DREAMERS AND MUSIC-MAKERS

My original shrines made a great display of my work! And now the dream continues….

Sometimes I surprise myself.

When I wrote “Art for Money, Money for Art”, I was solidly grounded in my story, my artwork. But the world sure wasn’t. Ever since I’d started my professional art career, it seemed like every day, the news was full of something dire. It began with 9/11 and marched through invading more and more Mid-Eastern countries. Galleries struggled, sales wavered, and then finally, the Recession of 2008 put a dagger in my hopes of becoming a “rich and successful” artist.

And yet, my principles remained strong. I knew I was making my work for all the right reasons, even as some people mocked me for being a “Pollyanna” about my slumping sales.

When the Recession hit a few years later, I did get a little desperate. For the first time, I submitted jewelry work to a mail-order catalog. I learned a lot, a few items were accepted and published, and I made enough sales to heal my drained bank account.

But I also learned that making something strictly for money, something that was a ‘sure seller’, something I had to make hundreds of, was not for me.

Okay, I’ll admit, if I had to actually pay my own rent and put food on the table, I would do it differently. As my wonderful partner has said, “I get paid pretty well to do the work I love. It’s not your fault the work you love doesn’t pay too well.” Thank you, sweetie!

It’s just that making something to please someone else, making the exact same thing in multiples, over and over, and the betting on a sample that might bring in some money but probably not, became pretty stressful. It drained me. I was relieved to return to my happy place in my art-making.

Segue to the pandemic, where sales dropped for everyone….

One day in my studio, as I was composing yet another beautiful necklace, it hit me. I love making jewelry with my artifacts. It’s my best-selling category, too.

But I realized my studio is already full of jewelry. I don’t really need to make more, except that making makes me happy. (I’m sure autocorrect is going crazy right now…)

And I realized there was a big project I’ve been holding in my heart for almost a decade or more. I could feel it calling to me: My shrine series, from 2013.

What held me back?

  • Some technical issues I couldn’t figure out.
  • A lack of materials.
  • Worrying about whether it would sell.

I decided to simply start with what I had, and see what happened.

What happened was a small miracle.

  • Yes, I hit those technical issues pretty quickly. And guess what? After some trial-and-error attempts, I eventually figured out a good way to manage them. They were so good, I actually went back and took some earlier pieces apart and redid them.
  • I started work in a series of colors, making multiple versions that were still unique.
  • I found sources for almost everything I needed: Tiny brackets, even tinier screws, new candidates for smaller boxes and drawers, and work-arounds for every issue that cropped up.

I now have almost completed fifty shrines in my studio. (“Completed” is a relative term. Next come artifacts, and then mounting them in the box shrines.) I have so many, I’m now panicking about an upcoming open studio in June. Because my shrines have commandeered every inch of space in my studio.

Thanks and a hat tip to Natalia Gorwalski, who generously gave me these little tool/parts drawers, now painted and waxed and ready for stacking!

What kept me awake in the middle of the night?

Wondering if they would ever even sell.

I know this worry for what it is: My brain trying desperately to find a “solution” to an overabundance of shrines.

So today’s article “Fresh Drive” by Sara Genn, landed at just the right time for me. (Sara continues the journey of her father, Robert Genn, with their blog, The Painter’s Keys. Any creative can benefit from their shared insights and wisdom.)

I am again restored me to my highest, best, artist self.

Genn discusses “intrinsic vs extrinsic drive”. Extrinsic drive are the external rewards we seek from whatever we do, based on “if/then”. “If I stick to my diet, I can lose weight.” “If I work overtime, I can get make more money.” “If I create a chart, I can get my kids to do their chores.” Extrinsic drive is good for establishing new habits, getting things done, attaining our goals, etc. I would add, ‘seeking fame and fortune’ to those extrinsic goals, which is also a common goal for artists.)

But it turns out that extrinsic drive can be toxic to creative work. “Artists, it seems, are inspired by everything but an extrinsic reward.”

Aha!

“Intrinsic motivation is dependent upon three main factors; autonomy, or auteurship; mastery, or the pursuit of excellence in a given skill; and purpose, the soul-driven intention behind a quest or endeavour. Finding out one’s purpose is a lifelong exercise — and should be mutable and ever-evolving.”

