“Happiness is the only thing that multiplies when you share it.”
I was thinking about my dad today.
Yeah, partly because it was Fathers Day. And mostly because of the grief I’m reading/hearing about how unsuccessful people were with our recent Art at the Source open studio event this month.
My dad was a diligent worker. He took over the family business (a dairy biz, processing milk into ice cream, cream, and…well, milk), incorporating a dariy bar, and eventuallly a family restaurant. (My first job was washing dishes there, when I was in…4th grade??) Then he sold the biz and became a state dairy inspector. (He sure liked cows.)
He also loved flowers. Our house was surrounded by rigid rows of organized, meticulously-spaced flowers. In the spring, he would give each of us kids a soup spoon, and we would dutifully plant daisies, marigolds, and petunias. He diligently watered all our houseplants daily, too.
But when he retired, he also took up woodworking. He spent days in his garage workshop, planing, mitering, sanding, staining. He made furniture for me and all my sibs over the years.
And if you expressed delight or sang his praises, he would also diligently point out every error he’d made in the making. (It helped me to NOT do this with my own work!)
What does this have to do with having an open studio?
I don’t believe he ever sold a single piece of his work.
He’d made his money WORKING all his life. His gardening and woodworking was for FUN–relaxation and enjoyment. He called it his hobby.
Hobby, vocation, and avocation. What’s the diff??
I used to have a distinction between avocation and hobby, but the older I get, I can’t remember. And it doesn’t matter so much to me, either.
Here’s what my dad taught me: Find a way to earn a living. You can be an artist when you retire.
What I taught my kids: Do what you love, and the money will follow. (Robin and Doug, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. Love, Mum)
What I wish I’d told my kids, and what I’m telling you today:
Do the work that supports your lifestyle. At best, it’s work you enjoy. Hopefully, you don’t hate it, or at least don’t dislike it too much. Hopefully, it’s something you’re good at, that you’re proud of, and it’s wonderful if it pays well, too.
But if it’s not the work of your heart, make room for THAT in your life, too. It will help you manage everything else.
My dad never sold a single piece of his woodwork. They were always gifts, or filling requests for furniture–coffee tables, sofa tables, display pedestals, coat racks, etc.–for friends and family.
In my art career, financially, I had some good years, some really good years, and some years that totally tanked. Most of those tank years were obviously the result of events totally out of my control: 9/11, war in the Mideast, inflation/recession, pandemic. We’re right back there, today, and there’s no escaping the consequences that affect our entire planet.
And yet, I was surprised at how much people complained (in an online forum) about their open studio event this year. Surprised at how many people are considering not joining next year. Astonished at how some people are considering actually walking away from their art-making. “What’s the use?!” (Why can’t I make that shoulder-shrug emoji??)
TBH, I was a little down that last day, too. Until I started to write about it. Writing helps me sort out the dust bunnies in my brain, and get to center of my (he)art.
What helps YOU get centered again? I’d love to hear!
There is no figuring out exactly what will make us rich. I can’t even figure out how to cover the cost of my materials anymore.
Won’t stop me.
There is no single, sure path to fame and fortune.
I’m pretty sure I don’t even WANT to be famous anymore.
It takes time to build an audience, especially when our work is really out-of-the-box.
I tried through shows (wholesale and retail), art fairs, and open studios. I learned that it time and engagement for people to really see what I was doing, what my story was, and how labor-intensive my process was.
Open studios are the best at this! See my workspace, look at my tools and materials, let me show you what inspires me….
I stepped away from wholesale shows, and eventually made all my income from one major fine craft show in New Hampshire, and two open studio tours. They, too, started out slow. My visitors steadily grew, though there were still set-backs, dips, etc.
Then I moved to California, and had to start all over. Again.
How do I feel about that?
I’m actually okay.
Today, I can sell my work online, though it’s almost always to current customers and people who have followed my work for YEARS. (Again: Connection, achieved by outreach and availability.)
Today, I can easily share the backstory, my creation story, my inspiration, process, and animal stories. especially in my studio.
Today, I am reminded of my most recent open studio event, too. Yes, a little disappointed in the number of visitors, and that my sales were low.
And then I remember the blessings in my life:
I HAVE A STUDIO. I can do the work of my heart.
I have people who love my work. Maybe they can’t afford to buy it. Maybe they’ve downsized, and don’t have room for it.
But they can still come and look at it, and marvel, and engage with me.
I can encourage people to make room in their life for what brings them joy.
And I can write about it, hoping to do the same for YOU.
The good part in that forum thread: Some people griped, but when they realized so many other people were feeling the same way–in other words, it wasn’t just them–they got more clarity.
They, too, found the good stuff amidst the pile of disappointment. They got their mojo back. They will continue to make their art. Yay!
I think of my dad. I’m sure he would have been happy to make some money from his late-in-life hobby.
But that wasn’t WHY he did it.
He did it because it kept him busy (he hated doing nothing). He did it because he could make something for people he loved. He got better at it (because he was a bit of a perfectionist.) (DAISIES AND MARIGOLDS ALL IN A ROW.) It was flexible: He could work all day, or he could stop at any time and go for a drive with my mom.
It made him feel like he still had something to offer the world.
In my open studio, I listened to people telling me about their new life paths, their new interests and pastimes, their latest life disruption, their still-painful losses and sorrows.
My creative space became a safe place to share stories of hope, dreams, sadness, and joy. And healing.
My creative work carries stories of how every person has a place in the world. Including me. Including you.
I just realized my studio is my own unique version of a miniature Lascaux Cave.
The art of the Lascaux Cave was not about achieving fame or fortune.
The Ice Age was coming to an end, and so a people’s entire way of life was, too. They didn’t gather to start a war, or to assess blame. They gathered as a community, hoping to find a way through to the other side. And each handprint represents a single person present.
I can’t even imagine putting a price tag on that.
Today, try not to measure your sucess with only money.
Today, see your true value in the world, made with the work of your hands, and of your heart.
It’s not about having an audience. It’s about having a voice.