A peek into my production process and aesthetics, and why a messy desk works for me.
Three new necklaces!
Ah, winter. Full of holidays mere days apart, especially the big ones. Someone wrote recently, “When Christmas is done, it’s DONE!” They’re right. One minute I’m trying to find a tree that’s small enough to fit in our little rental home, the next I’m finishing off the last of the eggnog for a whole nother year.
Winter is not as cold here in Northern California, not nearly as cold as Michigan, or New Hampshire (40 degrees below zero sometimes) but I’ve also never had unheated studios before, either. My former studio at A Street was pretty cold, but small-ish, so easier to heat with a space heater.
My newest studio at 33Arts (3840 Finley Avenue in Santa Rosa) is bigger, harder to heat quickly, too. It can only accomodate one space heater, it’s on the main floor, and it faces north. I wore three wool sweaters today, and a wool hat, and my hands were still freezing! Not conducive to working with polymer clay.
But it’s spacious, the light is steady, I have plenty of worklights, it’s beautiful, and I can tolerate cold better than heat. And it’s pleasantly cool through spring, summer, and fall. So, no complaints
Now the peek into my design process.
I made three beautiful new horse necklaces this week. Two faux ivory horses, one strung with rose/blush pink/pale peach semi-precious stones and pearls, the other with sage/pale olive same. And a blue faux soapstone horse with pale blue and aqua. It was so hard to condition the clay (polymer clay does not like cold) but I figured out how to get it warm enough to work.
Many layers of beads, many choices…
I have beads I’ve collected for almost four decades, from local stores, online shops, bead and gem trade shows, bead traders who come to my home with their wares, thrift shops, and antique stores. Some of my beads are new, most are vintage, and a lot are antique-to-ancient. Most are imported from Europe: France, Venetian glass beads from Italy, Bohemia (now Czechoslovakia) all well-known producers of antique glass beads.)
I also use beads from Africa (trade beads, handmade pot metal beads in all shapes and sizes), India (semi-precious gemstones), Japan (who pioneered cultured pearls, now known as freshwater pearls, also glass beads), and China, a new leader in all, but especially freshwater pearls and semi-precious gemstones.
Oooh, almost forgot the beautiful “Roman” glass beads, actually made in Afghanistan from broken/misshapen perfume bottles and bracelets, rescued from the midden heaps of ancient glass factories along the Silk Road trade routes and reshaped into new beads.
I love them all! And I get very particular about which ones I use in each design. Size, shape, hue, texture (matte, polished, faceted), all matter.
This is why it takes me hours to string a beaded necklace. I never know where I’m headed, but I always get there….
And each of these higher-end pieces get a special finishing touch. A tiny pendant at the clasp, and my signature (literally!) horse charm in sterling or antique brass.
Its all in the details…
In this series, I wanted subtle variations in the colors. For this, I need good lighting, a wide choice of beads: Real pearls, semi-precious gemstones, glass, stone. All in a variety of sizes, shapes. I love matte texture, and facets, too.
And the justification for a messy studio?
Noted writer Austin Kleon shares and insight in how a messy studio contributes to our creative process, here.
I know other artists have cleaner spaces. Fewer options, perhaps because it helps them focus. Or they know their path, and they don’t need to wander away from it. They may know what works for them, and sometimes I wish I were wired that way, too.
In the end, this is how every space I occupy, this is how it looks. “Good bones” as one visitor put it. Everything is arranged and organized, yet attractive and intriguing. I usually try to clean up most of the “creative mess” for open studios, but most of the time? I just leave it there.
Because I like to work during such events. I want people to relax, dig in, really engage with my work. When they’re ready to talk, they’ll ask a question. And I’m there for them, ready with a book about the Lascaux Cave with great photographs. Ready to share my inspiration, my stories. Ready to encourage them to pursue their own creative work, the work of their heart.
Because I know when I make room for my art in my life, when I embrace my messy, making-self, my trial-and-error designing self, my love for certain color palettes, but also being open to new ones, my almost-obsessive need to keep collecting the materials and supplies that speak to me, to make the work that pleases me (and hopefully, YOU), I am in my highest, best place in the world.
So there you go. To make is human, and making takes time, space, and sometimes messy habits.
horse necklace trio
I think they turned out pretty well!
I use mostly sterling silver for my accent beads and findings, but antiqued copper looks soooooo beautiful with blush pink pearls and peach moonstone. The blue soapstone horse called for pale blue/pale aqua beads this time. I like it.
Here’s how they look in my studio. Pretty good fit!
And now you know why these pieces start at $350, too. A lot of work and time, and precious materials go into each one, including the artifacts and beads I make myself. And no two are alike.
What is YOUR creative process? Be sure to share it with me the next time you visit! And if you can’t wait til my next open studio, you can always email or text me to confirm a time to visit.
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.
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 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…”*
My head’s been in a whirl the last few months. I think I’ve entered that stage in a move where it feels like my life feels like a dream. Not the great glow-y kind. The kind where I find myself picking up dog poop and I keep finding hamburger patties in the dirt and I think, “Geez, this is weird. Wait a minute…..Am I dreaming?!” (I was.)
On one hand, there’s all the wonderful, heady stuff that comes from a major life change (the good ones, that is.) We go for a drive and suddenly remember this is an incredibly beautiful area, and the ocean is half an hour away. There are the marvelous moments, like learning our resident hummingbird darts into his nighttime resting spot in our little tree in front of our front porch, at exactly the same time (relative to sunset) every night. We sit and watch for him almost every night, and get a tiny frisson of joy when we catch him in the act. (It helps that he sits in exactly the same branchlet on the tree, too.)
On the other hand, there is the sudden realization that there’s no one to call up and say, “Hey, let’s go out for a drink!” Not that I could, anyway. Since we’ve been here, I can barely stay up past 9 p.m. Sooo…no one to call up and say, “Hey, let’s go to Happy Hour for a drink!”
I miss lakes, and rivers. There are lakes and rivers here, but not so much after four years of drought. I miss thunderstorms.
(OTOOH, I don’t miss mosquitoes, black flies, humidity, nor the season of funny smells.)
A few days ago, I had the scariest change of all.
I should preface this by saying my “year” tends to begin and end at my birthday. That sounds pompous, and I don’t mean it that way, really, I don’t. It’s just that when I realized the cave of Lascaux was discovered very nearly on my birth date, and other big events that cause me to stop and gasp (my birthday is 9/11), I often have reason to stop and take my measure. This month has been the same.
I was making a ‘batch’ of horses, as I usually do. Over the years, I built up to making my animal totems in batches of up to, oh, a couple dozen or so at a shot. It made for real efficiency, shaping them all, doing all the manes at once, all the eyes at once, all the markings, etc. (Even in a good sales year, I average about $2 an hour. Maybe I should go work at McDonald’s…..) (Nah.)
Lately, the batches have gotten smaller, down to one dozen, then half a dozen.
This time, I stopped at one. A feeling of revulsion overcame me. I was overwhelmed with this awful, awful thought:
I didn’t want to make any more batches of little horses.
That stopped me dead in my tracks. WHAT??!! What…is up with THAT??!!
But instead of panicking (what would I do without the heartstone of my work??!), I got quiet. I asked myself, where is this coming from? And what do I mean by that?
And thank the powers that be, it came to me:
I want to make one little horse at a time.
And so I did. I made two little horses that day. Each one, totally one at a time. Each got its own shaping, then its mane, then its eyes and nose, etc.
I then made other artifacts that take less ‘soul’, if you will, easier work, and popped the whole bunch in the convenction oven in my home studio.
This may not seem like a big change to you. It sure started out as a big change, but ended up being a very small change.
Or is it?
