MAYBE LANGUISHING ISN’T SO BAD?

 

 

The Elk Horn Gate
I don’t know why I picked this image, I just like it, so there.

Let me tell you about my frustrations with social media marketing.

It’s a sad story. On one hand, I applaud the internet, blogs, social media sites. I think of the people throughout history, okay, even before history, people of different cultures, races, times, gender, who had the chance of a snowball in hell of having their work read, seen, shared. I’m pretty sure Emily Dickinson would have given almost anything to have her work published. Vincent Van Gogh finally had his day in the sun, but he died before he actually saw it. (This Doctor Who snip always brings tears to my eyes.)

And for awhile, it was great to be able to share my work and my words so easily. The day I started my first blog at Radio Userland, I felt a surge of freedom I’d never felt before. I didn’t need an editor, a publisher, an agent, nada. All I needed was the courage to tell my stories, share my thoughts, give insights based on my own experience selling/marketing/making and hopefully offer validation and hope to others who felt less-than-successful with their own creative work.

I love Pinterest, because I can create an online scrapbook of images that inspire me, intrigue me, give me ideas for my own projects. ) I love Instagram too. It’s a great venue for artists, I’m told, and I have a pretty big audience there, too. I can share all kinds of images of my work, inspiration, process, etc.

Then Radio Userland died. I moved to WordPress, but I did some great writing on Radio Userland. For awhile, I couldn’t even access my own articles there, until my hubby used his tech skills to create new urls for my blog there. Now I can find them, and republish them occasionally on my WordPress blog.

Then Facebook got bigger, and then it was/is immense. It also became all about the money. Facebook bought Instagram, and now it’s headed the same way.

I read a transcript of a Zoom video by Dave Geada, marketing guru at FineArtStudiosOnline (FASO.com) where I have my own website, and where I wrote a regular column for 12 years for Fine Art Views until a couple months ago. I still love the support structure of FASO for artists, and I’m glad to hold on to my website there.

Dave is as heart-centered as I am when it comes to marketing, I love almost everything he has to share on how to up our marketing skills, and many of the Zoom meetings are free to all. He loves Instagram, too, and has created many videos on how to use it effectively. I’ve gotten great tips and insights about social media markting (especially Instagram) from his Zooms, and many are free to ALL artists. Check out their Art Marketing Playbook here: AMP

But I’m beginning to feel lost in a huge dust storm that is suffocating.

Dave points out that Facebook regularly introduces new algorithms that block who can see our posts, forcing us to consider buying ads so we can grow our audience.  Suddenly, a thousand followers shrinks down to a handful in my Facebook business page. 

Instagram hashtags are a hot mess for a creative like me. I’ve tried hundreds of them over the years, tags that sound extremely descriptive of my style, my subject matter, my materials, etc. And yet, when I take the time to test them out, not very many put me in the company of other work that’s anything like mine.

In other words, it’s a blessing to be making work that’s unique, easily recognizable as mine, etc. But it’s frustrating to realize the tags I use regularly either throw me into a bottomless pit with hundreds of thousands of other people’s images, most nothing like mine, and ensuring I’ll be in someone’s feed about ten thousand posts down. (So, almost zippo visibility.) I’m lost in the shuffle. Or worse…More finely-tuned tags find me in a pond that’s way too small (although the images will hang around longer.) One example: I use #blackhorse for my faux soapstone horses. But I’m the only little handheld black horse sculpture in a sea of images of REAL black horses.

In the end, I can’t think of any way someone could even imagine my work, and look for it, unless they already know it, or they know my name. (Don’t send me suggestions unless you’ve researched them yourselves, okay?) (I mean, thank you for thinking of me, but it’s just not that simple.)

And the biggest surprise of all? I just found out that two superstars in the polymer clay world have quite modest followers on Instagram.

Ford and Forlano have been megastars for decades, two of the first polymer clay makers to hit it big with their work. It’s fabulous, beautifully made, expensive, and carried by the finest galleries in the country. Their Instagram following? 1,500 people. About the same as mine, a relatively-nobody/not nearly as famous nor successful.

