PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #1: The Things That Hold Us Back

PROBLEM-SOLVING: The Things That Hold Us Back, Including Our Own Self-Doubt

When we get really good at making our art, it's easy to forget how hard it was to get there in the first place!
When we get really good at making our art, it’s easy to forget how hard it was to get there in the first place!

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.

PROBLEM-SOLVING: The Things That Hold Us Back, Including Our Own Self-Doubt

How Thomas Edison, Scarlett O’Hara, and Cake helped me through some hard places.

Years ago, the band Cake came out with an adorable video about their newest song, “Short Skirt/Long Jacket”.

In the video, people on the street are offered a chance to listen to a new song by an unnamed band (Cake) and asked for their opinions.

I love this tune! Every time I hear it, I want to get up and dance. It’s swingy, it’s lush, it’s pure-d fun.

In the video, about a third of the folks hate it, and tell us why. Another third like it, commenting on the parts that work, and don’t work, for them.

And the ones that absolutely love it? They don’t even talk.

They just dance.

They move to the music, oblivious to everyone else around them.

Why bring this up today?

Because I’m in the middle of a dream project I’ve carried in my heart for years.

It’s a new series of box shrines, made with antique, vintage, and distressed new wood boxes, painted, antiqued, screwed together in stacks, and mounted on wood bases. I will fill them with my own handmade artifacts. You can see them here on my Instagram account.

I’ve made them before, big ones. I had access to a friend’s woodworking studio, their tools, and their expertise.

This time, it’s just me.

Many, many things have held me back. Relying on antique and vintage boxes meant it was hard to have exactly the right stock for every configuration. I decided against using construction glue and epoxy this time around, because I found out the hard way that old wood can be more fragile than those glues. I still wasn’t sure how to mount the artifacts in the perfect way.

In short: I believed I couldn’t just start until I had everything figured out.

Which meant I didn’t start for more than seven years.

The pandemic changed everything. I had nowhere to go, no open studio events, no galleries open to selling work.

And also no excuses.

So I changed my attitude and my strategy.

I would start with what I had. If I could only put together a couple shrines, well, okay then.

And I decided I would just keep making and moving forward until I hit the next roadblock. And then I’d figure it out.

Guess what?? It’s working!

Every purchase that was a mistake? That was information on what would work better the next time.

I found sources for new wood boxes that I could distress and texture to look old, to fill in the gaps in my collection. A friend sent me a bunch of small handmade parts drawers.  I bought brackets and braces, experiment until I found the right ones.

Like Thomas Edison, I found hundreds of things that didn’t work.

And then I found exactly what did work.

One of my biggest hang-ups was finding shallower/flatter boxes to use as bases/foundations. They gave the shrines a more ‘finished’ look, but finding ones the right size and price was tricky. Until I finally found these affordable wood painting panels in a variety of sizes and shapes, that worked perfectly.

I agonized about how to make my own museum mounts for positioning and displaying the artifacts. But instead of waiting to find “the perfect one”, I bought one type. Instead of lamenting my inability to weld or braze, I thought of different ways I can make them myself. (And just as I’m writing this, I’m realizing I did a huge favor recently for another artist who is a life-long welder. Hmmmm……I think I know a favor I can ask of them!)

I worried about how many and what kind artifacts I need to make. But I’ve put that off for now because warmer summer months will be better for working with polymer clay. (My studio’s average winter temperature is 48 degrees.)

And the last barrier getting in my way? I wake up at 3:00 a.m., realizing my studio is now filled with soooo many shrines, there’s no room to even adequately display them all. And I’m worried no one will buy them.

My solution to that? I use what I call my “Scarlett O’Hara” approach: “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

I tell my lizard brain to go back to sleep. It’s not about the selling right now, it’s about the making.

I’m sharing my progress on social media. That helps me not only record my progress, I also get to see the response. Which has been favorable!

Most people seem fascinated. They can’t wait to see where I go with them. Some have been inspired to explore their own versions. Many people are interested in a class, which, now that I have sources for affordable new boxes, could be possible.

And today, I came across an old journal from 2015, with those insights about Cake’s new song, which in turn inspired this article.

There are people who will love these shrines. There will be people who won’t.

And some won’t have any words.

They’ll just dance.

·        Just for today, don’t worry about who will and won’t like your work.

·        Just for today, don’t worry about whether it will sell.

