you sensing an epiphany here? It’s coming!

Until the day came where I stepped up to the plate with my “mom crafts” and found my powerful story, where I found my place in the world as an artist.

All those “little crafty things” I’d been doing for years all came together to make something different. Something unique. Something that became my signature, so that now, people who are familiar with my work, can spot it in almost any form.

If I had “found my perfect medium” all those years ago, I would not be making the work I do today.

Would I be better off? How do I know? We choose a path, and our story is changed forever. I don’t regret my “aimless wanderings” that eventually brought me the work I love with all my heart. I choose to celebrate the skills and insights I gained along the way.

Some of us will “do it right”, focusing on a specific medium and style. Some of us will explore, constantly adding, tweaking, mixing it up. And some may never “settle” into one or two things. They will explore, and experiment, and dabble for the rest of their lives.

My question for them: Are you happy with that?

Because if you are, that’s all that matters.

What matters, first and foremost, is that our work brings us joy.

Oh, not 24/7. I get that. Sometimes things just don’t click, or we get tired of the same ol’ same ol’. (Usually we get our happy back, though!) And if we want to get really, really good at something, we have to put in the time and the work.

Some people pursue one style, or medium, and then walk away from it and pursue something else. That’s okay, too.

And some of us find total joy in the new, the experimenting. Some people only make art when they take classes. Which, I tell them, is really smart! If you can’t make time for your art, then taking a class is an excellent way to set aside the time (to go to class), to experiment (with all the tools and expertise provided by the teacher that you’ll need) and come home with something you love (because you had the chance to actually finish it!)

In our modern times, art is both a necessity (for our emotional/spiritual health) and a luxury (we can all choose what, when, how, and why we “make”). We get to choose how we fit it into our lives, we get to decide whether it’s our “one thing”, our “main thing”, or our “fun thing”.

Somewhere along the line, the word “amateur” (which means doing something because you love it, whether we make money at it or not) became a hugely judge-y thing: “Oh, you’re not a professional, you’re just an amateur!”

In reality, “amateur”, “vocational”, and “avocational” are all on the same spectrum. We do it because we love it, and it supports us, financially, and we do it as if it really were our profession- doing all the steps that a “true professional” artist would do, even if we don’t actually make a lot of money at it. And a few professionals actually step back from that stance, because they find the demands of catering to a market, and having to do the same thing, the same way, for the same people, actually saps some of the joy from our process. They find other ways to earn income, something they’re good at that pays well, and that they like or even love, yet keep their artwork in their life, on their own terms.

It’s all good.

Because when we accept all the reasons that show us we’re “doing it right”, the more art, the more beauty, the more joy there will be in the world.

So keep on keeping on, I told those kids. Do what you can. Do what you want. Do what you have to do. You get to choose.

Make it work for Y-O-U, finding your unique happy place in the world with your art.

The whole world is waiting to see “what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life…”*

*From “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

What Is The Story Only You Can Tell? Make It A Good One!

What Is The Story Only You Can Tell? Make It A Good One!

By Luann Udell

Image 3100480

4/27/2019 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.

We can’t control everything in life, but we can choose how we face it.

Years ago, one of my favorite writers, Martha Beck, wrote an article thathas stuck with me for decades.

Beck’s insights and advice come from her years as a therapist, observing how people get stuck and how to help them get unstuck. In this article, she describes two of her clients, two women named Mary.

Mary One has a sad life storyA parent dying young, obstacles, setbacks, health issues, etc. Just reading the list makes you wonder how anyone could survive what she has been through.

Mary Two has a wonderful life story. She inherited wealth, and was able to attend top-notch colleges. She is highly educated, and her career issatisfying. She is very close to her grandmother, who showers her with love and kindness. She loves to travel and has been all over the world. One cannot help but envy her good fortune.

The kicker?

The two clients are actually the same person.

This article was a game-changer for me. The lessons are obvious.