My drive to make these shrines is a way to use this pandemic to work on something that has no endgame right now. I want to see them in the world. Every new one I put together is so satisfying!

I was delighted to see my “Pollyana” outlook reinforced by Daniel H. Pink, one of my favorite authors:

“Daniel Pink, an expert on human motivation, has made a case for imploring businesspeople to understand what artists innately already practice: in the near-carrotless world of fine art, where the journey is often the only reward, the ideas are inherently better. Without a known destination or straight path to victory, artists dwell in the periphery of problems and solutions, forced to look around and take time to contemplate options and routes to discovery. The secret to meaningful conceptual thinking is to circumvent the obvious and embrace the mysteries. This is how we surprise ourselves and push beyond the “first thought.” While the first thought may be the most expedient, it will not advance the artform. You must commit, over and over again, to putting yourself in the arena of better ideas, so that a process of discovery can take hold.”

Once again, I feel validated.

I started with a “first thought”. Then I quickly ran into every obstacle that’s held me back for years.

But this time, Instead of setting everything aside until I had a ‘perfect’ solution, I simply started.

As problems arose along the way, I figured a way through them, one at a time. I changed my mind about a lot of things, and learned a lot along the way. And as I got better, so did my strategies for solving problems.

I still wake up in the wee hours, wondering how I’m going to handle this or manage that. I still look at my studio and wonder, “Where will I even put all these??” “Will these ever sell??” “Should I start looking for a gallery to send an exhibition proposal to???” “Are these as wonderful as I think they are, or am I just kidding myself?????”

Go back to sleep, lizard brain. I got this! My newest mantra for my lizard brain is, “I’ll figure that out when I get there….” And so far, it works!

So for all the artists I’ve heard from over the years, especially this past year, who worry about sales, who struggle to keep making their work, who want to know how to recreate a successful time in their art career, who wonder if it’s even worth it if they can’t sell it, etc., here is my free advice:

Do what you have to do, to survive these troublesome times.

But never surrender the work of your heart, your art, your dream project.

 Find a way to dive in, today, now! Make a little room in your day for it.

Set aside your self-doubt, your worry, your self-judgment for now. Do what brings you joy. (Says Luann, scrubbing turquoise paint off her hands and face for the tenth time this month.)

We are not wishful thinkers. We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

Know that our artwork can inspire others on so many levels, in ways we can’t even imagine.

Follow your creative heart and never let it go.

Your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to my blog.

Small shrines, big shrines, and everything in between….

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.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #6 Measure your progress. And celebrate your milestones.

Don't miss Luann Udell's inspiring words on celebrating how far we've come.
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s inspiring words on celebrating how far we’ve come.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #6 Measure your progress. And celebrate your milestones.

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 we only look at how far we have to go, we forget to celebrate how far we’ve come.

This is one of the most important ways to encourage yourself to maintain an exercise program. And it’s one of the first things we neglect to do with our art and art business.

It’s such a simple concept yet so easily overlooked.

It’s a good short-term strategy to get you through your workout, of course. There’s a huge mental difference between the groan of “I’ve only done 20 pushups!” vs. “I’ve only got 20 more to go!”

But it’s even more critical for the long haul. “I can only do 25 pushups” is self-defeating. “I could only do four when I started this program, and now I can do 25!” is self-encouraging. Same number of pushups. Totally different mindset.

And guess which one will get you to the gym tomorrow?

It’s the same in your art, and your art biz. “I only have four galleries!” vs. “I had none when I moved here, and now I have four!!”

My first year in business, I had to save for three months to buy a piece of equipment that cost less than $200. That’s how much I sold one piece of jewelry for yesterday, in the first hour of my open studio.

I remember visiting the ACC-Baltimore show years ago, wondering if I would ever be able to get accepted to an amazing show like that. Then I applied, and was accepted. Now I wonder what all the fuss was about. It’s a very nice show, but was still just “business as usual”.

But is it really?

Looking at our accomplishments is important for several reasons. For one, it encourages us to stay the course. It helps us overcome feelings of discouragement, inadequacy, failure.