My horses have always ended up as completely individual and unique. For years, I’ve been telling folks how collectors look for ‘their horse’ when shopping.
I don’t know how to explain this, except that this, for some reason, feels even more important than ever. So important, I felt the need to slow down, to get calm, to get centered. To really see the power, and the blessing, inherent in everything I do.
There’s something growing here in California, something big. When people are attracted to my work, they fall hard. The things they tell me about it, are powerful. My internet sales are growing, from people back in New England who are either missing my work, or have recently discovered it. More and more people are telling me about how the work feels, on many levels.
It’s scary. Someone asked me why, and I couldn’t say. It’s something about, with my work having that power, comes great responsibility, something I don’t know how to handle personally. It feels like the time a bigger-than-life visitor exclaimed, “You’re a shaman! You’re a shaman!” when he first saw my work–like my work is bigger than I am. I’m not putting that right, but it was exciting, and wonderful, and scary at the same time. It was a powerful experience, and propelled me forward in ways I could not have imagined.
Something like that may be growing now. All I can do is listen. Pay attention.
The past year was all about realizing the harm brought into the world by people who don’t know what they don’t know.
Last year, a fellow artist and I put on Keene’s very first open studio tour, the Keene Art Tour.
Few things in life are harder than getting a couple dozen artists together (figuratively), collecting checks (Paypal button next year!), gathering images and artist statements for the brochure (“Just take it from my website!”) and everything else entailed in creating a city-wide event. Fortunately, it was hugely successful, for visitors and artists alike.
The only thing harder?
Doing it again.
Artists forget how good the crowds were, how much they sold and how much fun they had. That’s normal. Artists, being human beings, are sort of hard-wired to only remember the hard work, the studio cleaning, and how much we hassled them for said images, statements and money.
I’m learning that as a show organizer, “getting an early start” this year really means, “Let’s spend longer trying to get the same components together as last year.” That’s a good lesson to learn.
Some of the cold feet-itis is understandable, too. The last few years have been hard for creative folks. Some have hunkered down, some have moved on, some have diversified, and others are in that awful stage known as “transition”–moving on from what we’ve done while not quite knowing what’s next. Change is hard, and rarely fun.
“I don’t have anything to sell!” says one artist. Another says, “The kind of work I do, I don’t have ‘things’ to sell. So why would I want to have an open studio??” “I don’t have any new work!” says another. “I might be busy that weekend. When do I have to let you know?” (The answer to this question, by the way, is “Two months ago.”)
So here’s my response to all these questions:
An Open Studio isn’t just about selling your work. It’s about telling your story.
It’s the strongest way to form a powerful connection not only with new customers, but also with current customers, your community, and with future artists. And it’s a way to revitalize your own connection with your art.
There’s one artist who does murals for public places. No ‘things’ to sell in their studio, so they don’t want to participate.
What a lost opportunity! Now, I have no desire to buy a mural. But I’ve always wondered what’s entailed. How did they get started doing this? How do they find out about proposals for public art, especially internationally? What is the design process like? Do they hire other people to help? How long does it take to paint a mural? What kind of paint do they use? How long does a mural last? Where is their work displayed? Do you get to travel a lot? What are the fun parts? What are the downsides? What the heck does their life LOOK like???
There’s a couple who are working on a graphic novel. No ‘art’ to show in their studio. People would be bored.
Really? I can think of a few dozen young artists who would give anything to know that that process looks like. How do you get started? Are you self-published or are you working with a publisher? What does that look like? Do you do the writing and the drawing, or do you collaborate? Is it possible to make a living doing this? Do you teach classes?
There’s an artist in transition who needs to sell their old work before they can can make new work. And they’re not very far along in the new work.
Artists go through transitions? Just like other people?? Is it hard? What made you stop making your old work? What would you like to do next? What do you think will stay the same, and what will change? What inspires you and sustains you through this difficult time?
There’s someone who has new galleries, and may not have any work available for sale.
Actually, this is one of the best problems to have. Do you have earlier work that you’ve kept? Do you have works in progress? And the finished pieces you’re ready to ship–can we just LOOK at them? If I want one, can I commission you to make one? There’s a waiting list?? Oh my gosh, I better get my order in NOW!
Meanwhile, in your horde of visitors (and everyone had hordes of visitors), there are people who wish they could do what you do. They want to meet the people who ran away to join the circus. You are actually in your studio, making incredible stuff every day–how fabulous! Be their art hero.
There are people in transition who need to know there’s a ‘there’ after ‘here right now.’ That perseverance and vision and hard work will get us through. Be their art hero.
There are people who hope someday to be in your shoes. There are artists-in-waiting who need to know that it’s possible to have that life, to make their own work, to carve out a place in the world for themselves. You are living proof that it can happen. Be their life hero.
There are all kinds of creative folks in a community, artists of all sorts who make this town a better, richer, more beautiful place to live. We do more than just fill art galleries or people’s homes with our work. We teach, inspire, enrich, model our values to our community. Be that community hero.
Open your work space, that incredible place where the magic happens, where your vision for your art becomes a reality. Let people see what your life looks like, for two precious days in November. Be that art hero.
Give yourself the gift of seeing yourself through other people’s eyes–the people who see you as creative, gifted, exciting, interesting, fortunate, blessed. Because we are. It’s easy to forget that in the slog of making our way in the world. Let our community help you remember.
Thoughts for my new series are still roiling and boiling in my brain.
The ideas come from many places and times. Some as long ago as I can remember, and others as recently as today. Some was inspired by seeing how another assemblage artist organized his materials. “THIS should be your art!” I exclaimed. He was not amused.
But it got me thinking.
All of this is based on my favorite activity, which I refer to by its ancient designation, “hunter-gathering”.
I’ve always loved picking up pretty pebbles, twisted twigs, sea shells, bits of rusted metal. This actually translates in a beautiful (and sometimes devastating) way to shopping. I love poking through piles of stuff, looking for the perfect little something everyone else has overlooked.
Last month I found a huge box of shells at a local antique shop. It was marked way, way down. But still a little pricey at almost $60. I won’t say I had buyer’s remorse when I got home, but “What was I thinking?!” was flying around my head. (It’s not buyer’s remorse if you’re still secretly glad you bought it….)
So here’s where the shells have gone. Here:
Now the last pic is especially telling. Because when I go to the beach, I come home with this:
And they quickly get displayed like this:
Which got me doing this a few years ago:
So in my head are images of artifacts, collections, gatherings of objects, museum display, shrines and altars. Add to that a shaman’s gathering of healing herbs, objects of power, talismans of hope, magic stones and mysterious bones.
I don’t know exactly what it is. I have only vague ideas of what it looks like. Sometimes it frightens me. Sometimes I wish I could drop everything else to work on it. Sometimes it seems too much like play to take seriously.
Trust me, your artistic self is just as powerful as a postage stamp. Maybe more.
Fresh off my first Open Studio tour of the year, and boy is my studio CLEAN! I love open studio events for many reasons, but more on that later this week. I have something else on my mind that has to come out today.
As you may know, my soapbox speech is about finding out what makes you, and your work, unique.
We hear all about how no two snowflakes are identical, and how our fingerprints and DNA are unique to us.
You’d think, with all this unique-ness pouring out of us, we could a unique way to talk about our work.
I’ve been in a lot of group shows this year, seen a lot of lovely work and talked to a lot of passionate artists. What strikes me is how everyone says the same things about their art.
We talk about our compositions. We talk about why we love pastel, or oil, or clay. We talk about light and shapes.
If I hear “I just love color!” one more time….. Well, it won’t be pretty.
So let me share an ‘aha!’ moment I had years ago.
I was doing a mail art project, and wanted old postage that would reflect the theme of my piece. I found an older couple who ran a stamp collecting business out of their home.