We have all had sadness, and joy in our lives. We have all experienced cruelty, and kindness. We all have victories, and setbacks. We’ve all had people who love us, and people who are toxic. We all wish we had more money, even though we know in our hearts that if a billion dollars is “not enough” for the wealthiest people in the world, how will we ever have enough?

The lesson for me was simple: We get to create our own story.

For years, my saddest story was that I couldn’t get into art school. My school, one of two in the entire county, in an agricultural area, didn’t have much money to spend on art programs. This meant my portfolio was pretty pathetic. And so, when I did go to college, I majored in art history instead, the traditional “shadow artist”, hovering on the outskirts of my passion and filled with envy for those who thrived with their art.

And yet….

I actually was accepted into not one, not two, but three colleges thatoffered art programs. Instead, I chose the one that was the most prestigious, where my best friend, my high school boyfriend, and my secret crush had been accepted. It was the only school that rejected my portfolio. I took a few art classes, but they were like bananas offered to amonkey in a cage, a prize I could never reach.

So “not being good enough” wasn’t really a thing, though it took me years to see that. It was just a “sad story” I held onto for a long time.

Although that boyfriend turned out to be fairly toxic, and much of my love life was pretty pathetic, it was in this same city that I met my husband, my life partner, and a pretty great one. We’ve been together over 40 years.

So with the power of hindsight/reframing, going to that college was actually a lucky fortunate choice. (Next week, I’ll share another storyabout “luck”!) Taking all those art history classes, starting with theLascaux Cave (the oldest human art in the world in the 1970’s) was apowerful, inspirational resource when I finally owned the power of my choices, and became the artist I was always meant to be.

And if I had actually been accepted into that college’s art program, I am certain I would not be making the work I make today. I don’t think my tender heart would have survived the toxic critiques many students had to endure (I hear schools do it differently now, but I take that with a grain of salt, as this intriguing memoir reveals.

In short, there may be one set of facts, circumstances, etc…

But there are a slew of stories I can tell myself because of them.

When I’m feeling “less than”, I feel embarrassed that I actually hate drawing. I resent that my medium of choice took years to gain respect in the art world. I know that some people still would not consider me a “real artist”. I remember every cruel or thoughtless remarks from ignorant, pompous, or deeply-troubled people.

But when I choose to see my power, I know I make art for myself, first. Making my art has made me a better person. I know that I use thatpower, the power of my choices, to not only make work that‘s so personal, my collectors can easily recognize my style and aesthetics, I’ve used that power to reach out and connect with others, always with the hope that doing so may elevate the hearts of others, as well.

Try this exercise today: Jot down all the hardships and crappy things thathave crossed your path this week, everything that made you suffer and seethe. (I didn’t say “in your lifetime” because that could take weeks! But sure, put in anything that‘s still hounding you.) List the deadlines you’re stressing over, the to-do list that never seems to end, the lack of respect for your style/subject/medium, the dearth of sales. Make note of how you feel when you’re done.

Now write down all the blessings and gifts that happened in the same time period: The car that let you merge safely into traffic, the person who stopped to let you cross the street, the new opportunity to show your work that‘s got you fired up about your new series. Consider the thank-you notes you got from the grateful customer who bought your work because they loved it. Think of all the things you did accomplish, and all the steps forward you’ve taken with your art, your personal growth, your relationships.

How do you feel now?

I always-always-feel better.

This is why I write. It helps me sort out the distractions from the real deal, the true life mission I carry in my heart from the road bumps. I get clarity on what I can change, and what I can’t change. I can feel my anger melt as I frame the difficult stuff differently.

All the naysayers, the critics, the trolls, the digs, the snark we encounter daily, suddenly feel more like annoyances than anything. I feel free to simply do what I love to do. I give myself permission to live my life theway I want.