·        Just for today, start that project you’ve always dreamed of. Experiment. Trial-and-error. Tiny steps forward.

·        Just for today, share your progress and process with your audience on social media.

Just for today, make the music that is your art, that makes you want to dance.

Ironically, today I also found this quote on Cake’s website:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

—Martin Luther King Jr.

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 them at my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

Musings and Muddling 2: What The Hell Is Water?

Thank you, Terry E. for the beautiful inspiration for my owl story

Musings and Muddling…Why Our Creative Work Matters

I’m in a swirl of new work and new ideas. And I’m also in a whirl of indecision, frustration, and unsolvable problems.

Every time I get stuck, I experience self-doubt. Feelings of not-doing-it-right. Afraid the world will finally see how how unworthy of the title “artist” I truly am.

I’ve been here before. And so have you. (We ALL have ‘creative work’ in us, according to my ever-inclusive definition: Any work that is a force for good, that makes the world a better place. That would be the “traditional” arts, including music, dance, drama, etc. But to me, it also means healing, teaching, restoring, repairing, repurposing, inventing, gardening, cooking, nurturing, etc.)

This morning I was searching my Pinterest page. I’m looking for a way to turn a flat object (okay, it’s my owl face artifacts) into a pendant. My usual methods won’t work, for a variety of reasons. The brooch/pendant converter doesn’t work, and using a glue-on bail would interfere with the look of the owl. Hence (my favorite part of “The House Bunny” movie is Anna Faris’s passionate use of this one word) my search on Pinterest, looking for ideas.

As I searched, I found one of my old blog posts from four years ago, How to Make Water.

And as I was finishing this up, a friend sent me this astonishing insight into the real nature of creativity, in a snippet of an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert. (Thank you, Gail M.!)

Basking in the astonishing wonder of synchronicity, aka “little daily miracles….)

So no solution yet, but this was exactly what I needed to read, and hear today.

Enjoy!

As always, if you enjoyed this article and know someone who might like it, too, please pass it on! And if you liked this newsletter and received it from someone else, you can sign up for more at my webiste, LuannUdell.com.

UPSIDE-DOWN THINKING

Luann Udell shares what a difference a change of perspective or point of view can make
Luann Udell shares what a difference a change of perspective or point-of-view can make

Upside-Down Thinking

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

Sometimes a change of perspective, another point-of-view, another pair of eyes and ears, can challenge our assumptions, and help us through a sticky spot in life.

I have several mannequins in my studio, aka “dress forms”. Most are vintage, which means they are a size 0. I try not to be in photos where I’m standing too close to them.

I use them to display some of my larger, bolder jewelry, especially the series I call “shaman necklaces”.

Unfortunately, one has gotten very wobbly over the years, lurching and leaning at odd angles. I try to prop it up against a solid surface, and hope it doesn’t slip at an unfortunate time—say, when someone who’s had one too many glasses of wine tries to hug it.

Several times, I slipped the body part off its stand, trying to figure out how to make it more stable. Finally, during this last studio move, I took the base apart to see what was going on.

The base consists of four “feet”, with a threaded rod standing in a hole in the base. There’s a large nut underneath that, when tightened, would secure the rod more firmly to the base.

“I can do that!” I thought, and made a note to bring an adjustable wrench in.

But the nut was slightly rusted. The wrench couldn’t budge it. Now what??

I could put some WD-40 on it, or borrow another wrench, or ask my husband  or a neighbor to do it for me. But it would mean another trip to the hardware store, or the garage, or might come across as an imposition for my neighbor, whatever. I just felt stuck. Maybe I should just sell it, or move it back to the garage, until I die and the kids come to settle the estate and clear out my studios and come across the mannequin and everyone silently thinks, “What the h*** was she thinking??!!” (I keep telling my kids that when I die, they can just invite the public into my studio/storage places, tell them to fill a bag and charge $50/bag.)

Today, I took one last look at the stand.

And that’s when I realized, if, instead of trying to twist the bolt further UP, I could unscrew the threaded rod FURTHER DOWN.

I tried it. It took 10 seconds. And it worked!

Now I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t think of that sooner.

Except, you know, I immediately thought, “What a great article topic!”

So many of us have been brain-washed encouraged to think there is one way to make art. (2D or sculpture, that’s it.) And the paints have to be oil, and the sculpture stone or bronze.) We’ve been told there’s one way to get it out into the world: Getting into that great gallery.) We’ve come to believe there is a secret way to market our work, and we used to think the only way to do that was an ad in a prestigious art magazine.