As I scrabbled through the trays and books of postage, we talked about stamp and the stamp collecting biz. They shared stories about stamp collectors. I asked her what kinds of stamps people collected.
The woman said, “You know, in fifty years of selling stamps and doing shows and talking to collectors, I’ve never seen two people collect exactly the same thing.”
Now think about that a minute.
There is no creativity per se in collecting stamps. Collectors don’t make the stamps, nor are they handmade by other people. Stamps are produced en masse, and have been in production for years.
But how they collect is so strongly individual and personal, each collection–each act of collecting–is as unique as….well, the human being who put it together.
Some collect by country, or region or language. Some collect by subject matter. Politics, places, people, animals, plants, themes, designs, plate designer…. There is simply no end to the possible combinations of appeal.
If we could get away from the mundane–what our materials are, the fact that we love certain colors or lines or compositions…..
If we could dig a little deeper and think about why we make the art we do….
If we could tell a richer, more personal story about our art…..
If we were willing to go the scary, deep place of who we are, and who we yearn to be in the world…
…People would see our work as the miracle in the world it truly is.
Sharing ‘unique’ processes, ‘unique’ inspiration, ‘unique’ love of color/shape/style, separates us from our audience.
Discovering what makes us tick as a human being, sharing what is truly in our hearts, connects us with our audience.
This article was originally published for Fine Art Views.
I forgot to republish this on MY blog!! My bad.
Respect Your Collectors Part 2
by Luann Udell on 12/23/2010 9:56:04 AM
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”
Don’t leave your early collectors behind.
Sometimes artists, in their haste to “get big”, blow off the very people who helped them get there in the first place.
In my first article in this series, I explained how I was introduced to the joys of collecting original works of art. Today I’ll show how—and why–you must honor those early supporters of your work.
In educating me how to find ‘real art’, my friend pointed out a rich source of original art in my own backyard—the prestigious Ann Arbor art fairs. These fairs are a series of 3-4 fine art and craft shows (depending on how you count them) that take place concurrently on the campus and in the town streets.
Taking my friend’s advice, I visited the shows that year with new intention—not to just be amazed and entertained by the beautiful work, but with an eye to actually owning some of it.
I was no longer an ordinary browser or casual shopper. I was an art collector! I had money in my pocket, an open heart and a passion to learn. It was a heady feeling.
There was one artist whose work I fell in love with. I spent quite a bit of time in her booth talking to her, and admiring her work. We talked about the inspiration for her charming motifs, the materials she used to create the enchanting details I loved, her lovely, delicate use of color.
She had work in a range of sizes, but she’d already sold all the pieces in my price range. “I’m just so excited, this has been a GREAT show for me!” she exclaimed. “I’m definitely coming back next year, and I’ll have lots more smaller pieces, too—they’re selling like hot cakes!”
I was pleased that someone so likeable, whose work I really liked, was having so much success. In my budding connoisseur-like mind, it confirmed my instinct to support her art. She didn’t take layaway, and this was before most artists took credit cards. But she assured me there would be ample opportunity to own one of her pieces the following year.
For that entire year, I set aside money, enough to acquire one of her smaller pieces. I kept her postcard on my bulletin board where I could look at it every day. I circled the dates for the next art fair show on my calendar.
When the happy day came, I sought her out. I had my hard-earned money in my hot little hands, all ready to buy something. I was determined to leave her booth with something this time.
To my dismay, things had changed.
Her work was bigger, for one thing. It was bigger. Much much bigger. And consequently, much more expensive, too. Not a single piece was less than several thousand dollars.
It was different. The small, intimate, intricately detailed work was gone. Strong, bold, monochromatic abstract work had replaced it.
Something else was changed, too. Her attitude.
The gushing, friendly, warm, enthusiastic emerging artist I’d met the year before was gone.
Apparently she’d been ‘discovered’. She’d had a great year, sales-wise. She’d juried into several prestigious exhibitions. She now had a following.
She was, indeed, a successful artist—one whose success had evidently gone to her head. Because she was also haughty, disdainful, and dismissive, to the point of rudeness.
She didn’t remember me. I didn’t expect her to—I knew she’d talked to hundreds, if not thousands of people in the past year. But she wasn’t apologetic (as in,“I’m sorry I don’t remember you, I meet so many people–but please refresh my memory…”) Her attitude was, “Why should I remember you?! You didn’t buy anything!”
She was scornful about her former work. “Yeah, I’m way past that stage now. I marked it down and got rid of it. I’m into this work now.” Her tone almost seemed to say, “Get over it!” She didn’t care to explain it, either. You either got it—and bought it—or she didn’t have time for you.
I inquired about smaller works. She practically sniffed. She said she couldn’t be bothered with making small pieces anymore. It was much more lucrative to make bigger pieces, and charge more.
Someone else entered the booth, someone who could obviously be taken more seriously as a prospective buyer. She turned her whole attention to them. I left her booth, crestfallen.
I kept my postcard of that artist for many years. I kept track of her progress as best I could (pre-internet days.) I’m not sure why. Maybe I was hoping for a glimpse of that sweet, more accessible, more grateful young woman I’d admired so much before. Artists change, their art changes—I got that. Maybe I was just hoping her next sea-change would be for the better.
In time, though, the memories of that last day I saw her, overshadowed the first. I tossed the card. I’ve all but forgotten her name.
At the time, I was bewildered. Now that I’m an artist, too, I can sympathize…a little.
I’m not always crazy about my older work. But I respect the fact that I loved it when I was making it, and that people that bought it, liked it, too.
I know there is more money to be made with the wall-sized fiber work. I know that I couldn’t afford my work! But I know there is worth in my smaller work, too.
I know I can’t support myself just on sales of $25 necklaces. But sometimes, when things were really tight, it was those same inexpensive items that kept the cash flow going.
I know many of those people purchased work back then for less than my wholesale prices now. Still, it was their hard-earned money, and they chose to spend it on my work.
As far as my collectors go, I appreciate what they ALL did. They all loved the work. They all believed in me. They all wanted to support my efforts. They bought something because they loved it, and they wanted it, and they felt it was worth it.
I may forget their names, but I am astonished and delighted that they have not forgotten mine. When they share a story about their piece, or even bring some of those ‘ancient works’ back in for repair or a redesign, I make a point of thanking them for collecting me from the beginning.
They are the people who helped me get where I am today. And I will never forget them for that.
Perhaps we all have days we dream of being so financially successful, so famous and respected, that we don’t have to worry about the tedious little things in life anymore.
But people who love our work, people who support us in so many ways—by purchasing it, by recommending it to their friends, by telling us what it means to them—these people are not the “tedious little things in life. They are part of the “big thing”. They are what got us to this wonderful place, a place where we can make the work we love and share it with the world.
Remember that, and you will always respect your collectors, large and small.
I just discovered an article on the International Polymer Clay Association’s website, written by Kerrie Venner, IPCA Vice President for Education and Outreach. Kerrie’s article is here.
The article talked about my artwork and a blog article I wrote about my work being copied. Kerrie refers to me as an example of an artist who has published directions for making my artwork who then gets “antsy” when people copy it. She states that she doesn’t understand what’s wrong with coveting my little totem animals, then making her own versions for her own use, and even to sell, since her customers probably aren’t familiar with my work anyway.
At first I was delighted to read Kerrie’s wonderful comments about my blog and my artwork. But that delight quickly turned to dismay.
Her article is an interesting take on a very complex and emotional issue.
2. Contrary to Kerrie’s assertions, I’ve actually only published directions featuring my faux ivory technique (a modification of the technique originally developed by Victoria Hughes.) I provided directions for very simple beads, buttons and bones. Photographs of my animal artifacts and jewelry were for illustration and inspiration only.