But most of all, it encourages us to turn around our whole way of looking at life.

You got rejected from that top-tier show? Well, you’re in good company. LOTS of great artists don’t get in every year. One well-known artisan shared that they apply to dozens of shows a year, hoping to get into a handful of them. Even the very best get rejected.

And look at you–an artist with great jury images and pretty cool work even applying to that show! Did you ever imagine you would ever CONSIDER applying to that show? And did you think you even  had a chance of getting in?

Look at you! You have the courage to follow your dream, make stuff with your own two hands, search out your venues, research your market, find a photographer, fill out those applications and get your work out there. Do you know how many people fail once–and never try again? Yes, you do. Because you yourself had to get over that mindset long ago to get where you are today.

Take a few minutes today and make a list. Start with everything you’ve already accomplished this year. Quite a list, isn’t it?

Now go back to last year. What did you accomplish LAST year? I’ll bet that’s quite a list, too.

Now look back five years. Ten years. Where did you start? How far have you come? Where are you now?

And look how much closer you are to where you want to be in the next five years! Ever so much closer than you were when you first started out.

When I first started out, I didn’t even know anyone who made stuff and sold it for a living. I didn’t have an idea. I didn’t have a photographer, a peer group, a network of friends in the biz. I didn’t have any idea how to sell my work, where to sell my work, or even who would buy it. I couldn’t see further than my own little town of Keene, NH for a market–though it didn’t take me long to figure out there was a big world out there!

I didn’t have a catalog, publicity, postcards, a body of work or any customers, let alone wholesale accounts.

I DID have a business plan. And every year or so, I pull it out and look at where I am in it.

It’s always an eye-opener. And it always needs updating.

No matter how big I dreamed, I always have to make the plan bigger. No matter how many goals I set for myself, I always have to add more.

Let’s make this beautiful day a “Pat Yourself on the Back” Day.

Let’s celebrate your progress, your efforts, and your future success.

Gosh, I’ve gotten myself so riled up, maybe I’ll make a list today, too.

Come back and share what surprised you on your list. What made you realize you are actually pretty good at what you do? Stick it above your work station. Let it remind you that one bad day/event/missed opportunity/year will not break you.

You got this!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #5 Eyes on the Prize!

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.

People who successfully stick with an exercise program for any length of time know this one:

Eyes on the prize.

Keep your mind everywhere except on how hard you’re sweating.

This is important in martial arts, and it’s something I struggle with in all my endeavors, even today.

It’s easy to get distracted while working out: “I suck at this!” “My kicks have no power!” “Everyone else is doing better than I am!!” “I can’t do anything right!!!” “I forgot to feed the cat!” “I’m so mad at so-and-do!”

Nothing saps your will and your workout quicker than second-guessing your performance, overlooking your intention and side-stepping your focus.

I constantly remind myself to focus on a) the moment and b) the end game. Oh, and remembering to c) try to have fun.

When I focus on the moment, I line up my stance. I make sure my guard is up. Whoops, forgot to pivot my feet! Get that down on the next shot. Breathe. Breathe!!

I lose myself in the process and forget about all the work piled up on my desk at home, at the orders I have to get out, the kitchen sink full of dishes I didn’t get to. I try to blank out what the guy on my right me is doing, and how many more push-ups than me the woman on my left is squeezing out.

My only competition is me. I’m just trying to do a little better than I did yesterday.

When I focus on the end game, I forget about working toward my black belt (or how I’m NOT working toward my black belt….) I focus on the fact that as long as I show up and keep trying, and simply try to do a little bit better each time, eventually I’ll be at least better than I am today. Maybe someday, even pretty good.

When I whine, “I’m not gonna qualify for a black belt until I’m 60!”, my heart answers, “You’ll be 60 anyway. Won’t it be cool if you are even CLOSE to getting a black belt?” And if I never get a black belt, well, at least I’ll be in pretty good shape. (Update: Now I’m 66! Never made it to black belt, though I was this far away. Too many injuries. So what? I did my best until I couldn’t anymore. And I still have a pretty good right jab! I regret nothing.)