Many artist believe “our art should speak for itself”. Our studios should look “professional” (whatever that means) and be neat and tidy, and only our very best work should be on view.  We often believe that if everybody else is painting rusty trucks, well then, we should paint that, too!

We believe that our artist statements should sound brilliant, and heady, that our audience is mostly interested in our process, that our resume is our most valuable credential, proving we are indeed, a “real artist”. Hey, we went to art school! We studied under that famous artist! We took a workshop with all those other famous artists! We got into that prestigious gallery, show, exhibition! It says so, right here on page 6!

We are bombarded daily with offers of information, knowledge, and strategies for how to make a lot of money from our creative work. Er, for a price. Sometimes a very high price.

If we switched this upside-down, what would it look like?

There are a million ways to bring something beautiful, meaningful, and/or powerful into the world. We have a vast array of media and vehicles to choose from.

Yes, a healthy relationship with a good gallery can work small miracles in growing our audience into passionate collectors. But it’s not the only way to go.

Maybe your art can speak for itself. Mine does, in a way. People tell me that all the time, that they can sense the power.

But unlike the actual cave of Lascaux, I’m here today to share my story. Over the years, that’s created a beautiful connection between my work and my audience. I’ve grown to love telling my story, and I will keep telling it until I can’t. It’s my only chance in life to tell it. I’m sure those ancient artists of the distant past would love it if they could share their true story. But they can’t. Telling our story does not automatically destroy the power, nor the mystery, of what is in our hearts.

Art school can be a wonderful experience, and a resume can “prove” we have accomplished great things in our art career. But a resume is really to reassure ourselves we are who we say we are. And to show other artists who believe in credentials. And to reassure collectors who don’t trust their own judgment on what speaks to them, and what isn’t worth their investment. Art schools are great for many students, but toxic to some. And not everyone can go to art school, and many don’t even want to. I’m glad I didn’t go. I would not be the artist I am today. Period.

Re: workshops with famous artists….I get that a great teacher, and a great workshop, is a wonderful resource. But half the time I don’t recognize the artists mentioned, and it certainly doesn’t alter my perception of someone’s work.  I understand taking such a workshop. But why brag about it, or use it as a “reference”? Yes, I know some of those famous artists only take the better students. But unless they’ve written you a letter of recommendation….You may be one of hundreds, or even thousands of people who studied under them. Quick, name an artist who studied under Michaelangelo!

And our artist-y studios? A few days ago, I met another artist in my new location. Their studio was very small, and spare. There were a couple works in progress. As we talked, they shared where they teach art, the group ventures they participate in, the people they’d taken classes from, their subject matter, etc. I asked them if they were going to participate in a big bash event coming up next month, a full day’s event with music, open studios, wine tasting, festivities, and thousands of people expected.

And they said no.

I asked why not. They spread their hands, indicated their space. “It’s not very impressive,” they said. (They had seen my studio and were very impressed.)

I said these thoughts to them:

My work takes several media, I’m a hoarder highly-evolved hunter-gather by nature, and consequently my studio is really dense. But not all studios are.

I told them their work was lovely, and that they were chatty, funny, and easy to talk with. “People will love talking with you!” I said.

I told them that their subject was one that would appeal to many people, and the steps involved (there was a photograph, an enlarged photograph, some small studies) would fascinate visitors.

I said I did not expect to sell anything, simply willing to invest in introducing my work to as many people as possible. “It’s not about who comes by, it’s about who comes back.” My only goal is to sign up as many genuinely-intrigued visitors as possible for my mailing list.

Finally, I said, “A wise mentor told me years ago, ‘To the general public, you artists are the people who ran away to join the circus!’ People are curious about what our lives look like. Many people dream that they could do what we do. And your small, intimate space will a) let people see that you don’t need a huge space or tons of supplies to bring art-making into their own lives, and b) may encourage a fellow budding artist about what can be accomplished when we dedicate a little bit of space, and time, to our work.”

And that’s one of the “purposes” for making our art: To inspire others.

I think I convinced them they really weren’t “less than”.  They seemed happy!

Upside-down thinking may not work for everything (I’m flying across the country again tomorrow, I want the plane to fly right-side up!) nor everybody. To each his own…..

But my newly-restored mannequin has shown me the power at looking at a “problem” differently. I hope you give it a try!