3. I have never published projects or taught how to make my artifacts and animal totems, for the very reasons Kerrie mentions in support of her viewpoint: It might imply permission for others to copy my work.
I could address each of Kerrie’s statements and questions separately, and will do so in a future blog article. But here’s the short story:
I’ve done the hard work creating this body of work. I spent years perfecting my craft. Inspired by imagery available to everyone, it is nonetheless a highly original and individual interpretation and presentation. As Kerrie points out, it has a powerful, personal narrative, describing my journey from a place of pain (at not practicing my art), to a place of healing (embracing my unique vision, and sharing with others how that happened.)
I’ve done the hard work to get my work out there. And I’ve spent a lot of money doing that. I’ve paid thousands of dollars to do the high-end shows to sell it. I go to great lengths to find galleries to carry it. I’ve spent thousands of hours marketing, writing, speaking, entering exhibits and juried shows, and submitting work for publication to support and grow my reputation. I’ve paid thousands of dollars to have my work professionally photographed, to construct a booth and create beautiful displays for it.
I’ve spent years developing a loyal following of customers, collectors and supporters. I am deeply moved by the role my art has played in their lives. I love the stories they share with me on how much my work has meant to them, how much it has inspired them, how it has healed them.
I’ve earned my stars and paid my dues. My work-and my prices–reflect that.
We artists may make our art for love or money, or both. But it’s hard to make art without some kind of support from our community, be it emotional, spiritual, or financial.
Kerrie says she admires and desires my artwork. I am truly grateful for that. There are many ways a true supporter can help me get my art out into the world:
1) Tell me how much it means to you, and respect the unique place in my heart it comes from. Tell your friends, too, and point them to my blog, my website or my store.
2) Spread the word about my work by writing great reviews and articles.
3) Buy it for yourself, or for a special gift.
4) If you really can’t afford my work (prices start at $42, and I have a great layaway plan), encourage potential collectors to buy it instead. Or ask friends and family to buy it for you. Christmas is coming!
5) Ask your favorite gallery or museum store to carry my work. Or suggest they include me in an invitational show. Or even a solo show
Actually, the list is endless: Invite me to speak to your local or regional art guild. Ask your public library to purchase the books that feature my work. Hire me for a private consult on your artist statement. Alert me to publishing opportunities. Etc., etc., etc.
Unfortunately, copying my work doesn’t support me.
Copying my work, then selling it as your original work, deprives me of potential customers who might buy my work. This does not support me.
Telling others I am wrong to care about my work being copied does not support me.
In fact, someone copying my artwork short-circuits everything I’m trying to achieve. That is where the pain and the resentment comes from. And that is what I have to get over, and get through, every time it happens.
In the end, although my work is copyrighted, it’s almost impossible for me to protect those rights. I don’t have the deep pockets of Disney, and I don’t have the time or emotional energy to spare. I have to save that energy and focus for my art.
Some amount of copying has its place in the learning process. That’s why a teacher provides a project for a class.
But a body of work based solely on some “variation” of someone else’s work is not the work of your own heart, your own unique vision.
Kerrie’s article was written without my knowledge and did not link to what I actually said. I cannot adequately convey how disheartening it is to see these views-justifying the right to copying my work simply because I have made it visible in the world–expressed by someone who is Vice President of the International Polymer Clay Association’s Education and Outreach Committee.
Kerrie is entitled to her viewpoint, and I appreciate the opportunity to present mine. As she and I both said, this is a complex issue, involving human nature, the creative process and ethics.
Whether or not Kerrie’s reflects the views of the IPCA organization, it was published on their site and incorrectly referred to me as an example of a disgruntled artist who sets herself up for being copied by offering her artwork as projects and classes. Since I’m not one of “those artists”–who are also entitled to their own opinions about others copying their work–and especially because I have consciously chosen not to…that allegation was neither true nor fair.
I’m thrilled Kerrie loves my work. I hope someday she decides my artwork is worthy of collecting for herself. I would be truly honored.
And…I would feel truly supported.
2 P.S.’s (What the heck is the plural of “P.S.”???)
It’s been brought to my attention that Kerrie didn’t mean she would actually copy my work–she was speaking aloud the thought process that many have expressed. So in a sense, she was speaking as “Everyman/Everywoman”. And she never intended these remarks to represent her, or the IPCA’s actual point-of-view.
Again, I’m glad she voiced these thoughts so we can talk about it.
“Life balance” is an insidious myth. Picasso, Oprah, Steve Jobs, Einstein, Maria Callas – they weren’t aiming for balance, they were aiming to rock their genius, and they’ve all had periods of burn out.
This was a little spooky. Okay, a LOT spooky. Because I got the old synchronicity thing going again.
Because a few days ago, for the first time in like two years (or more???), I sat down and began working on a new series of fiber work.
Danielle’s post today was actually the third or fourth synchronistic thingie. The second was her post from a few days ago, about kissing up to your muse.
I woke up in the middle of the night a few days ago with a great idea for next month’s column for The Crafts Report. At first I rolled over to go back to sleep. I’d just sent in my column and had a few weeks before the next one was do. I was sure I’d remember the great idea.
But something in me said, “No. Get up NOW. Just go write it.”
I went with it. And wrote almost the entire article in one sitting.
The spooky thing about that? It was the night before her post on don’t-dis-the-Muse. (Cue Twilight Zone music…)
The synchronicity thingie piece before that happened at dinner out with friends last week. Turned out one of our dinner companions is the daughter of another good friend who’s a painter. Her dad has a new series of artwork on exhibit, after a hiatus of many years from painting.
I mentioned I’d tried to buy one of his paintings a few years ago and he wouldn’t sell me one. She said yeah, he had a “thing” about not selling any until he had a body of work produced, even though he hadn’t even started his new phase when I’d tried to buy one. “He’s funny that way,” she mused. (Pun intended.)
Funny? Hmmm….. He wouldn’t sell his old paintings…. He’d stopped painting…. Now he had a new body of work.
It hit me like a ton of bricks.
I hadn’t made any new fiber work because it had stopped selling a few years ago. I don’t care what the newspapers say, artists and craftspeople know the recession started a lot further back than last year. Oh, I sold a few, but it was tortuous.
When people stopped buying, it wasn’t exciting to make more. And as they sold (slowly), I unconsciously held on to the ones I had left.
So that, if the muse never came back, I’d have something on hand to prove I really had been an artist.
I know it’s it’s desirable to grow and change as an artist. But change for change’s sake was not desirable (for me.) I was stuck.
Awhile ago, I realized that even if my fiber work remained what it was, and I never had a new idea, well, having that one really great theme in my life would be “good enough”. That cracked the door open again.
The remark that made me realize I was hoarding my old work opened that door a little wider.
Getting up in the middle of the night to write blew it open. Danielle’s post was like putting a door stop in it, to keep it open.
And then I sat down at my sewing machine and thought, “What if I just do some simple little pieces….? Just for me.”
Her post today was the final nail in the coffin. Er, door. Should doors be nailed open?? Okay, forget that metaphor, it stinks.
So being willing to be a “not very good artist” again (making the same old work) and realizing what I was holding on to (“I was once a pretty good artist!”) was enough to get me in front of my sewing machine once again. (Which is when I also sewed through my finger, but I’m not going to let that stop me, either, though I worry that my machine has now tasted blood.)
Danielle’s observation–that the muse may come and go, but if we care enough, we will just hang in there–was powerful. Letting go when the inspiration wanes, knowing we will come back, somehow, some way, even though we have no idea what that will look like, that feels like jumping off the edge of the world.
But now I know, as long as I persevere, it will indeed come back.
Because it has to. Or I’ll die.