And if I can’t enjoy the workout while I’m doing it (“OHMIGOD!!! THIS HURTS!!!”), at least I can feel virtuous AFTER the workout.

Same with my art. (You knew this was coming, right?)

Keep your eyes on the prize.

If I let myself flail, then when I’m doing bookwork, I feel guilty I’m not putting a fiber piece together. And when I’m sewing, I feel guilty I’m not getting that jewelry order together. And when I’m packing that jewelry order, I’m frantic because I’m not working on that writing assignment.

What do I accomplish?

A huge guilt complex and no joy.

That’s gotta go. I want to let go and be in the moment, enjoying just what I’m doing RIGHT NOW. Then let go and be in the NEXT moment.

The long-term goal? The right—the privilege–to say, “I’m an artist.” Maybe someday, “I’m a financially successful artist!” Or maybe even “I’m an internationally acclaimed artist!” (Update: Still not happening, but I’ve accepted that not all careers and choices make us wealthy. And that’s not a bad thing, either.)

Eventually, it simply becomes, “I love what I do. And I wouldn’t trade what I do for ANYTHING.”

If we learn to do what we can, if we can let go of the “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s”, if we can leave our studio at the end of each day with the satisfaction of work well done and know we’ve done the best we can, if we can lose ourselves in the moment of the pure joy of making something W*O*N*D*E*R*F*U*L, what more could we ask from our avocation?

And if in the ‘making’, we find ourselves, if we restore ourselves to our highest self, if we heal, and grow, how cool is that?!

And when we get our art our into the world, if our art makes the world a little more beautiful, a little more interesting, a little more delightful, a little brighter, that’s even cooler.

If  it speaks to someone else, if it inspires THEM to do the work of THEIR heart, if it lifts THEIR heart and heals THEM, the circle keeps on growing.

Art is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

And if we make some money doing that, yippee!! (Just did my banking this morning. Feeling better.)

Eyes on the prize.

P.S. My words are working for ME! Mondays are very full of “to-do’s”. So I wasn’t going to go to the gym today. But I put on my gym shoes anyway. And here I go!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #3: You have to do it even when you don’t feel like it.

Luann Udell discusses how getting to the studio--is half the battle.
Luann Udell discusses how getting to the studio–is half the battle.

 

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.

Getting to the gym—or the studio—is half the battle. Have your winning arguments ready!

 

I rarely feel like exercising. Given a choice, I can always find a great excuse to skip it.

Not so fast, kiddo! Walking? Studio? Workout? PICK ONE! 

But I use those micro-steps (“I’ll just get into my gym shoes!”) and say I’ll get in the car at the appropriate time. I drive there, I walk in, sign in and get in line. I fight down a few moments of panic–“I can’t do this!”

And then everyone says hello, and the music pops in, and we’re off. For the next hour, I don’t have much time to think.

It’s a full hour of work—warming up, strength work, balance work, stretching, cooling down.

And at the end of the hour, I am always–ALWAYS–glad I came.

The same with my art. Especially the last year or so, as I take my work to the next level, it’s been hard to sit down to work. My head plays every mental game it can, and I’ve got a million excuses why I should work on something else.

So I do the micro-steps and say, “I’m just going to pick out the border pattern” or “I’m just going to mix some clay.”

Or I do it because I know if I can just get out of the house, that’s half the battle. Instead of, “I’ll just do the laundry first”, I promise myself I’ll do it when I get back.

Or I do it because I know once I’m in the studio, I’ll be fine. There will be plenty of little tasks, big projects (with little steps!), and maybe a customer or two will drop in.

Or I do it because….

I know it’s the work of my heart. And I have to do it. Because I LOVE IT. And I’ll be absolutely miserable if I don’t.

It’s like taking vitamins. Or, even more fun, a glass of wine!

I do it because it’s good for me, and I know that. I do it because I will be happier, not only being active, but getting something done. I do it because I can cross those little goals off my checklist, and that feels productive, too.

Before I know it, the time has flown by. Some pretty good work has been accomplished. And I’m feeling pretty good, too.

If you wait until you “feel like it”, you’ll never do it.

Just go to the studio. Don’t worry about how you’ll manage it tomorrow, or whether you have to do it the rest of your life. Just worry about today.

