I subscribe to a great newsletter by Canadian artist Robert Genn called Painters Keys. Sometimes it’s about technique, sometimes it’s about marketing, sometimes it’s about the journey of making art. It’s always an interesting read.
I worked in my studio yesterday. It was a major event.
I made eight little pendants for my simple horse necklaces. Not a big deal, usually. Certainly not a big production day for me.
But it was significant. Because it’s the first work I’ve made since my knee replacement surgery last month.
My last post before I went under the knife showed the frayed mental state I was in. It wasn’t pretty! Even now, I lay awake at night, exhausted, my body aching for sleep, my mind racing at 90 mph. A litany of minor sins streams through my brain–all the things I need to do, all the things I have to redo, all the things that need fixing/making/writing/cleaning etc. After what seems like an eternity, I finally fall asleep.
But when I wake in the morning, all I feel is tired.
I’d be more worried, except my very good friend Jennie, a recent surgery patient, too (who was, incidentally, also the first visitor I “received” once I’d stabilized from the surgery) gave me a wonderful insight.
“It’s not so much the surgery, or the pain,” she mused. “The hardest part for me was when I did start feeling better. But I was so damn tired all the time. No energy!”
Oh gosh. I’d forgotten all about that part.
So once again, I have just the right words at just the right time.
I can walk without crutches. The pain is easing. I don’t have to wear those damn compression stockings anymore!
But my body is not healed yet. It will take more time, and I must be patient with myself. Exquisitely patient, no matter what the demands in my life try to tell me otherwise.
And Lydie’s advice was right. Yes, it might be easier to work in here if my space were cleaner, less cluttered, less dusty. Maybe I should have spent more time restocking stores with inventory, or even trying to get fitter before my surgery.
But when I come in the studio, and see the materials for my next big series of works, it makes me think of the exciting new ideas I want to bring into being. I see a studio full of everything I need to take that next creative step forward.
I must remember to ask, every day, when I enter this fabulous space, with patience, with gentleness, with respect and joy:
“What is it you need from me today, that this new work can be brought into the world?”
All it really wants, for now, it seems, is for me to be here, with love. And intention.
And so my studio, too, is patiently waiting for me to heal.
Last week I attended an amazing presentation by integral coach Lyedie Geer. Her website is here. The focus was time management for creative people.
Now, fifteen years ago, when I first started my artistic journey, I was on fire with professionalism. I was determined not to be that “spacey artist” with no concept of time or discipline.
I was very good at it, too. I entered juried shows early. I had a binder of my galleries, their complete contact info, my shipments to them, their terms, etc. Correspondence was carefully filed in each of their folders. My slides were labeled and up-to-date, and I had duplicates ready on a moment’s notice for any occasion. My Rolodex was full with fellow artists, show management, photographers (I had a photographer and a back-up photographer), suppliers. You name it, I had their name and phone number.
My editor at Lark Books called once, and in an hour, I’d produced every single source and resource we talked about. “Oh my GOD, you’re so organized!” she exclaimed.
Then something happened.
I can’t remember what set it off, but things…changed. I wasn’t frantic about recognition. I didn’t care about publicity or awards. I wasn’t willing to do ANYTHING to keep my income stream going.
I rode more. I wrote more. I dropped everything to be with my family or a friend in need, even when the “need” was a drink. I took in homeless puppies. I volunteered more. I took hospice training.
I paid more attention to other things: The change of seasons. Walks with my husband. Phone calls from my daughter. Driver’s Ed with my son.
The concept of time management began to annoy me. Oh, sure, I understood I could get so much more done if I actually MANAGED my time instead of letting it manage me.
But that just didn’t seem as urgent anymore. I still care deeply about my art and my art business. I just felt that more was being called for of me.
I wanted to explore that call. And everything is different.
So I attended the seminar with extreme prejudice. Borderline hostility, in fact. I assumed we were going to learn about day planners and Google calendar. I expected we would be urged to be more ‘professional’ in our dealings.
I was prepared to be bored stiff and MAYBE take away a nice idea or two. My only defense is I was also willing to be proved wrong, which is why I even went in the first place.
Well, Lyedie blew my socks off.
Her presentation gave me a deeper understanding of my creative process, and how to use that understanding to focus even more on my creative and professional goals.
Like Bruce Baker, her information is the kind I would attend to many, many times, as I would ‘hear’ something different every time. The content is powerful, and Lyedie’s presentation style is earnest and heartfelt.
Some people are monochronic, she said. Time is rigid and linear. There are rules, and expectations. This goes HERE, and that goes THERE.
Creative people are polychronic. Time is fluid, priorities are in constant flux.
To maximize our skills and impact, TIME is not the thing to be managed, but our AWARENESS.
It’s not so much about artists learning to be better businesspeople, or learning how to squish ourselves into a better business model. In fact, the monochronic world is the one that needs to adjust, and flex, and support the polychronic.
Because our creative self–WHAT WE ARE–is what’s of value to the world
And the world needs us now. Badly.
There was more, so much more. A lot of it is science-based, on what we now know about creative people, and how creative thinking works. It’s also full of hope, and wonder, and connection, and everything human. It will take time for me to process exactly what this means for me in the days–years!–ahead.
It’s simply powerful stuff.
Our entire audience of creative professionals (web designers, commercial photographers, graphic artists, etc.) applauded when she finished.
I highly recommend Lyedie to any organization that offers professional development for creative people–your local art organization, your professional guilds, art schools. Her insights can offer benefit to creative people at every level of development, from rank beginner to accomplished professional.
In fact, as I face another dramatic surgery in the weeks ahead (total knee replacement surgery, eeeeeeeeeeeeeek!) I plan to meet with Lyedie. I want a ‘life intention’ jump start.
As I recuperate, I want something pulling me away from the pain and frustration of recovery, to the rich new path I believe lies ahead. It may not LOOK much different, on the surface. But I’m hoping for a ‘unified field theory’ for myself, a way to examine, evaluate, and include all the paths and projects on my plate.
I don’t want to feel distracted and unfocused anymore. I don’t want to feel guilty about my messy studio. I don’t want to feel anxious about the new work that’s in my head, that I can’t quite get out into the world yet. I don’t want to feel like I love so many aspects of my creative self, yet feel that none of them the full attention they deserve.
I want to feel that, whatever I’m doing, whatever has my attention, and my awareness, is what I should be doing. I want to feel that there is a place for me in the world, and a need for what I have to offer.
I’ll keep you posted! And in the meantime, see if you can get your group to host a seminar with Lyedie. I promise you, you will not be disappointed.
It’s been awhile since I’ve written here. Thank you to all of you who wrote, because of the silence, to ask if anything was wrong.
There were some scary things going on this holiday season. It’s been impossible to share them, for many reasons. The main reason is, to do so would violate the privacy of someone I love more than my life. It’s not really my story; I was a bystander who got caught in the backlash of the tornado.
After the worst of the storm had passed, and things looked more like normal (and I am very, very grateful for normal), I wondered why I wasn’t bouncing back as quickly as I usually do. I felt violated, stripped of my reason-to-be, and off-balance about the role art plays in my life.
Two things have put me back on the path.
One is a children’s book I’ve been reading this week. It’s the finale to Susan Cooper’s marvelous series THE DARK IS RISING, about the battle between good and evil in the world. called “Silver on the Tree”. I found “Silver on the Tree” at a thrift shop last week, snatched it up and read it.
Near the end, the heroes venture through a beautiful kingdom, a land of makers and craftspeople, singers and story-tellers, in search of a magic sword to help them in their quest. The king of that land, the maker of the Crystal Sword, sits alone in his castle, immobilized these many long years and silent.
And right there, on page 161, is this amazing passage:
(The enemies of the Light,) they showed the maker of the sword his own uncertainty and fear. Fear of having done the wrong thing–fear that having done this one great thing, he would never again be able to accomplish anything of great worth. Fear of age, of insufficiency, of unmet promise. All such endless Fears, that are the doom of people given the gift of making, and lie always somewhere in their minds. And gradually he was put into despair…..Despair holds him prisoner, despair, the most terrible creation of all.”
I saw myself.
To be open to the world, to be open to your creativity, also means we are exceptionally vulnerable to the dark forces of the world.
When we are open to the chaos of possibility, we are also vulnerable to the chaos of evil.
Even as we delight in the small fierce flame of creation, in ourselves and in others, we are in danger of someone carelessly, deliberately, cruelly, snuffing it out for the sheer enjoyment of tormenting us.
It’s frightening to realize the world has such people in it. They’re surprisingly hard to see, too. In fact, they may be the most charming person you’ve ever met.
Your only clue may be how awful you feel about yourself after dealing with them. How inadequate you feel, how selfish you see yourself, how useless your talents are to the world.
And because you yourself have let in that despair, only you can see it, and only you can tell it to leave.
There’s no logic to it, except this:
You can accept there is evil in the world, and give in to it.
Or you can say there is also good in the world–and embrace it.
I have to choose the latter.
I have to believe in what I do, and in who I am.
The other thing that’s a miracle today, is a little piece of paper I found while cleaning piles and piles of my crap for a party we’re having tonight.
It’s typical of my little notes to myself: Written on a torn sheet of paper, some little thought–the title of a book, an idea, an insight–in an futile attempt to shed some of the mind-slurry that is my brain into something that might help me organize. Or at least remember!
In the middle of a list of books is a quote:
Writing is a meditation for you.”
I have no idea where it came from, or who said it. It sounds like something my friend Quinn MacDonald would say. Heck, maybe I said it! But surely I would have remembered….??
What matters is this: It’s true.
I need to write to process what happens to me. My lack of writing has delayed my healing.
I’ve been writing, privately, the last few days, after this long drought. And slowly, my heart is making sense of the last two months’ events. And some peace is restored in my soul.
So I find myself at the end of the year. It’s been a hard, hard winter already, and many more dark, cold nights ahead.
But now I know this for sure:
When winter comes, can spring be far behind?
And I am so very grateful for these two tiny, wonderful miracles in my life today–a torn piece of paper, and a well-worn old book.
And I’m grateful for my marriage, my children, my family, and friends, and dogs who sleep on your feet at night, and cats who try to sleep on your head.
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.
I’m in a tear trying to get ready for a jam-packed weekend. Our 29th wedding anniversary is Sunday, and that’s actually #5 on our list of things to do.
On Monday, we stuff my booth into our car and drive four hours north to The Balsams, where I’ll be doing a week-long artist-in-residency for the hotel guests–teaching classes, demo-ing, displaying and (hopefully!) selling my artwork.
This kind of thing is really hard on a perfectionist like moi. Trying to do everything perfectly, preparing for every contingency, planning on providing the perfect artistic experience… It’s easy to get lost in all the mundane details of getting everything from here to there, retrieving artwork from other exhibitions today, trying to figure out where my beloved Claudia Rose rubber stamps are. (They’re perfect for the make it & take it workshops I do at The Balsams.)
I know we’ll get all the way up there and I’ll realize I’ve forgotten some critical piece of display or equipment. There will be tears and late-night searches for duct tape and twine, and wondering where the heck I packed the bug spray.
And like a little feather of hope falling gently into my life, came a little card in the mail today.
It was from someone I’d done something nice for a few weeks ago. Short story, part of the nice was a little pair of handmade earrings I threw into a package at the last minute. It wasn’t even my signature polymer work. They were pearl earrings accented with hand-soldered and shaped sterling wire accents, very pretty and organic. But, in my mind, nothing extraordinary at all.
What stopped my buzzy brain was this line:
Luann–the earrings are beautiful! I’ve never had a piece of jewelry that was made by someone I knew. I will wear them often & think of you when I do!
This woman–an intelligent, multi-degreed, active and attractive woman–has never owned a piece of jewelry made by someone she knows…. And she is astonished.
That tiny little gesture I made on a whim, has shifted her whole perception of handmade jewelry. She now owns something she deems doubly–no, triply precious: they are beautiful, they are handmade, they are handmade by me, her friend. Her mind boggles.
How often do we diminish our gifts?
How many times have you thought, “Well, yeah, these are cute. But I’ll never make anything as cool as so-and-so, world-famous artist person.”
How many times have we underpriced our work, certain that no one will think it’s actually worth the time, the skill and the creative vision we’ve put into it?
How many times have we hesitated about entering an exhibition, or approaching a gallery, or doing a new show, certain that no one would really be interested in our work?
How many times have we secretly squirmed when a customer admired our work or even bought it, wondering what they’d think if they knew how easy it was for us to make it?
I do it all the time. Even when I set a reasonable price for my work, I often find myself apologizing for it.
What we do isn’t easy, except that we’ve gotten very good at doing it.
What we do isn’t ordinary, except that it is so familiar to us.
What we do isn’t unworthy, because it comes from the skill of our hands, the judgment of our eyes, the passion in our hearts.
What we do is just….amazing.
Sometimes, it takes another person, someone whose life works on other levels, in other circles–perhaps even one who saves lives, as this woman does–to see the beauty, the astonishment, the miracle in what we do.