It may be the same stuff. If so, then I will keep making it. I will rejoice and be grateful I had at least one really good thing to offer the world.
It may start the same and change. That’s okay, too. It will be what it will be.
What’s important is–it’s back.
I don’t care what it looks like anymore. I don’t care what other people think about it anymore.
oooh, I’ve always wanted to use the word “segue” in an essay!
In my last “Myths About Artists” post, a reader said there are some people who , feeling entitled, simply want to simply “be” an artist, with all the fame and glory and controversy they think automatically comes with it.
Several themes came to me after reading his thoughtful comments.
First, as a parent, a former teacher, and even a former child (yes, and please, no comments about not having enough fingers, toes or other digits to compute how many years ago that would be), this sounded very familiar.
We all have a desire for our work to gain some attention and respect in the world. And if you’re like me, you probably wish we didn’t have to constantly work so darn hard to get there.
This is a very human trait, after all. Yes, some people work very hard at becoming excellent at their craft, whatever it is. But many of us start out dreaming of an effortless success.
When I dreamed of horses, and of riding horses, I pictured myself riding fearlessly a beautiful horse, galloping wildly across a boundless plain under an open sky.
I did NOT dream of the long and often painful process of learning how to acquire my “seat”–how to sit comfortably for hours on a horse, how to balance instead of bounce (ow, ow, ow), how to control a horse (because atop a wildly running horse can actually be a frightening place to be.)
I did NOT envision the hours of hard work involved in caring for a horse, including grooming, mucking stalls and tacking up. And of course, boarding fees, vet bills and farrier costs never entered my pleasant daydreams, either.
No, it’s all too human to see the glory, not the grit, in our dreams.
But the person who believes they deserve an easy success? This is not the person I have in mind when I write these essays.
In my mind’s eye, I always speak to the person I used to be–the person who never believed that dreams can come true.
I was lost because I was too afraid to pursue my passion, and suffering because of it. I made the lives of my loved ones miserable, because I could be difficult to be with. (Er…still am, actually.)
In the words of my favorite bumper sticker, “Those who abandon their dreams, will discourage yours.”
Eventually, the pain of NOT being an artist surpassed the fear of failure. And that’s when I took my first steps to becoming not just an artist in name only–but an artist with gumption.
When I had the courage to take those first few tentative steps–and to keep on taking them–then I was truly on the path to becoming a more whole person.
That’s what it felt like, anyway. As my pursuit of art became more habit than daydream, my ability to love more freely, to judge less harshly, to be more fearless, to be more thankful, also grew.
Am I perfect? Heck no. I am still racked often–even daily!–by self-doubt, envy, fear, jealousy and sour grapes.
But I just keep on plugging away. Because I believe trying–making a true effort to attain our goals and dreams–matters.
A good friend sometimes says I make too much of this “thing about the horses”. She makes the case that if my current art changed, if I took up another art form, even if my ability to make any art were to disappear, I would still be me. I am not my art.
I get that, I do. But I am still pathetically grateful I had the chance to make this work, and took it, even so.
And every word I write is with this intention–to encourage even just one more person on this planet to do the same.
I encourage you to take the same journey, in your very own individual, inimitable way (of course!)
To paraphrase another friend’s words, I truly believe our acts of creation, by putting positive energy out there, by becoming a more whole human being….
By believing we can all achieve something good by making something that is useful, or beautiful, or both…
…is ultimately an act of peace, and makes the world a slightly better place for all.
Myth #2: You not only have to be good, you have to be the best.
Fact: You just have to be “good enough.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Mostly because the single biggest block owned by many artists–visual, musical, performance–is they feel if they don’t “make it”, it’s because they aren’t “good enough.”
I love to quote my friend Lori W. Simons on this one. Lori is not only a talented artist, she is also a writer. I was curious if the 2-D art world sorts itself out so neatly. Do the best artists become the most successful artists? She hesitated and then said quietly, “Being good HELPS.”
What does that mean? It means that you can be successful at whatever you throw your heart into, and it isn’t directly related to how good you are. Or whether you’re “the best”. Or even whether you’re one of the top 10.
It’s about how badly you want it, and how hard you’re willing to work at it. How smart you are about maximizing your opportunities, and how savvy you are with managing the business side of your art.
No one ran harder or farther from their art than I did. But it just wouldn’t go away. I finally gave up. My turning point was when I realized that if I did not pay attention to this, I would be destroying a part of myself that was too important to my very life. I had hit bottom, too. My exact words to my husband were these:
“I have to be an artist, or I’m going to die. I don’t even care anymore if I’m a GOOD artist. I just have to do it.”
Period. Nuff said. I had to swallow my pride, give up making judgments about how good I would/could or wouldn’t/couldn’t be, and just do it.
And you know what? Once I gave up basing my entire act on caring what others thought, that’s when my art began to hit its stride. Once I was making art I cared about, deeply, and once it came straight from my heart, that’s when I began to achieve some success with it.
That, and a lot of hard work, too. Ya gotta wanna, but ya also just gotta DO it.
This doesn’t mean the road was easy after that. There were still a lot of twists and turns. There were adjustments, suggestions, modifications along the way. But the core vision was always there. I had a story to tell, and a story to get out into the world.
Which brings us to this corollary to our #2 myth about artists. “Only the best artists are successful artists.”
Once more, with feeling. It helps if you’re good. You’ll get a little further a little faster. But just being good won’t ensure your success. And conversely, you can be highly successful even if you’re not the BEST.
Need proof? Look at Olympic-quality athletes. Sometimes they lose by 1/100 of a second, or 1/100 of a point. When we get into subjective judgment about who is “the best”, and that is determined by what the temperature was that day, or whether those new athletic shoes were rubbing the wrong way, or whether a competitor turned an inch too far back, we are talking about, “Who was the best, in the minds of those particular jurors, at that particular moment on that specific day.” Are we saying those other competitors were not sucessful, too? Nah… It may not have been their day, but they are still amazing athletes.
Now…would you rather run a 24-mile marathon, or get started on a new piece today?
Get in that studio! Don’t worry about how good you are. Just do it good.
Sometimes you don’t know how you get there, but it’s still nice to know where you’ve been.
I read Canadian artist Robert Genn’s latest newsletter A Treasured Mapbook, this one on the joys and advantages keeping a journal while traveling and painting. Mr. Genn writes often and well about issues concerning art and artists. You can read my tongue-in-cheek response below his article.
What delighted me was another reader’s comment on the accompanying image of my small bear sculpture. She thought that the markings on my little bear looked sort of like a map, too. I was thrilled by her observation, and it got me thinking.
There are so many kinds of journeys we take, and so many ways of recording them. Ways that may help us, looking back, to see how far we’ve come from. Perhaps, in journeys where we feel we travel without a map, this backward look gives a hint of where we’re headed, even when we aren’t sure ourselves.
Perhaps my very body of work is such a map. And so is this blog.
Re: the markings on my artifacts, I’m often asked what they mean. I have to say, I really don’t know for sure. And even when I do, that changes over time.
Some echo the markings in actual cave paintings. Their meaning is not clearly understood, though many new theories abound. Even the myriad hand prints only confirms that many ages of people frequented these places, not why.
I work quickly, not thinking too much about where I mark, and how often, sometimes falling into compelling rhythms (“One-two-three-four-FIVE, one-two-three-four-FIVE…”) or compulsive counting (I try to always have odd numbers of marks, such as the incised lines in a horse’s mane.) For awhile I felt I had to etch tiny fern-like patterns on each one, a urge that eventually manifested into this pod series.
Each little animal or artifact seems to call out for a certain “look”, and I do my best to oblige without always understanding why.