Just do it.

What is YOUR magic step for getting to the studio?

You don’t have one, you say? You’re already so disciplined you don’t have to think about it?

First, good on you!

But I’m guessing if you believe you don’t have one/need one, it’s because you’ve incorporated many small encouragements and good practices so often, your internal process doesn’t even register anymore.

It’s become a good habit, one you don’t even have to think about any longer.

And that’s the perfect place to be!

So share how you got there.

Maybe what worked for YOU, will work for someone else, today.

And maybe that’s just what someone else needs to hear, to get to their studio today.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #2 Do What You Love!

Luann Udell discusses the benefits of doing art from the heart
Luann Udell discusses the benefits of doing art from the heart,

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.

When we do the work of our heart, it’s easier to get to the studio!

Second in a new series of exercise tips you can apply to your art biz. I’m not working from an article this time. This all comes from personal experience:

Find what you love to do, and do it.

When it comes to exercise, you either have to do what you enjoy or find the joy in what you do. And believe me, it’s a heckuva lot easier to start with the former.

It was the secret behind my commitment to martial arts—Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing—which I took up in middle-age.

Disclosure: I still love love love martial arts. But due to many injuries resulting from same, I cannot practice it anymore. So. Gym, and maybe more tai chi instead!

But it was perfect when I could practice! It’s intensely physical, with a good mix-up of strength work, coordination, and aerobic components.

Kickboxing especially felt “light”. There’s a bit of mental workout, but not nearly as much as other martial art disciplines. Eventually, though, I found I missed the katas–those longer, choreographed movements that look like fast tai chi. And eventually I went back to Tae Kwon Do.

There were things I was good enough at to be proud of, and plenty of things for me to work on.

Martial arts taught me a lot about myself, too. I learned my biggest enemy was ME. Yup, I’m my own worst enemy. I had to learn to focus on my own performance and improving it a little bit at a time, rather than compare my performance to anyone else’s.

It was hard, as an older woman, to get comfortable with punching, kicking and striking, even yelling. The mindset was extremely foreign to me. I could feel brain cells and ingrained social conditioning fighting me every inch of the way–“Don’t hit!” “Don’t raise your voice!” “Be nice!” I remember raising my hand to hit in a martial arts class years ago and being almost physically, psychologically unable to do so.

I got over it.

The whole thing was challenging but rewarding. I was exhausted when class ended–but also exhilarated.

And the fact that I enjoyed it so much is more important than all of the other reasons I just gave.

Because the enjoyment is where I found the discipline and the courage to keep going. I rarely missed a class, even when I “didn’t feel like it”. And even though I wasn’t that good at it. (That is, I’m not a ‘natural’. It didn’t come easily to me.)

But I’m glad I started with something I love. Especially when even today, I can say with pride, I studied martial arts for more than 12 years, I attended almost every single class, without fail, except for major injuries, major illness or being out of town. (And as I said, eventually the major injuries took over completely.)

I still have hope for the next work-out routine that brings such passion and commitment.

Do the same with your artwork.

The thrill of doing what you love will carry you over many hard times, and boring times, and frustrating times.

In fact, whenever I do a mentor session with client, that’s the first question out of my mouth–especially when someone shows up with a hodge-podge of projects, all different in media, theme and colors:

Start with, “What do you love doing?”

“Where does your heart lie?”

“Which of these is calling to you?”

Don’t focus with “what sells” Don’t even start with, “What’s easy?” This is the hardest, but don’t even start with, “What will make me the most money?” That’s important, but that will come later. It can wait.

Because that powerful connection will help you through all the hard stuff later.

Success in making and selling art, like a productive exercise program, begins with finding what you love so much, you can’t imagine NOT doing it.

Yes, once it’s made and out in the world, there’s the question of marketing and selling, growing an audience, connecting your story with your work, and encouraging others to connect, too. It may not be as much “fun” or as rewarding, or as easy to fall into. (Though I’m amazed how much I love that part of the process, too!)

But loving what you do means when you talk about your work, your authentic connection to it will show through. When you talk about it, you will be speaking your truth.

And that is the most powerful place an artist can be: Telling your story. Speaking your truth.