A recent example: A dear friend and supporter shared with excitement the realization that their work is “on trend”. My lizard brain immediately buckled. The same trend was in force when I started making this particular aspect of my art, and I struggled mightily to overcome it. For afew moments, I was envious that this person, who has had my back for years, might surf that wave farther than I ever will.

And then I had to laugh. My work has never been “on trend”, and I’m glad! The courage it took to simply make the work of my heart has created my own wave I can ride as far as I desire.

I know now that the world is big enough for both us. If they aresuccessful with their work, if they get a “bigger piece of the pie”, thatdoesn’t mean my slice is smaller. There is an infinite amount of “pie” in the world, enough for both of us. Actually, it’s big enough for all of us.

I will simply not let that first story be the story I tell. I choose the second storythe one filled with mutual respect, joy, and kindness.

What is the story YOU can choose to tell, today?

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A HANDY GUIDE TO NIBBLERS: The Fifteen-Minute Read that Can Change Your Life.

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.

If my curve is large, why bend it to a smaller circle?

Henry David Thoreau

The Nibble Theory and the Kernel of Power will rock your world.

Years ago, I came across a remarkable book that changed my life for the better.

For the life of me, I can’t remember how I found out about it. But I give thanks every single day of my life that I did.

You’ve heard me mention it, and maybe some of you have already found your own copy. If not, head over to this amazing search tool and find an affordable copy. (Although even a brand new copy won’t set you back much, either.)

THE NIBBLE THEORY by Kaleel Jamison really is a 15-minute read. It even has pictures/cartoons, which beautifully illustrate the concepts she presents.

But although the concepts are simple, they are not easy, as Jamison herself says in the first page.

When I first started out with my artwork, combining different media wrapped around a powerful personal story, I was fearless. I had a late start in my art life, and I wasn’t going to let anything or anybody stand in my way. I slipped and slided over every bump in the road, moving forward with passion and joy. (Side note: How come it’s glide/glided and not slide/slided??)

Just like any other exciting new venture in life, the honeymoon period eventually comes to an end. That’s where the real work comes in.

And it’s also when the Nibblers showed up.

I’ve talked on end about Nibblers, the people who deem us “too much”: Too much free time, too much courage, too much to say, too much talent. They “nibble us down” by making us feel like “not enough”: Not enough skill, not enough credibility (“Pastels are just chalk!), not enough of anything.

My biggest insight came from a couple who were part of our inner social circle back in New Hampshire, wonderful, intelligent, supportive, loving folks. I told Ruth about the book, and a few years later, shared with her my frustration about the Attack of the Nibblers. (There was quite a swarm of them that year!)

She told her husband, a lawyer, that he should be gentle that night when we came over for dinner. “Luann’s had a lot of ‘nibbles’ lately”, she said.

That’s when Ted replied with the words that created another sea change in my life”:

“You tell Luann that lawyers do this to each other all the time!” he told her. “It’s called professional jealousy. It means she’s doing good work.” You can read more about professional jealousy in this series, Mean People Suck on my blog, or searching for “professional jealousy” for similar articles there.

This insight helped me get over the nay-sayers, the back-biters, the foot-trippers, the people who say I smell funny (WE ALL SMELL FUNNY), the folks with back-handed “compliments” that are actually swats, etc.

The major premise of the first half of The Nibble Theory is that we all start out as small people with a lot of personal growth ahead of us. That ‘personal growth’ is symbolized by a small circle. As we go through life, we have many opportunities to grow personally, emotionally, spiritually.  Sometimes we overlook these opportunities, but we will all encounter them on our journey. And we can’t judge someone else’s journey, because….well, because it’s their journey, not ours..

But along the way, we’re going to run into not only small circles who will be jealous of our journey, we may run into bigger circles who may be threatened by ours. They will “nibble us down to size” so we aren’t as scary or enviable.

This book helps us understand our own power is about our own personal growth. And it helps us “frame” the attacks of others who feel threatened, who feel “less than”, so we don’t take on their toxicity personally.