Then I listen to the stories my collectors tell about what they see in the markings. One, a musician, sees an ancient scale of musical notes. Another, an astronomy, cherishes the thought that the seven dots in a bull’s face is indeed an ancient star map of the Pleiaides. The hand prints often speak to healers.
I am delighted and enchanted by such stories. It means the piece has left my hands, and has truly become an object of meaning to the new owner.
So the idea of the markings-as-map, as I chronicle this “word map” blog of my latest journey, appeals. Once again, just as I wonder what place my art has in the world, it calls me back. Encourages me to take “one more step” with this work, with this incredible journey called life..
My art still urges me to look around and see, to really see. And to reflect and record what I find.
It’s always been there for me. I’m the one who walked away. And now, perhaps, I find my way back again.
It’s okay to laugh. It’s okay to make other people laugh. And it’s okay to write an artist statement about art-that-makes-us-laugh, too.
Many people have left comments or emailed me with concerns about my artist statement series. They say they don’t make “heavy” or “serious” art. They make art that is funny, or cute, or whimsical, or charming, or clever. So they don’t need an artist statement, right?
I’ve always said, if what you’re doing is working for you, don’t change anything.
But I still encourage you to think about why you’ve chosen–or been called–to make that kind of work.
And I encourage you to think about what would happen if you shared that reason, that realization, that insight, with your audience.
Remember when I said your art doesn’t have to be serious, but understanding why you make it is still important?
Here are the reasons:
1) It makes you step up to the plate and take what you do seriously.
2) Joy and laughter and sweetness are passions, too, just as important as more “serious” passions.
3) Your reasons for making this art, whatever they are, are still personal and powerful. People will respond to those reasons.
When I first started making stuff, I, too, made “whimsical” and “sweet” things. I made things simply because I enjoyed it. It was fun!
Then I attended a workshop for blocked or emerging artists. We had to bring examples of our work and talk about it.
I was in a tizzy. I thought of everyone else present as “real artists” and I was not. I just made stuff. There was nothing “heavy” or “serious” about it. Even if you could call what I did “art”, couldn’t art just be for fun?
But something happened when I was forced to really look at my work, to really think about why I made it, and then to talk about that to an audience.
Here is a reconstructed version of what I said about my work:
I make tiny dolls, only 2″ tall, made from recycled sweaters. I make small knitted sheep, too. I crochet small “pouches” on cords, so you can carry a doll or sheep around your neck. I also make small wall quilts based on traditional patterns and made with natural fabrics recycled from used clothing, so they really look old.
I imagined my body of work as something that would intrigue and delight at the same time, little “toys” newly made with old materials, giving them a timeless quality.
I used to think of these pieces as children’s toys, but adults are just as fascinated with them. I think it’s important to have joy and delight in our lives, so I guess in a way, I love making “toys for adults”–tiny little marvels, beautifully made, that enchant and delight.
Almost everything I make would fit in your hand. That is very important to me. I guess it’s so you can have these little gifts with you all the time, and take them out and hold them anytime you need to be happy. Because I want them to make people happy, and joyful.
I laugh when I look back and see how tentative I was about my work, even as I felt so compelled to make it. “I guess…” “I think….”
But in that first “artist statement” (because that’s exactly what it was), I can see the shape of things to come. I can see some of you who are familiar with my work, already nodding and saying, “aha!”
Small artifacts…made to be touched and held in your hand…carried with you as jewelry, as talismans…recycled fabrics and artifacts giving an aura of antiquity to the work….intriguing…connection…
….and passion. Joy.
Within a year, I was making an entirely different body of work, with the same qualities, the same aesthetic, almost the same story–but with a powerful message.
I began to make fabric wall hangings made with recycled fabrics. I made artifacts to put on these quilts; artifacts of ancient horses galloping through endless grass lands, their hearts full of joy and freedom. Artifacts that carried a message for us, that spoke to us across the ages, that told us how to live with more joy and freedom in our hearts.
I learned not to be denigrate how I felt. I learned to respect the reasons why I make what I make. I learned to really love and celebrate the artist in me.
I stepped up to the plate.
Does your whimsical art have to evolve into something more serious? Absolutely not!
In a world full of hardship and horror, pain and destruction, sorrow and sadness, there a profound need for art that makes us rejoice, and dance, and celebrate, and love. There is a time for being silly, for laughter. There is room for all our art.
Joy. Laughter. Delight. Silly. These are all part of the human condition, too. And they are just as important in creating a rich, loving and wonderful life.
There is power in joy, and laughter.
I am only asking you to think about that power, and acknowledge that power, and ultimately, to respect that power in your art, and in your heart.
Coming soon: How to get to that all-important WHY.
I’m exploring a new social networking site, LinkedIn, this one for professionals. Professional what?, you ask. Well, there are a lot of professional artists, writers and bloggers there already. You can be, too!
So IF you are already LinkedIn, and IF you read my blog/know my art/read my article in The Crafts Report magazine, or if you’ve enjoyed my guest articles that were published in Clint Watson’sFine Art Views daily email newsletter….
And if you figure out how to use this new resource, let me know, because everyone is asking me!
If you are NOT already LinkedIn, consider it. I know, I know…. As my friend and fellow TCR writer Nancy Lefever always says, it can feel like we are Plurked, Twittered, Facebooked, emailed and blogged to death and distraction these days.
I agree. Yet I still participate.
It takes time to figure out a comfortable level to work these venues at, and I tend to avoid following anyone who states that they Twitter 152 times a day….
But it’s about visibility, it’s about connections, and it’s about exploring new ways to get our work out there.
Some of these venues will fail miserably, some will peter out quickly. The life span of these new ventures runs about 2-3 years. It’s impossible to try them all, and it’s hard to foresee which ones will amount to anything.
And yet, one of them may forge that one connection that gets your to your next step.
Is it worth it? I dunno. But I’m willing to try.
I actually find it interesting and challenging. A creative act. Just another aspect of my artistic self, connection. My art is all about connecting, so this feels like a natural extension. In a way, building an online presence is another “body of work”, similar to the one we build with our art: Who am I? Who am I to other people? What is my public image, and how much does it align with my private self, and the work I want to do? How does this online presence contribute to the knowledge of others, and to the greater good in the world?
My body of work–my artwork and my writing–tells you who I am as a person, and shows you the better person I strive to be.
Ultimately, this social networking stuff, it’s just another way to tell my story.
And on a lighter note, it can be fun to Twitter, my friends. If it sucks your time, confine it to your coffee break(s).
One bright note….LinkedIn might be a good one to join because it’s easy to search for the contacts you already have. I was surprised to create almost 150 contacts the first day, more than I have in several months of Facebook presence. And the connections are one I already treasure, I just hadn’t thought of them as my network. That person who I met on Freecycle? They work for our city government. That artist who commented on my blog? They work in academia, too.
Suddenly, my world seems bigger than I ever imagined.
Live and learn. And if you are truly a lifelong learner, as I strive to be, we’ll will be learning for many years to come.
p.s. A big shout-out and thank you to Gerri Newfry, who “recommended” my blog before I could even post this! Thank you, Gerri!
And geez, I went back to see how you can recommend me, and I can’t figure it out, either! If someone knows, please let me know, okay? I’m not sure if you have to be signed up on the site, but here are the instructions from LinkedIn:
To recommend a person from their profile:
1. Click ‘Recommend this person’ found in the upper right hand corner of the profile. You will also find a recommendation link in the Experience section under the position for which you want to recommend them.
2. Choose a category: service provider, business partner, student, or colleague.
3. Follow the instructions provided based on the category you selected.
Let’s talk a little about display today. What is the best way to display your work to its best advantage?
I always secretly envy 2-D people. They basically need a few walls to hang up paintings or prints. Their main worry is, “Is that frame straight?”
