THIN SECRETS FOR BEING SUCCESSFUL: A Series of Small Strategies to Help You Get Big(ger)(ish)

My latest article on Fine Art Views, a daily email newsletter on growing your art career.

(Spoiler alert: The choices are small, but many. And you have to keep at it!)

Years ago, I sat on a panel of artists and crafts industry professionals, speaking on various issues and answering questions from the audience.

Near the end, an artist badgered me unmercifully, repeatedly asking me to reveal my marketing “secrets” for the entire audience to hear.

I felt extremely uncomfortable, even resentful, about the demands for several reasons.

First, I wasn’t even sure what was being asked. A list of all my marketing efforts for the past 18 months to promote my artwork? For the last 8 years? The efforts before or after 9/11, the dot com crash and the recession? Did they want to hear all my mistakes, too? Or just my successes? Did they want to hear what I learned? Or what I’m learning now?

How much time do you have?!

I was also frustrated because I had no context for the person asking the questions. I had no idea what their work is like, where they are now in their business plan (or if they even HAVE a business plan) and what they are willing to do to succeed. I had no idea what their personal, financial and professional goals are for their art/business. I had no idea who their market is and what they’ve done to target it or even identify it. How do I know what will be of use to someone else unless I understand where they’ve been, where they are now, and where they want to go?

Finally, I was confused by the assumption that I’ve figured it all out and can neatly box it up and simply give it to someone else. I’m still learning, changing, growing as an artist. I have no idea if I’m even thinking the right way about MY marketing plan. How on earth do I put all this in context for THEM?

But I also felt vaguely guilty. After all, wasn’t the panel discussion a culmination of an entire weekend doing just that?–helping others take their next step by sharing my own experiences and learning? Hadn’t I already mentored a number of people here, and at previous conferences, offering insights and advice freely? Don’t I do that daily with my blog, in my magazine articles, and in other professional development classes I teach?

So why was I feeling intense resistance to this artist’s demands?

I’m been thinking about why these scenarios seemed so vastly different, why I would respond wholeheartedly in one instance and clam up in another.

The next day, as I ate breakfast, I read an article about long-term weight loss in the April 2006 issue of REAL SIMPLE magazine. The article was called “Secrets of Thin People” by Lorie Parch. And I had my “aha” moment.

The demanding person was asking me for my “secret diet” for losing weight.

And I don’t HAVE a secret diet for losing weight.

What I DO have is results from deciding from time to time that I needed to change the daily choices I make in my diet, my activities and my attitude–to achieve a different outcome in my life.

What I feel comfortable sharing is how I got from a person who constantly made unhealthy choices, to a person who (periodically) will make consistent, healthier choices–which, as a consequence, RESULTS in me being thinner. (Er….now and then.)

I still don’t actually diet nor are all my choices perfect even now. But I’ve been successful in MODIFYING many of my choices slightly over a long period of time. And when I make those modifications, the side effects are, I lose weight, I get more fit, I lower my blood sugar and cholesterol to within healthy limits, and I walk/talk/carry myself, and care for myself, differently.

(The ONLY physical “shortcut” I’ve taken through the years is, brilliant red hair. Better living through chemicals and all that.)

I’ll share some of the professional, artistic and emotional changes I made years ago that got me where I am today professionally (with apologies to Ms. Parch for using her article for the structure.)

But for today, rest assured there are no “secrets”, no insider information that is being systematically withheld from you.

I know it feels like that sometimes…. It feels like other people KNOW what to do and when to do it.

But that’s not the case.

Success in the arts, like any other success in life, means staying the course. Staying with one course of action until it has a chance to provide results.

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One thing that helps you achieve success is getting better at what you do. â

But also recognizing when to switch because it isn’t working for YOU.It means making daily choices, often small choices, that eventually… EVENTUALLY lead to big results.

Because, just like losing weight is an END RESULT of making many different, healthier life choices, being successful is an END RESULT of making many different, “healthier” artistic, professional and personal choices.

 

 

LEARNING TO FLY Part 1: The Checklist

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.

Managing your career as an artist is much like flying an airplane.
Recently we met up with a friend, a professional photographer, who’s been flying airplanes for years. Almost all his life, in fact. Of course, I asked him my go-to question whenever I meet pilots: I asked him about the backstory of a recent local airplane crash.
Turns out almost all small plane crashes are directly due to pilot error.  This set off a fascinating, dynamic course in what’s involved in flying a small plane, the mechanics of flying, the skillset—and the mindset—necessary to fly, and survive.
Anyone can fly!” Bob exclaimed. “When things are going well, when you have good weather, a well-maintained plane, anyone can fly a plane. It’s when things go horribly wrong that determines life or death.” (Note: Few people die when their art careers go horribly wrong, so that’s the one thing we DON’T have in common with pilots.) He went on to list the incredible amount of human error that is the root cause of most small plane crashes.
Turns out that flying a plane, and managing your career as an artist, have lots in common. Similar skills, similar guidelines. Who knew?! And like a plane, when things are going well with your art career—your audience is growing steadily, your sales are strong, your resume is impressive, and your enthusiasm is at its peak—it’s easy to ignore your checklist. “I’ve got it all figured out!” you think. “I’ve paid my dues, and this is my reward!”
But like an airplane, our lives can go from running smoothly to ‘unpleasant surprise’ in months, weeks, days—even hours. And like a recession, when things get super hard in our lives, art and art-making can be the first thing we drop. (“It’s a luxury, right?”)
So let’s start today with the first line of safety in flying—in a plane, or in your art. And let’s assume things are going well today:
The checklist: The very first thing a flight instructor teaches a new student is to complete the pre-flight checklist. This is a visual confirmation that every single item/instrument/safety feature/aspect of the airplane is in its place and doing what it should. This exercise consists of three steps:
1) Reading (or hearing, if there are two of you) the checklist item. You read each item on the list every time, before you ever, ever, get off the ground. Every. Single. Time.
2) Accomplishing the item—verifying the correct setting, executing of the checklist tasks.
3) Responding to the outcome of the action performed: The switch is turned on (or off), the instrument is looked at and the information verified, etc.
This is a constant process of checking and cross-checking, checking and verifying results, and constantly checking in with the other person verbally.
There is a visual check you do of the airplane itself, before you even get in. You do another check in the cabin, before you start the engine, of every single instrument. The ones that should be on, are on. The ones that should be off, are off. There is a checklist after you start the engine, to make sure everything is working the way it should be.
After landing, no matter how soon you go up again, you do the whole thing all over again. Every. Single. Time.
Tedious? Yes. Repetitious? Oh, gosh, yes. Tempted to skip it? Well, in your art career, you may not die from the crash, but it can do a number on your spirit, your enthusiasm, your dedication to your art.
Your checklist can be very basic: Did you get a good night’s sleep? Did you have breakfast? Did you get outside? Go for a walk? Did you hug your kids/your partner/your dog?
Your checklist can be very simple: Get to your studio every day (or whatever is manageable for you, of course.) Get your hands dirty in your studio every time: Make something, anything that gets you to your happy artist place. Is your workspace ready for you to work? Or do you have to clear a surface (or two, or twenty?) Did you order that widget/supply/tool you need to try that new thing you’re interested in?
Your checklist can be more assertive: Maybe it’s managing your venues. Have you checked in with that gallery lately, the one that’s carrying your work? (Oops… gotta put that on MY checklist!) Have you kept track of the ones that are doing well, and figured out what’s going on with the ones that aren’t? Have you researched that new art fair you’ve been invited to?
Your checklist can grow with the times: Is your website up to date? Do you try to post new work regularly? Have you been diligent about adding new email addresses to your newsletter list? Have you checked out Instagram? (It’s easier to use than I thought, and fun!)
Your checklist can be very personal: Are you still excited about the work you’re making? Have you been true to your own, unique vision? Or have you been distracted by someone who seems to be having more success with their style? Does your artist statement sound like everyone else’s in the room? Or does it give your audience an authentic insight at what makes you tick?
Even as I write this, I can see the advantage in a checklist. I’m good at writing things down, but terrible at keeping them in a place I can easily find them again. (Guess how long it took me to figure out which notebook I’d written the original notes of my conversation with Bob?) So on my checklist for today, I’m putting “Create a checklist!”
Next time we’ll explore the cross-check, and the importance of your support network. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what’s going on YOUR checklist!

THE VERY BAD SADDLE

I just found out I can republish my own article that I write for Fine Art Views–yay! Here’s today’s article:

The Very Bad Saddle
by Luann Udell on 9/30/2010

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

If your art career is giving you a hard time, maybe it’s trying to tell you something.

My art life and my “normal” life spill over into each other a lot. Things that occur in my “normal life” often provide surprising insights into my artist life. In fact, it happened just this week.

I’ve been taking riding lessons (horse, not motorcycle!) for awhile now, my reward to myself for getting through an excruciating period in my life.

I’m at the point where, like making art, I simply need to do it more in order to get better. So this month I upped my commitment. I’ve been riding more than the standard weekly lesson, sometimes two or three or even four times a week.

But instead of getting easier, things got harder.

I’ve been riding this new horse on the trails. To put it mildly, he didn’t agree with anything I propose during our rides together. He was getting so antsy, willful and unruly, I began to fear for my safety on him.

I complained to my instructor, who finally took him out herself. And she couldn’t find anything wrong with him.

“So,” I asked gingerly, “Does this mean I really suck at riding?”
“No”, she replied. “You have a really crappy saddle.”

I couldn’t believe it. I’d bought the saddle just a few months ago online, under guidance from someone I believed to be an expert on such things. We’d spent a delightful afternoon shopping for saddles on Ebay, drinking wine and talking about the trail rides we’d take. She helped me find a great deal on what she said was a great saddle.

But apparently, it doesn’t fit the horse at all. It was pinching the horse in all the wrong places. He was doing his best to let me know it. But I couldn’t read his message.

My expert friend was mistaken. Or hey, maybe it was the wine. But my saddle is a cheap, poorly designed saddle from a country famous for cheap, poorly designed saddles.

In a way, I was relieved. Better to blame my woes on a bad saddle that didn’t cost me much in the first place. (And at least that might also mean my riding doesn’t totally suck.) But it got me thinking….

What “bad saddle” am I using when it comes to getting my art out into the world?

Right now, we are in a transitional period on how art and fine craft are marketed and sold. The old ways—getting into great galleries, getting juried into great shows, advertising, finding a patron or agent–are not sure-fire strategies for success anymore.

Yet it’s not clear what we should be doing. And when we don’t know what we should do, we often cling to the old ways. At least they’re familiar.

“My friend says I should do this show. It’s the best in the country! It’s expensive, and shows overall aren’t doing well. But maybe this one will work for me!”

“I’m going to keep applying to juried exhibits. I’ve never sold my work from one before. But maybe this time it will be different!”

“I’ve been doing this prestigious show for years. It used to be my best show! But they seem to be letting a lot of people who aren’t up to snuff, and sales are way, way down. But maybe this year will be different…”

“Nothing’s working for me right now. My work must be bad!”

“Nothing’s working for me right now. It couldn’t possibly be my work! It’s always sold well before…”

I knew an artist whose goal was to exhibit in juried gallery shows in every 50 states in the U.S. Now, there are good reasons to do a juried gallery show. But when I asked her why on earth she thought that would be a selling point for her work, she realized it was a goal she’d outgrown.

I know a prestigious fine crafts show that now juries in people whose work is just not up to snuff. Their spaces are filled, but the quality of the show suffers. That’s a professional credential I can do without.

After rescuing my work from three failed galleries in the past few years, I’m not as eager as I used to be to get into that “perfect gallery”.

Sometimes we just have to take a good, hard look, and listen deep to our heart to see what the next step is. And move on from what isn’t working anymore.

Maybe our work needs a fresh eye. Maybe it’s time to give up that prestigious show. Maybe it’s time to explore selling online. Maybe we need to rethink what potential customers really want to know about us and our work (as opposed to what academics and art schools say we should tell them.)

I thought about some of the events and venues I’ve committed to over the next six months. Some will be worthwhile to keep. Others aren’t paying their way, are not furthering my greatest vision for my art, and take up too much time to boot. I want to clear out some clutter in my life, both literal and figurative. I want to look carefully at all the goals I’ve assumed would move me forward, that are actually holding me back.

I can let go of some of these things I used to think would mean I’d “made it”, and articulate ways my art could “work” more powerfully for me. Get rid of the strategies, venues and goals that don’t work for me anymore, and find a better “fit”. Maybe instead of just getting my work into a great gallery, it could actually serve a great cause.

I’ve learned my lesson—don’t let a bad saddle keep you from having a good ride on a great horse.