I’ve read this book many, many times over the years. From time to time (like now!) I even buy up additional copies, and give them away to friends and family who may benefit from reading the book.

But here’s an interesting twist in my own story:

I completely did not spend much time on the second half, devoted to “the kernel of power”.

And this is exactly what I need to be working on right now.

Oddly, in our little WAG group (Women Artists’ Group, my first artist support group here in California), we had a little exercise in January: We all picked a word to be “our word” for 2019.

And I picked “power”.

I had no idea why. I don’t want to be a superhero, I don’t want to boss people around (though my dear hubby might beg to differ), and I don’t want to be “in charge”. I was actually offered a chance to serve on a local art event group’s steering committee, and turned it down. (I prefer “ad hoc” participation, I told them.)

And yet, for some reason, the word “power” resonated.

Eventually, I found an article about a different kind of “power”, the kind that comes from being grounded (sounds vaguely electrical??) and getting clear about the path we are on, bringing our energy and efforts to focus on doing the best work we can, and using it as a force for good in the world.

And now I’m reading and rereading that last section of the THE NIBBLE THEORY more carefully.

The beauty of it is, it includes an exercise which strongly echoes my series where I talk about the structure of a powerful artist support group, THE FOUR QUESTIONS.

 Aha! The right kind of power! Now I know my mission for the rest of 2019.

Jamison knew first-hand the importance of finding our power. She was a first-generation Lebanese woman, born in the ‘30’s in West Virginia. She founded her own consulting company, and became a pioneer on issues of gender, race, affirmative action, and differences. She died way too soon, but her work lives on. And it has even more relevance for our contentious, fractured world today.

What the heck does this have to do with art?!

You already know that.

As artists, we, too, live in a time where, even with all the opportunities and ways to get our art out in the world, it can still be hard. Hard to discover what is unique about our work, and our story. Hard to figure out how to make our work stand out from the crowd. Hard to value our work and ourselves at a time where Nibblers seem to outnumber mosquitoes in the world.

And yet, every single one of us got here today from different times, different places, different circumstances, different education, different support systems, and with different media, different processes, different goals, different audiences, and different expectations. Her goal was not to be famous, or to make a lot of money. She simply wanted to make the world a better place, and put her special skills to work to achieve that.

What do we all have in common?

We all want to make the work that means something to us, something that is a product of our story. Our story is who we are in the world, and who we want to be.

And we want people to see us. Not just our work, but us. Who we are, what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.  (We want people to buy it, too, of course. And they will, if it resonates with them enough, and they can afford it.) (And if they have room for it!)

I believe we also all want people to value our work, to appreciate it.

We want our work to be “in the world”, and to mean something to others.

And like the Netflix special, “Nanette”, we can focus on Van Gogh’s work selling for $21 million dollars.

Or we can focus on the fact that Van Gogh’s work exists today because he had a brother who loved him.

As an eternal student of life, I strive to keep learning, to keep growing as a human being, to do the work of my heart, and to help others do the same. I want to have few regrets when I leave this world.

OH, and I also want to have the most beads, rocks, shells, and pets.

What is your inner truth? What does your work say, that you want the world to know? Not sure? Go buy the darn book!

P.S. As I republished this article on my blog, I realized the best example of what I espouse here. Kaleel Jamison died way too soon, but her work, her foundation, and powerful book are still with us today. Her words still bring solace, healing, and empowerment to people who need it to do their good work, and bring it into the world. She did it right!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #12: Make Do With What You Have (Til You Know Your Real Next Step)

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Sometimes an austerity budget is a hidden blessing!

 In last week’s column, I talked how we can get distracted with shiny new toys in our art biz: The latest brush craze, the hottest craft tools, the newest technique, can give us a lot of joy and amusement, and offer inspiration and new ideas. BUT they can also pull us off-course and dilute our true story. I said, “Those special karate shoes won’t make you a better karate student if you don’t show up for class.”