On the other hand, it’s hard for a 2-D artist to stand out in a sea of similar set-ups.
On the other other hand, it ends up being about the art. Period.
And when all is said and done, that’s the way it should be.
I’m not advocating bare booths–far from it! But if I had to pick the biggest mistake I see with highly-creative display, it’s when artists get confused about exactly what it is they’re selling.
If someone picks up a piece of your display and asks how much it is, that’s your cue: You are letting your display interfere with selling your art.
This is a delicate balance, because display fixtures are, indeed, a way to create a look and a mood in your booth. Bruce Baker talks a lot about making your display style fit your style of art.
CHEAP VS. EXPENSIVE DISCONNECT
If you make spare, elegant gold and diamond jewelry, these will not look good displayed in cheap, rickety cases or on pine display fixtures. I don’t think elegant silk clothes and shawls look good on that white grid paneling I often see at shows–the elegance just doesn’t go with that Toys-R-Us display mode.
But beyond the “disconnect” of displaying expensive work on cheap-looking fixtures, the other rules go out the door.
MATCH THEME WITH STYLE
If your work is whimsical, it can be good to have your whole booth and display fixtures reflect that. If your work is traditional, ditto.
OR MIX IT UP
There is also surprise and pleasure in contrast. Ironically, sometimes whimsical work does good in a plain and simple display. My richly textured and colorful jewelry looks really good displayed on sleek, contemporary-style black steel display stands. The black disappears, the colors pop–all you see is the work.
I’m not sure the opposite is true–when we have elaborate and “frilly” display with strong, contemporary work. Probably because the “frilly” is what gets attention, and the artwork loses.
Which brings us to the title point:
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
We can get carried away with carrying that theme of congruency too far.
I have a habit of creating beautiful vignettes in my studio and booth. I set up little rocks and stones and shells around my sea-themed jewelry. I look for colored papers and bean bags for my brighter jewelry. I look for creative odds and ends to hold earrings, necklaces, bracelets.
But you know you’re in trouble when your customer can’t tell exactly what it is you’re selling.
They pick up a pretty rock and say, “How much is this?” Or they carefully take the earrings off that cool note card holder and try to buy the holder. They see a coaster under a pin and say, “I’ve been looking for a set of those! I’ll take them all!”
Catalog companies have this happen all the time. Look at catalogs sometime, and examine the props. You’ll find that almost all of them are either for sale as product–or are obviously not for sale. That’s because the last thing that company needs is a jillion phone calls from customers who want to buy that widget on the mantelpiece that isn’t for sale.
I’m always looking for display props and fixtures wherever I go. I get all excited–“I could use this wood artist model hand to hold bracelets!” But if I get too many questions like, “Did you make this?“, out it goes.
It’s like the essay on the “beautiful booth” phenomenon. You want your booth interesting enough to grab people’s interest (if you have trouble doing it with your work because it’s small or detailed or subtle or whatever.) But once they’re in your booth, it has to be about the work.
Same with your display. It should complement–and compliment–your work enough. But the minute it begins to overshadow your work, cut it out.
One of the biggest mistakes I see in booth design is the “Loaded Booth” look.
There are many variations on this theme. There is the “Something for Everyone” look. There is the “One in Every Color” look. There is the “I Can Make a Million of These (and I Have!)” look.
Unfortunately, the result is the same. It ends up looking like the “Artist with No Focus” look.
Believe me, I know what you’re trying to say: “I’m an artist, I am extremely creative, I have a million ideas, and I don’t want to color inside the lines!”
But the result is chaos and confusion.
There is work covering the entire walls of the booth. There are widgets right up to the top of the booth. There are widgets hanging ten inches off the ground. In fact, the walls are not enough. Sometimes the widgets are actually on the floor, leaning against the walls.
Every surface is covered with widgets and more widgets. “Maybe I can cram another one in here!” thinks the artist during set-up.
If the widgets are displayed in a basket, there aren’t merely a handful, or a even a basketful. The basket will be piled to overflowing. No one can actually look through them, either, without actually dumping the basket out in a pile and looking through them that way. Except the counter the basket is on is full, too.
If there is a print bin, it is jammed so full you can’t thumb through the stash. Or there are so many bins, you know it will take a huge chunk of time to go through them.
If there are little widgets on the wall, evenly spaced so as to maximize the display space, the eye has no resting place, no focal point. You simply stand and gaze around and around, looking, wishing desperately for something to jump out at you.
How do I know?
Because this is how I set up my first booth. And this is what a friend told me afterwards.
She had money. She was a shopaholic. She loved my work.
She wanted to buy something from me. She really wanted to buy something from me. She wanted to buy a lot of things from me.
But she has mild attention defiecit disorder, and was overwhelmed with all the choices. In fact, the “buzz” of my display made her anxious.
She ended up buying NOTHING.
We could blame it on her ADD, but the fact is, almost everyone feels this way when presented with too many choices.
Even those of us who adore the yard sale modality don’t expect to find this with art.
And even if we do, it doesn’t mean we have the time, energy or patience to dig through this at an art fair.
Now pretend you are at a big art fair. Or a huge wholesale show. Or a monstrous trade show. (Think of thousands of booths….)
We want to chose the best one of something. Or be able to quickly sort out what strikes our fancy, and eliminate that which doesn’t.
Too many choices makes it too hard for us to sort.
So limit people’s choices. As counterintuitive as this sounds, it works.
Don’t make them choose the best of fifty. Make them choose the best of seven. Or three. Or even two.
Don’t make them choose from 28 subjects. Let them choose from half a dozen. If they don’t see what they want, they can ask. And that gives you a chance to talk to them, too.
If you make something in lots of colors, only show a few. Or spread out the color choices among several styles. People will get that you can make it in purple. And if they like it, they’ll ask if you also make it in green. (That’s your cue to whip out your green one.)
Display fewer things, and be ready to restock an empty space quickly. In fact, sometimes that empty space is a good thing. I’ve had customers ask, “What was here??”, pointing to an empty place with a price tag. They’re curious what sold. They want to know what they’re missing. When you pull out another piece, they look at it closely. Maybe they should get one, too!
Signs can be a good way to get a customer’s overloaded brain to rest for a moment. Just keep them neat and simple and easy to read. You can hang your artist statement, or introduce a new series. You can describe a special feature about your widget, or tell a little story about a special piece.
Group your work in some way. This can be by subject, color, style or series. There are pros and cons for each way of organizing, but don’t worry about that right now. Just make some “white space” around your work.
In fact, think of how you feel when you pick up a magazine and browse through the articles.
How do you feel when you see page after page of tiny print, long paragraphs, long run-on sentences with convoluted syntax, no photos or images, and no captions?
Now think of an article with good column width, good margins, a comfortably-sized and easy-to-read font, subtitles, captions, highlights, etc. It’s easier to read, easier to jump in and sample a section, easier to find your place if you get distracted or have to put it down for a moment.
Make your booth easier to read. Make it easier to jump in and sample. Make it easier to navigate.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to prove you’re an artist. They’ll know.
I’m literally watching paint dry today. I’m finishing up the last of my teeny tiny wall hangings, a special series I’m doing for this year’s annual League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair.
For some reason, booths and booth design is on my mind today. A friend asked me to critique her new booth, which got me thinking about it. I also came across a blog of a new artist who did a major trade show for the first time. A picture of the booth was featured.
It was quickly obvious to me that several things were wrong with both booth layouts. They just didn’t look right. With my friend’s booth, I didn’t want to walk in. It didn’t feel right.
The more I thought about it, these two booth issues–not looking right and not feeling right–are the essence of bad booth design.
So over the next few days, in between my panic attacks and preparations for the Fair, I’ll share insights about what makes a bad booth.