Consequently, if you are not crazy about where you art is right now, that can make it harder to get to the studio. It’s okay. We all go through periods of enthusiasm and not-so-much enthusiasm. We get enormous energy from a great new project, and then may fall into a period of stasis, recovering from all that activity. We hit walls, roadblocks, and setbacks. That’s life. We get sick, we need a vacation, life whaps us, and we need to recover.

But if you really can’t muster any enthusiasm for long, long periods, consider a change. Maybe your focus has shifted, and your joy has been slowly leaking away.

Take a class in a new technique. Create a (kind and gracious, but firm) critique session with fellow artists, to see if there are gaps in your style or process. Are you ready for a bigger change? Explore a new subject matter, or perhaps even a new medium. Heavens—maybe even another form of creative work! (It happens!)

Constantly explore, and focus, on what brings you joy, and go from there. It’s your measuring stick and compass needle in life.

I still love carving stamps, and when I need a break, I pick up my carving stamps and hit the rubber! (Literally)

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #1: Put on Your Gym Shoes!

Luann Udell shares tips on how tiny actions can lead to big accomplishments
Luann Udell shares tips on how tiny actions can lead to big accomplishments

 

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.

Micro-steps are TINY actions that can help us overcome BIG mental obstacles.

This is an exercise tip I picked up years ago, back when I was exercising regularly. (Oops—did I just admit that’s not a ‘thing’ anymore??) It has inspired a series of articles, designed to encourage you to get to your studio.

Can you think of a jillion excuses not to be in your studio today? Besides the fact that it’s SATURDAY and maybe you should get out and look at the hills, or the sky, flowers, some birds, and maybe an ocean or two…

Do you find yourself unable to block out that three hours you know you need to put into your next project?

Does it seem like there’s always something else you need to take care of before you settle down to work?

Have you tried micro steps lately?

I read this in one of my books awhile back, and will give it full credit as soon as I can figure out which one.

The problem involved a woman who needed to start exercising regularly, but wasn’t.

She knew intellectually she should. She just couldn’t seem to find the time to do it. She and her trainer would create wonderful plans and programs and schedules. But when push came to shove, there was always a great excuse not to do it.

Exasperated, the trainer suggested they back up and start over. “Maybe this is too top-loaded for you”, she said. “Let’s try to break this down into more manageable steps. This week, don’t even think about exercising.”

“Just put on your work-out clothes.”

That’s it. The client was not to do anything more. Just put on her sweats.

The next week, the advisor asked how it had gone.

“Great!” said the client. “I worked out three times last week!”

Turns out that little itty bitty step was manageable. Extremely manageable. Something so innocuous, the woman couldn’t even come up with a good excuse for not doing it.

So she put on her sweats.

But then, she found herself thinking, “I’m all ready to go–why not work out?” So she did.

Making time for exercise was just too daunting. Getting READY to exercise was not. And that little step was all she needed to get herself in the right mindset.

Try this the next time you feel studio-phobia.

Forget all the “I should’s”…. “I should get that new catalog put together.” “I should get those next orders ready to ship my gallery.” “I should design new work for my next show.”

Instead, just decide you’ll take a few minutes to look over your new images. Or you’ll just grab the boxes you need for that gallery shipment. Or get your pencil and sketchbook out and ready to go. THAT’S IT.

For years, I would set aside time to make up a dozen or more “ivory” animals at a time. Then I hit a rough patch recently. I did not have time or energy to spend hours in the studio.

But what DID work was committing to making ONE animal: A horse. A bear. I could handle making one, or sanding and mudding one I’d made and fired the day before.

This is what happened one day when I committed to making one little horse!

Instead of falling into despair and feelings of “not enough”, even this small action kept me feeling like I was productive. The plus side? Even “one-a-day” adds up pretty quickly! Soon my inventory of “parts” I could use for sculptures, jewelry, or installations was back up. When I was ready to actually get back to work, I really was ready!

You may find those tiny little tasks are all you need to find yourself in the work zone once more. Try it the next time you are feeling overwhelmed, under-inspired, or simply too worn out to take on a major project.

Start with tiny steps, and soon you’ll be well on your way!

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