Like all my advice, you should only cherry-pick the bits that work for YOU. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to advice. And as several people pointed out, it IS fun to try new ideas, new palettes, new tools, new techniques. Fun is a good thing.

Of course it is! And I encourage you to try this when it feels like time to take a little break from your usual routine, and change things up a bit.

My caveat was, sometimes the “little bit of fun” turns into a death-spiral of spending and distraction. Getting caught up in classes could mean less time to actually do your own work.

My own trap is getting pulled off-course in admiring the work of others, and not focusing on what’s unique about the work I do. I admire what they do, I want to do it, too. And then I realize that in order to “make it mine” I can’t just imitate what they do. I have to transform it for myself, to reflect MY vision and aesthetics–and story.

So for those who realized they are dealing with the caveat, as promised, here is a solution–temporary or permanent, YOU DECIDE–that I used a few years ago:

Put yourself on a (tools/techniques/class/materials) diet.

I went through a period after the recession where sales fell, galleries hunkered down (or closed forever), and it felt like no one wanted my work. (Yes, I made a world-wide economic event all about me. Go figure.) :^)

I was in business debt up to my eyeballs due to three consecutive high-end shows retail/wholesale shows with poor sales. I had no money for new supplies, no budget for more big shows, no resources to indulge in new distractions.

At first I had no idea how to move forward. But I came up with a year-long plan, and it worked!

I resolved to make it through the year with what I had on hand.

I took an informal inventory of the supplies and materials I had on hand. (I say “informal” because mixed media artists can never rarely completely inventory all the bits and pieces they use in their work.)

1.     What did I ABSOLUTELY NEED to keep making my work?

I let go of what I wish I had, what “everybody else” had, what I thought would be fun to have. Bare bones budget, baby.

2.     What did I ABSOLUTELY NEED to get me through the next year?

Instead of stocking up every chance I got, I realized I had enough supplies on hand to make it through at least a year.

One of my biggest pitfalls is buying in bulk. It’s a lot cheaper per piece, of course. But if I only need 100 widgets for $50, that’s doable with my restricted budget. 1,000 widgets for $400 is still $350 more that I don’t have.

3.     What did I have on hand that could be put to better use?

E.g., what can be repurposed, traded, or even sold (to make money to spend on something more useful?) Years before, I bought a slew of quality ear wires that were just too small for my purposes. I found I could reshape them into useful “dangles” and decorative bits for a new line.

In other words, NO NEW SUPPLIES could come into the building without paying for itself upfront.  NO NEW MATERIALS could be purchased until I’d exhausted the ones I already had. NO NEW CLASSES could be taken until I had a project in the works that decidedly NEEDED that technique/process to create. Even then, I’d stop: Do I HAVE to take a class? Can I learn what I need online? From a book? From a LIBRARY book?? From a friend???

I also swallowed my pride–just for a year–and focused on my best sellers and my lower-priced work, the work that was the easiest to make and get out there. Not as a permanent thing, but as a rescue strategy. It felt restrictive, and small. But it also felt necessary to help dig myself out of the hole I’d gotten myself into. Knowing it was a temporary “narrow focus” really helped.

I took on a very cool mail order catalog client. It was hard. It meant mass-producing certain jewelry items in a short amount of time. But it also meant a few big production week, and then a very big check (for me!) a few months later. (Again, even a year going into production mode for some of my pieces resulted in sacrificing something. Not quality, exactly, but….energy. I look back at those pieces from that period, and I can tell the difference.)

And when I did make a sale, I applied every single penny to my more-money-than-I-make-in-a-year credit card balance.

Within two years, I paid it off.

What helped:

  • Some commitments to big change mean a lifetime commitment. In this case, not. It helped knowing it was a period with a beginning and an end.
  • It also helped seeing results. I did not go deeper into debt. I could look at my card statements and see the balance going down a little bit every month.
  • Austerity became my friend. I got used to not buying everything I thought I “had” to have. (For a while. Back in it now! Gotta go back on that diet!)
  • It felt good not to add more pressure to an already-difficult situation. Examples: Not taking time for classes I didn’t really need, meant more time to focus on my own work.
  • Using up the materials I already had on hand meant I freed up a little storage space. And not buying materials I didn’t need right away meant not having to FIND more storage space.
  • The biggest advantage? I didn’t spend enormous amounts of money on a “new thing”, only to find out it wasn’t MY thing in the first place.

I cannot tell you how many times I see new artists (and experienced artists venturing into new places) invest heavily in everything they think they need to “do it right”.  They get caught up in “doing it right the FIRST TIME”.

That can be a very expensive mind-set.

The person who decides they want to be a potter who invests in brand new, high-end kiln, throwing wheel, (the best!) and tools and glazes, and remodels their garage or basement for a studio—who then realizes a) it’s too much time and work to actually make stuff every day, or b) they actually prefer a different medium, or c) they actually want to focus on making pinch pots instead. (No wheel necessary.)

The person who TOOK OUT A SECOND MORTGAGE ON THEIR HOME to buy a complete professional craft show booth for those really big trade shows, a van/trailer to haul the thing, display structures, lighting, etc., etc., only to find out they did not have the kind of products wanted by fine craft and gift stores, nor could they produce them in a timely manner, nor price them reasonably for wholesale/consignment.

These enthusiastic, well-meaning artisans thought they knew what they wanted, and jumped in over their head, emotionally and financially. Some people have no regrets about this, or can afford it easily. Most of us can’t.

Again, this is not to say, don’t be bold, don’t be brave, don’t commit.

It means, when you realize this is an issue, stop. Slow down. Rethink.

Last, think about the deeper reason why we overspend on stuff we really don’t need: Mental/spiritual turmoil. Fear of missing out (FOMO). The myth of scarcity. (“If I don’t buy these NOW, I’ll never find another source.”)

My life is in turmoil right now. As if this past year weren’t difficult enough, I might have to give up my current studio and find another. The last month has been a freaky one, and guess what I realized as I wrote this article?

I’ve been compensating by overstocking up on the components I want for my “new big idea.” They are items I am repurposing from vintage items, so hard to find (feeding my “myth of scarcity” fear). I probably need a couple dozen, yet I in the last month I’ve tracked down and bought enough to last my lifetime.

So distraction, envy, FOMO,

If you’re determined to invest in those high-tech karate/biking/sports shoes, knowing they will make a difference….

Make sure they’re the right size. The right fit. And don’t buy more than you really need.

If they really do help you have more fun, expand the horizons that need to be explored, help you perform better, and help you make the best work of your heart, then that is money well-spent!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #11: Wear the Right Shoes.

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.

Special “karate shoes” won’t make you a better karate student if you don’t show up for classes.

Some activities require more specialized equipment than others. It’s hard to rollerblade in bare feet, for example.

My husband spent years avoiding all of the latest high-tech biking stuff. He insisted on regular t-shirts over special moisture-wicking synthetic fiber bike shirts. He wore his regular sports shoes instead of special biking shoes.

We had friends a few years ago who used to laugh openly at his lack of high-tech gear. “I can’t believe your husband rides in a cotton T-SHIRT!” the wife giggled.

But here’s the thing: He never has any problem enjoying long bicycle rides just because he didn’t have the fancy clothing, shoes and gadgets. When the weather allows, he’s off on his bike every chance he gets.

He did finally realize that those “geeky bike shoes with the special clip-on cleats” (that attach to the bike pedals) really do provide a more efficient, more enjoyable experience for long-distance riding. (And he still doesn’t know the right name for them.)

They are only useful, though, on rides where you don’t have to stop much (since the shoes have to be manually disengaged from the pedal when you stop.) Those same shoes and pedals would make in-town riding miserable.

So the right equipment can make your workout not only better, but possible. More efficient. More fun. But different situations make for different “right equipment.”

The downside of focusing on the “perfect equipment” is, some people get so caught up in the high-tech accruements, they spend more time shopping and playing with the “toys” than they spend actually doing the activity. They need the “best bike” that costs thousands of dollars, the “latest biking shirt”, etc.

And if they can’t get them, well, that can be the excuse they need not to exercise in the first place. “I’ll wait til I find the perfect slippers to do T’ai Chi!” (Never found them. Time to go back to socks!)

Too much equipment can eat up your cash resources. At best, it can put the focus on how to get your next new “toy” rather than your next good workout. At worst interfere with the simple act of getting out there and exercising.

Special “karate shoes” won’t make you a better karate student if you don’t show up for classes.

My hubby, for all his lack of gizmos and high-tech sportswear, still logs in hundreds, if not thousands, of miles biked every year. While the friend who poked fun of him for being so low-tech? Hasn’t been on a bike in a loooong time……

If a new sport “toy” excites you enough to exercise more, then it’s a good thing. If it distracts you from the PURPOSE of your work-out–to exercise more, to make your work-out more productive, and help you enjoy your activity– it’s not a good thing.

The same with our art biz.

My own two craft media, the world of quilting/fiber arts and the world of polymer clay, are especially prone to this “new toy” phenomenon. New tools, techniques and gadgets are introduced almost weekly. Pick up a decent quilters supply catalog and you will find hundreds–no, THOUSANDS–of gadgets designed to aid you in sewing two pieces of fabric together. The polymer clay industry is just as product-dense.

I’ll take that back–these two media are not any more prone to this than any other medium. In fact, classes and supplies for painting probably lead the pack. Special brushes, engineered paints, exotic papers and canvases, intricate easels–the list is endless.

At one point, I decided to invest thousands of dollars in a giant sewing machine that would have allowed me to make really, really big fiber wall hangings. I saved money until I could purchase one, set it up in my studio….

And never used it. Not once.

It turns out the way it worked was exactly the reverse of my process, and cumbersome. The learning curve was steep, and not worth it to me. It turns out I lose my sense of composition when my work gets big. (Someone said years ago my aesthetic works best when small and intimate, and I totally agree. My first aesthetic was “something you can hold in your hand”, and that still describes the bulk of my work.)

I’m fortunate that the store owner simply bought the machine back two years later. (It helped I was a loyal customer who had always treated them with integrity and generosity, and it was repaid in kind when I needed it!) (It helped that it was in mint condition, too.) :^)

It turns out my professional-grade but limited-options sewing machine was exactly what I need, and nothing more. (It can’t zig-zag or serge-stitch, but it free-style quilts like a charm!)

New toys are fun. And classes in new techniques, materials, tools, and processes can expand our artistic vocabulary and strengthen our repertoire of skills and abilities.

They can also water down our focus, our ability to develop and refine a FEW skills to perfection. All the squirrel-hair brushes and archival quality paper and lightfast paints in the world will not transform a mediocre painter into an accomplished artist.

In our eagerness to get on board the “next new thing”, we join the ranks of dilettantes–by definition, those who pursue an art as a pastime, especially sporadically or superficially.

I say “dilettante” as opposed to the original definition of “amateur”–one who pursues an art for the pure love of it, rather than a profession. It used to mean “someone who loved what they did and did it even while not accepting money for it.” Getting paid was not the end result–enjoyment was. (“Amateur” now means/implies someone who cannot/has not mastered or marshalled their skill enough to pursue their art as a profession. I hate that!)

There’s nothing wrong with being a dilettante OR an amateur. Not everyone even wants to be a “professional” artist. Just having the work of your heart in your life, even at a small level, is enough for many, many people.

But….if constant “playing around” is getting in the way of something else you want….If you want to be considered as more than a hobbyist, you must rise above your tools and techniques–and become a master of the medium itself.

It’s all about “the right shoes” for the RIGHT next step.

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!