Now, if you want a wonderful treatise on booths and booth design, run don’t walk to Bruce Baker’s website and order his CD on booth design. Actually, I can pretty much guarantee any CD you purchase from Bruce will help you tremendously, whether it’s his booth design CD, his one on selling your artwork, or the one on jury slides. Better yet, get yourself over to one of his seminars at the first opportunity. You will not regret it. Bruce Baker, Guru of booth design
Another good book to read is Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy
Underhill’s consulting team actually watched people shopping, and discovered what makes them stop shopping.
I’ve learned a lot from Bruce and from Paco. (I’m not really on a first-name basis with Mr. Underhill, just striving for a friendly note here.) I do not intend to channel either of them. I encourage you strongly to invest in their products. Bruce’s CDs are a steal at less than $15 each when you buy all three, and Mr. Underhill’s book is not expensive, either.
My point is that you can start thinking differently about your booth set-up, using what you already know about shopping.
In fact, your first assignment is to go shopping. Yes! Right now! Stop everything and go out and buy something.
Just kidding. I mean the next time you have to go shopping, pay attention to what’s going on.
Hey, where did everybody go?! Get back here!
Pay attention to what compels you to pick something up and think about buying it, and what makes you put it down (besides that whopping price sticker, that is.)
Pay attention to what parts of the store and display you are drawn to, and what drives you away.
Pay attention to how you feel about the salespeople–what they say and do that keeps you shopping, and what makes you want to run out the door.
One thing leaped out at me in the new exhibitor’s comments. The artist said, “Hey, it’s about the work, right? If the work is GREAT, then nobody really cares about your display!”
That’s true….and not true.
It’s true that great work overcomes a lot.
And it’s true we are born to shop.
I think it’s part of our hunter-gatherer heritage. We love to look for the best little tidbits, the juiciest grub, the prettiest pebble, the biggest mammoth. Just substitute “perfectly marbled sirloin steak”, “coolest little pair of earrings” and “sexiest strap-back shoes” and you’ll find we have not come very far from our ancestral roots at all. (“Are you gonna eat that?”)
But I also I think when a buyer has hundreds, if not thousands of artists to choose from, then as they walk the aisles they are automatically looking for reasons to eliminate you from consideration.
They have to. They can’t look at 1,000 different things and choose the best. They have to cull out the things that are obviously not of interest, and only focus on the things that might be.
And somewhere in the middle is a whole bunch of stuff that might be worth considering…maybe…but maybe not….? Anything you do that gets you eliminated in that first few seconds means your wonderful work never made it into the final running.
I do this when I shop. For awhile, I was bored with most jewelry. It all looked alike to me. I’ve only got an hour or so to scout out an entire store. So to save time, I would skip past the entire jewelry section. Hard to believe, but there you are.
If you were a jewelry designer, how would you encourage me to stop?
We all do this as a way to organize the time we have to shop, or to stay in a budget (if only for a few hours!) “I have enough short-sleeved shirts, I’m only looking at dresses today.” Or, “I already have too many dishes, I don’t have room in my cupboards for more.” “I don’t really need any tomatoes today, I don’t care if they’re on sale.”
Our buyers do the same thing. They is us.
Stay tuned as I share some simple, common mistakes people make with their booths. You do it, I do it, we all do it. But we can turn it around.
No bad booth. Just booths that have temporarily lost their way….
One of the most puzzling and hard to answer questions in the craft world is, “What exactly is a “body of work”??”
It’s a little like the definition of pornography. We know it when we see it, but it’s hard to pin down.
And like other worthy artistic and professional goals, sometimes the harder you pursue it, the harder it is to achieve.
Simply put, a body of work is a collection of artwork or craft you’ve produced that has a recognizable, personal style. It is immediately identifiable as a specific artist’s work.
As an example, I remember the first time a customer told me she was walking down a city street wearing one of my necklaces. A complete stranger walking by stopped and exclaimed, “You’re wearing a Luann Udell!”
Sometimes we think of certain attributes or materials as delineating our “style.” Think Joanne Russo and her signature porcupine quill baskets: Joanne’s signature style
Except Joanne’s newest body of work has nary a quill to be seen. And yet, when you see it, you know it’s her work: Joanne’s newest baskets
So our style can include our signature touches, yet transcend them too.
Some of my “gimmicks” are the beaver-chewed sticks my fiber work hangs from, my ivory techniques and my little horse artifacts.
Yet my “style” is more than these, too.
It’s the “whole thing”, the gestalt. The layering, the textures, the use of unusual colors. The details…the intricate stitching, the beads. The addition of the polymer artifacts. The presentation, the overall “look” of ancient artifacts. You can see all these elements in my wall hangings.
And, in my case, the story.
Part of my recognizable style is the passion that comes from me “digging” and searching for my artistic self. There’s a unifying story people sense. It’s about how I almost never found the artist in me, how my artistic potential was almost lost to the world–just like the Lascaux cave, the original source of my inspiration.
It’s sharing this “dig” that inspires others, that resonates with them as they look for their own path in life. That narrative thread weaves its way not only through my work, but around it, uniting it and strengthening it into whole cloth.
A dear friend and fellow artist saw my booth at the ACRE-Las Vegas show this spring. She said, “I can’t get over your new booth! It’s beautiful! And your work…. All those exquisite little artifacts, that new soapstone, the new pieces. It looks like….it looks like a miniature museum. It looks like you shouldn’t be touching the work.” She paused. “…but you can!!”
She has known me since my very first wholesale show, she has watched my work grow and evolve, she would know my work anywhere. And yet, it still has the capacity to surprise and delight her.
That is a body of work.
So how do you get one?
I wish I could answer that question easily for you. But it’s not an easy question.
My first words of advice would be: Relax!
And…just do the work.
Sometimes it’s simply a matter of time. Spend enough time doing something, a certain number of years making stuff, and your style eventually emerges. Over time, a preference for certain things–certain clays, certain processes–emerges. They may even become “signature”.
Part of it is making the work, over and over, until it comes so naturally and effortlessly (relatively speaking) that there are no conscious style decisions. I don’t mean you aren’t thinking about the details (“Would red work better here? No, definitely the yellow!”) I mean you are unconsciously making those choices in a consistent way that says “me!” Certain ways of putting colors together, certain aesthetics emerge. For example, it’s really hard for me to make “simple” necklaces. For me, the more beads, the better.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make the same thing over and over. I know some artists who dabble in all kinds of styles and media. Yet each one comes through with that artist’s certain identifiable style.
It can be about perfecting your techniques until they are solid. I cringe when I see polymer clay work with smudgy fingerprints, and poorly finished jewelry made with cheap findings and tawdry components.
Yet some artists work with common, ordinary materials–and still create beauty and awe with their works. They have achieved a certain “grace” in the way they work with these components, no matter how simple or organic the “glue” it goes together with. Think Andy Goldsworthy with his deceptively simple “techniques” and ordinary leaves and sticks and mud: stones leaves sticks
But all these aspects emerge and develop naturally, as a result of simply making the work you love, the best work you can make. Consistently.
Once you’ve invested the time and the effort into just making the work, if your signature style has still not emerged, then it’s time to dig deeper.
And here is where taking the energy to write an artist statement can help.
I believe that going through the process of writing an artist statement can help clarify what your art is about. What you are about, as an artist.
And that is what a body of work reflects: What you are about, as an artist.
So if you’re stuck at a point in your artistic career where the dreaded “body of work” seems as elusive as…well, a lucrative body of work–then try going through the exercise of writing or updating your artist statement.
Because sometimes thinking about who you are as an artist, and what you are saying with your work, can be a powerful took in developing that elusive “body of work”.
If that doesn’t work, let me know and I’ll think about this some more.
Here are some essays from my old blog that may help you get started: