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 changing our perspective helps us see better.
I’ve been making little animal artifacts for more than two decades. I make them one at a time, shaping each lump of layered clay by hand.
I use various tools, repurposed, handmade, found in situ, to add details and designs. But I only use my hands for the actual forming.
They’ve changed a lot over the years. The bears got less “formidable” and a little sweeter. They have ears now, and a tail, too. The birds now have real eyes instead of dots. They look more alive.
All my animals are more three-dimensional. When I first made them, they were button-like adornments on my 2-D fiber collage work. Now they are thicker, rounder.
Even my horses have changed. Sometimes they reflected real changes in my life, like the year or two when I had several big surgeries: They lost their signature ‘handprint’! It took awhile for me to figure out why. I finally realized I was in so much discomfort, I didn’t want to be “touched”, and neither did they! (Bears started out with handprints, but then they “told” me they were not domesticate animals, so ix-nay on the handprint thing.)
At some point, there was another shift in my horses. For some reason I still can’t figure out, they became shorter. Not as in “less tall”, but as in “less long”. In a way, they couldn’t be ridden.
It took a long time to see that. The turning point came when I made a necklace for a wise woman in my life. She’d picked a horse from my stash, one that spoke to her. But when I tried to turn it into a pendant, I couldn’t get it to “hang” right. It was “front heavy”, and I could not fix that.
That insight, when shared with her, ended up giving her tremendous insight into her own turning point in life. As in, a big decision she’d made had thrown her life out of balance. (Which was a tiny miracle in its own right! Once she “saw” that, she changed her mind, with amazingly powerful results.)
It also made me look at that batch of horses and see the imbalance.
I’d used a large black, faux soapstone horse to make a large Shaman necklace. (I try to make one every year or two, to remind myself to “go big” in my work, even though I only sell one ocassionally.) It was on display in my studio. I decided to photo it to list in my Etsy shop.
When I saw the photo, it was easy to see the difference in how much my horses have changed in four years!
I still love those “stubby” horses, and so do a lot of people. But I can’t keep making them that way.
So I made a new big horse, in a green shade of faux soapstone. I love how it looks!
Of course, there are lots of tricks to “seeing” our work in a different way, one that can help us more easily see the errors in composition, lighting, color choices, etc. We can not only take a quick photo, we can hold it up to a mirror, or view it upside down. I once asked former Fine Art Views author-and-artist Lori Woodward to look at a large wall hanging I’d made. Something was ‘off’ but I couldn’t see it. She saw it instantly! (Fortunately it was an easy fix!) Thank you, Lori!
And just like we can improve how we really “see” our art, we can improve how we see ourselves. And not just ourselves, but how we view our art, how we can encourage others to “see” it, and how we “see” ourselves in the world.
This is crucial to extending our online marketing, too.
I remember the first workshop I ever took on marketing and self-promotion, at a polymer clay guild in Keene, NH. A member’s spouse was in marketing, and his presentation was mind-blowing!
The first question he asked was, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about selling?”
Most of the responses were eye-opening. “It’s like a used car salesman’s pitch!” “You gotta twist people’s arms to get them to buy something!” “First you bait the hook and then they bite and you reel them in!”
I couldn’t stand it any longer. I said, “First I make something, with all my skills, and time. Then I show it to someone else, and tell my story. Then they take their hard-earned money that they earned with their skills, and time, and we trade.”
Needless to say, I got an A! (Figuratively speaking.)
Many people today still hesitate to self-promote, especially if we weren’t raised to put ourselves out there. Posting on social media can feel like “bragging”. Asking a good price for our work can feel “pretentious”. Even calling ourselves a “real artist” can feel presumptuous.
But we are simply people who are just like everybody else. We have things we really care about, we choose a creative path we really love, we make stuff that makes us happy, and we do our best work.
The next step is simply sharing our work with the world. Sharing with images (if our work is visual), or words (if our work is a poem, or story), or recordings (if our work is musical, or verbal), or videos (if our work involves movement, such as dance, or acting, etc.)
If nothing happens, that doesn’t mean our work is no good. It can simply mean we haven’t found our audience–yet!
And getting it out into the world is a huge part of that process. From email newsletters, to tiny short films on Instagram, to sharing our latest artwork (or column!) on Facebook, and Twitter, etc. is how people get to see it.
The beauty of social media is, you don’t have to wait for a publisher to choose your work, or a gallery to represent you, or a record producer to record your music, or a studio to hire you as an actor. In fact, the chances of any of these typical ‘markers of success’ may improve simply from our own efforts to show the world what we do.
So maybe we can learn to see ourselves better, too.
We can choose to see ourselves as a human who has chosen visual work as their favorite format. A human who has chosen oils, or acrylics, or colored pencil, or clay, or bronze, or fiber, or any of the thousands of “media” that are creative paths.
We can choose to see ourselves, and our art, as worthy. As ‘good enough’, right now, and ‘even better’ down the road.
As a dear friend said years ago, when I said how embarrassed I was by my earlier work, “Did people love what you made then?” (Um…yes.) “Did they buy it?” (Yeah….?) “Then there will be people who will still love them, too.” (Thank you, Ruth P.!)
We get to choose. We can accept, and respect, every step of our creative journey. Or, like I did this week, we can update, rotate, recreate, refresh, or even set aside the work that doesn’t reflect our best.
There’s no right-or-wrong there. Just what we want to do.
That’s the insight I gained today, by looking at my life’s work from a different perspective. Looking backwards (like a mirror) at where I started, where I’ve been, where I am.
And forward, to where I’m going next.
Do you have artwork you still love, even decades later? Can you still feel the fierce joy it brought you then? Are there pieces you’ve reworked for the better? Are you open to finding out what you can do better in the months ahead?
And can you find yourself worthy of respect for what you do? So you can share it with the world with pride, and joy? Let me know in the comments!
If this article inspired you today, please pass it on to someone else who might like it, too. And if someone sent this to you today, and you liked it, you can see more advice on art marketing at Fine Art Views, more of my articles on FAV, and subscribe to my email newsletter at my website at LuannUdell.com.