Cynthia Tinapple is a polymer clay artist/teacher who has curated polymer clay work for decades with her Polymer Clay Daily newsletter, and her weekly subscription-based Studio Mojo newsletter. (WOW! I just tried to see when PCD first started. It looks like the first post was published on September 11, 2005. MY BIRTHDAY!!) She knows all the top makers in the pc world, she scours the internet for makers old and new, innovators, and whoever is making something intriguing, different, powerful, featuring around 250 makers every year. Her following? Well under a thousand. (To be fair, it looks like she’s just getting started on Instagram. But if every person she’s featured in her newsletters followed her, she’d easily be classified as an “influencer”!) (Six days of incredible posts for closing in on 16 years….) (OH, even more, because Studio Mojo usually has at least half a dozen little features on artists and resources.)

Next, my frustration with most hosting sites for artists, including FASO: Almost all of them focus on 2-D art: Painting, drawing, etc. I took a survey on mine, to get a “roadmap” for my marketing plan, and the first question was, is my work abstract or representational. (Um….jewelry?? And is anyone looking for my work going to use either of those terms to describe it? I don’t think so.)

Last, photographing my work is really, really tricky. Oh, photoing jewelry is okay, and the shrines come out well, if a professional photographer is doing the picture-taking. But decades ago, another polymer clay artist said, “Your photographer is one of the best, and yet they still can’t really capture the look and feel of how wonderful your little artifacts are in person.” That was true then, and it’s still true today. In fact, I believe the biggest factor in building my audience is when people come to my studio, and can actually pick up a little bear, or a horse, and hold it in their hand. It’s magic.

To sum up: I have a powerful creation story. I’m pretty good at telling stories. I’m good at the work I do. Good enough, anyway. I’m good at interacting with studio visitors, and engaging them with my work. I take a lot of pictures, I get professional ones when I need them (and can afford them!), I’ve gotten better at editing them, etc. I’ve done some major fine craft shows in my art career, my work’s been published in dozens of magazines and newspapers over the years, I grew a loving and loyal audience at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Craft Fair, and I have some wonderful followers and collectors here in California, too.

But if I’m struggling on how to get my art to cross the path of people online,struggling to find more people who might also become fans, and maybe even collectors some day, then how is everybody else doing?

I know Cynthia occasionally feels ‘less-than’ as she comes across astounding new, young polymer clay artists. She wonders if she’s doing a good enough job, if what she posts is interesting and relevant. (YES, YOU DO AND YOU ARE, CYNTHIA!)

And in writing this, I just remembered my very first blog post at Radio Userland on December 1, 2002: What Meryl Streep and I Have In Common

Okay, this just blew my mind: I started with how, reading that Meryl Streep struggles to own her own skill and body of work, made me realize this is “normal” for creatives. We all have that little voice that says we’re not good enough, we aren’t as great as others think we are, that we are doing it wrong.

So let’s just kick that little voice outta the park today. Or at least let it out into the backyard so it can take a pee.

I believe, so far, that my art has brought many, many people a bit of joy and wonder into their lives. I love that, and I’m grateful.

I also believe that, from how people respond to my articles and blog posts, that hundreds, maybe thousands of people gain hope from something else I offer the world:

  • You matter.
  • Your creative work matters.
  • It matters because it helps you be the best person you can be. It lifts your heart.
  • And when you share it with the world, it will lift someone else’s heart, too.

I’m not the wisest, kindest, smartest, most talented cookie in the box, not by a long shot. But I know how much my creative work means to me, and I know it will call to me until I die. (Or dissolve, or lose my marbles. Whatever. It could happen.)

But I know this:

It’s not about the money.

It’s not about the likes.

It’s not about the number of followers, the number of comments, the awards, the sales, the money.

In fact, the more I learn about “influencers”, the more I don’t want to be one. And let’s face it, some dynamics rule the game. Actors are going to get more publicity/fame/likes than the people who actually help put movies together, right? We just see the actors more easily. There are plenty of people behind the curtain, people who do incredibly powerful, good work in the world, and it’s rare we ever even hear about them.

It’s not about how to game the system, because the system is too big, and makes too much money for the people/corporations who created them.

It’s simply about using the systems to share your work with others, as often as you can.

It’s about doing the work that matters to YOU.

It’s about supporting the people, the causes, the programs that help others, that heal others, that heal our planet.

It’s about doing what you can to be the best person you can be. Even if, like me, you suck at it sometimes.

So use social media to help share your work with others. If you find strategies (and hashtags!) that work for you, good on you! If you don’t, you are not alone. But you can still have a voice in the world. Your audience may be huge, or it may be small. But they love you and your work.

Sales are wonderful, but there are a thousand reasons why people don’t buy our art, probably because there are more artists/creatives in the world right now than in all the rest of human history. If you’re work isn’t selling, don’t take it as a measure of your worth. You just haven’t found your peeps yet, and they haven’t found YOU yet.

Don’t count the likes. Just hang on to that feeling when you realize something you’re working on is finished, and it turned out well, and how happy that makes you.

Works for me!

Now go make something.

(Ahem. If it’s cupcakes, I’d be honored to taste-test them for you.)

 

 

LIFE, DEATH, FAME, FORTUNE, AND ART: What’s In It For YOU?

(This article was first published on September 1, 2018 on Fine Art Views)

It’s the little things that matter, and the story.

(10 minute read)

My Mom died earlier this year. Soon after, my pregnant daughter lost her first baby. And earlier this week, I took a redeye flight to Michigan to say goodbye to my Dad.

I got there just in time to say the things I needed to say. And although he was not “conscious” in our sense of the word, I know he heard me.

My hospice volunteer experience taught me so much. All of that was visible in my dad’s last few hours on this planet.

My dad was a long-standing, prominent figure in my little hometown. From a co-op dairy project started by my grandfather that eventually turned into one of only two family restaurants in town, (which also provided jobs to dozens, if not hundreds of teens and adults over the years), to his years of volunteering, (serving on school boards, supporting our church), socializing (visiting elderly former employees in their last years, meeting almost weekly with friends for bridge, for potluck dinners, for parties, hosting all his kids’ weddings in his backyard), he wove a winding path through our small farming community.

As life approaches the end, it gets smaller. Friends and family moved away, or died. The town got bigger, so more people were ‘strangers’. Eventually, his world was only as big as the assisted living staff, family members who remained nearby, the people he ate dinner with every night.

And of course, it all ends in a hospital bed, surrounded by those who loved him, holding his hand, whispering in his ear, saying a prayer.

His passing was peaceful, with little pain, and not much suffering, unlike those he leaves behind.

But this is how it goes. And this was as good as it gets.

Now for the next thread: Last month, a friend in New Hampshire told me of a friend of hers who found one of my horse sculptures at a yard sale.

Put a pin in that. (For those who don’t know what this means, it alerts you that I intend to circle back and connect all these little “bits” on this “bulletin board.)

I’ve just finished watching a Netflix comedy special “Nannette”, created by Hannah Gadsby, an Australia comedian who identifies as lesbian. Her comedy was searing, and hilarious, honest, and gut-wrenchingly powerful.

There were so many words of wisdom she shared as she told the hardest stories of her life, stories she had edited for pure laughs in her ten-years-plus career. This time, she said, she has to tell the whole truth. Because without it, we cannot truly understand her pain, the shame and humiliation she suffered because of something she did not choose, and how she rose and grew as a human being through her art.

She is, like me, also an art history major. And she spoke deeply and clearly about that, too.

Put a pin there.

I struggle writing for Fine Art Views. I mean, I LOVE writing for FAV! I love the people I’ve met through my columns, I love the respectful discourse, I love it when I see I’ve helped lift people’s hearts, if only for a day, by encouraging them to make their art.

I’ve been a professional artist for over 20 years now. I work hard at what I do. I’ve created a solid body of work. I’ve entered, and been accepted, into prestigious organizations, some of the top fine craft shows in the country, and sold work to some prominent people. I’ve educated myself about marketing, display, and customer service. I have a following on my blog, and a good-sized email list of customers.

But I’m not sure I can call myself a “successful artist”. At least not by the definition many people assign to that term.

In only a handful of years did I ever break the $20,000 income for the year. So, technically, I am at poverty level. (Fortunately, society values my husband’s work a heckuva lot more.)

So when a reader wrote recently asking for a favor, saying they knew I was busy because I am so successful, I felt a little embarrassed. Yes to the busy. Er…not so much for the “successful”.

And sometimes, although I know (and follow) most of the practices (that work for me) to advertise and market and sell my work, I can’t “prove” my credentials (no art degree! No museum shows!)

So who am I to advise you on marketing?

Simple. I am a fellow traveler. I share what I’ve learned. It’s up to you to decide if it works for you, or not. I simply have to write about it. It’s part of my story. 

Also, to be easier on myself, it’s possible I will become a tremendously famous artist after I’m dead. Like Van Gogh, and Emily Dickinson, whose poetry was never published in her lifetime.

I will never ever say that following my advice will guarantee you fabulous sales. I don’t have a $2,000 “product” (course, book, seminar, etc.) to sell you  that promises to make you famous, or rich, or even make enough money for the babysitter so you can do shows. ((except a few eBooks running around $5 each that will help you get toxic people out of your sacred creative space, and how to improve your display.)

Of course, that illusion of artistic success (“Van Gogh is a brand, and look how much his paintings sell for! Branding is the key!”) is just that: An illusion. More on that….

Let’s pick up some of those pins.

In her performance, Gadsby quotes people who rave about Van Gogh’s fame, framing it as a rags-to-riches story. “He was broke, and crazy, and starving, and now look at him!”

“But he’s dead,” she replies quietly.

“Yeah, but he’s very successful!” they argue back. They offer more “assumptions” on why his work was not successful in his lifetime, and why it is now.

She goes on. Van Gogh wasn’t “ahead of his time”. He was a Post-Impressionist painter at the height of Post-Impressionism. People didn’t “not buy” his work because his style was inaccessible.

He lived with severe mental health issues. He couldn’t “network” because he was extremely difficult to deal with. People crossed the street to avoid him. His “brand” was “crazy”.

His art did not spring from his illness. He sought help from psychiatrists, he was medicated, and some of his vibrant color choices were actually visual side effects from the medications he was on. He made his work despite his mental illness, because it meant so much to him.

Gadsby, with words that broke my heart, says, “We have Van Gogh’s sunflowers not because he suffered, but because he had a brother who loved him.”

And here’s where the Dad pin comes in.

My Dad was not a famous person. He was not extremely talented. He was not wealthy. He was not “artistic” (though he took up woodworking in his retirement.)

He was simply a good man, who provided for his family any way he could, because family was important to him. Someone who always did his best. All of us in the room knew he loved us, and showed it, the way he had been taught to show it.

And as he left this world, I know this for sure: He knew we loved him, too.

Now the back to the art marketing pin.

You can follow all the marketing advice in the world. You can brand yourself just like cowboys and steers. (That’s where the word comes from.) You can strive to get into those perfect galleries, those top shows, be featured in elegant magazines, and win Best-in-Show so often, the committee will eventually have to take you off the ballot every other year so that other, just as commendable artists will have a shot.

It will guarantee you nothing.

And even if it brings you wealth, and fame, in the end, we will still all end up in a hospital bed in our bedroom, working our way to our last breath. Hopefully, at peace, without pain, surrounded by love….

And with luck, no regrets.

No one came to tell my Dad what a great restaurant he ran. (It was very modest, not an haute cuisine thing. Just home-cooking, great ice cream, and pie.) No one came to tell him how his wealth and power inspired them. (He had neither.) No one ever rushed to grab his autograph, or have a selfie taken with him. There is no history book that will refer to him, ever.

People tell us he gave them their first job. People tell us he was generous with his time. People tell us he made them laugh.

As artists, we have a unique gift. We get to choose every step of the work we do. We do it our way. We make it our way. We get to choose how well we do it, we have some choice in where we show it, and who sees it (even more with the Internet), and if we’re lucky, we learn how to best connect with the people who will become our customers. We choose how to promote it, how to sell it, how to advertise it.

But none of these efforts can guarantee us success. Nothing and no one can ensure we will make a living, or even make very much money at all with it.

Hannah Gadsby suffered for years because of her trauma. She transformed that into a healing experience we can all benefit from. She shares what truly connects us: telling our stories; and what most assuredly will destroy us: anger, and hate.

Art is how we tell our stories. The medium does not matter. Stories can be told through oil paintings, pastels, clay, and stone. Polymer clay, voice, music, film, books, plays, food, and comedy. Relief work, healing, teaching, mending, any human effort that brings more light, and love, into the world counts as creativity to me.

Yet even this may not be enough to assure our place in the world, now, nor for all time.

We have no control over our stories, while we live nor when we’re gone. As I looked through the boxes of photographs my siblings had gathered together, I realized I, as the oldest, was the only one who knew some (but not most) of the people featured, the places, the events, depicted in them. People leave before us, and at the end, we may not leave that much behind. Eventually, no one will care. Life goes on.

All that matters, at the end, is that we do it. That we do the work of our heart. That we fit it in somewhere in our life, whether it’s full-time, part-time, down-time or me-time. It only matters that we do not leave this world with regrets.

All that matters is that we do our best. That we make friends, and cherish family. That we do what we think is right. That we give solace to those who suffer, that we feed those who are hungry, that we home those who are lost. That we forgive those who have hurt us (truly forgive, which means freeing ourselves from the pain they bring us), and heal ourselves, even though we can’t fix it or change them. (I’m still learning about true forgiveness. Not there yet! Getting closer….)

All that matters is that we do the work that heals us, so we can be in the world. It’s the only way we can truly tell our story.

As for the yard sale find, I was a tiny bit dismayed. So soon? My work is considered “worthless” so soon? No Van Gogh moment of discovery?? Wah!

And yet….

At a yard sale, someone found something that spoke to them. They bought it. It brings them joy. They treasure it. They tried to find the artist, and they did. I have a name now.

I myself have quite a collection of thrift shop finds, flea market treasures, and other “uncurated” works of art, craft, and otherwise. Some are signed, but because of the time they were created, there’s not much to learn about the artist. Others are anonymous, but no less treasured.

I love them all, They bring me joy.

That is what I choose to focus on today. What matters, at the end. Fame, fortune, cannot survive. We will not live forever. Even love may fade into obscurity.

But maybe a piece of our life will survive to raise another’s heart. In a song, in a book, a life we save, a bowl, a painting. A little horse sculpture.

Make your best work.

Put it out into the world. Make it visible. Make it accessible.

Do your best.

Then let it go.

GRATITUDE

Take a tiny moment to say ‘thank you’, and count your blessings!

I’m an artist. And as an artist, my first responsibility is to make my art. It’s what restores me to my better self, makes me whole and centered. I make it for myself, first.

I know this first-hand, and many good friends remind me of this constantly. For example, the one who sent me a card with this quote:

People like you must create.

If you don’t create, Luann, you will become a menace to society.

(the note also says, “With apologies to Maria Semple, author of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”. See last paragraph in Part 3.”) (Thanks and a hat tip to Amy Helen Johnson!) (Yes, I bought the book.)

Our second responsibility is to put it out in the world. We mostly interpret this as selling our art, and making a living with our art. Some fortunate, hardworking few can do this. But walking away from the work of our heart, simply because we can’t sell it, is  hurtful. (See “first responsibility”, above.)

There are lots of ways to get our work out into the world. If you make art, you can make it, share it, give it away, sell it, exhibit it, teach it, collaborate with it, write about it, donate it, etc. etc. The same with writing. The internet makes this almost effortless.

Yes, selling is wonderful–unless you get caught up in the selling, to the exclusion of everything else. Vincent Van Gogh’s work was only sold to his brother. (Do you have 3 minutes? Watch this heartbreakingly powerful snippet of a video about this.) (I dare you not to tear up.) And ironically, the most commercially successful artist of our time seems to have lost everything of value in a life dedicated to fame and fortune.

Somerwhere in the middle is where I’d like to end up.

So I recently stepped up my game in regard to selling. This came after realizing I was struggling to sell a $24 pair of earrings to a casual visitor in my studio. Realizing that one gallery hadn’t sold one single piece of my work in a year. Reflecting that most of my out-of-state galleries were struggling to sell my work.  A local gallery that reached out to represent me, finally said they love love love my work (another line that’s fun, but not my “heart” work) just wasn’t selling, and they needed to set me free.

I felt like a failure. (Hey! 2017 was a weird year!)

Then I realized, why should I focus on making $24 earrings??? Why should I base my definition of success on income alone? Why was I falling for the same emotional/spiritual/inaccurate measuring stick I constantly counsel and warn artists against????

So…I upped my game.

I cleared my studio of the fun-but-inexpensive work, focused on the work of my heart.

I realized that just because I’m now writing weekly for an art marketing newsletter doesn’t mean I’m off the hook with my blog.

I reevaluated, recentered, and refocused on my biggest vision for my art. And I cleaned house on my Etsy site, and focused on the work I have on hand, my best work, and moved forward.

I decided to make the work that makes me happy, and not the work I think I can sell.

What happened?

Another gallery in the same town as the one that cut me loose, took on my work two weeks. And they’ve already made a sale.

The gallery in Santa Rosa has been selling steadily, and it just keeps getting better and better.

A gallery that hadn’t sold any of my work in a year, sold a MAJOR PIECE. And another big (for me) piece the same day.

And I’ve had five sales in my Etsy shop this month. (A lot for me!)

But that’s not all. Every single sale has resulted in a message from the buyer, telling me how much they love love love what I do, how it speaks to them, and how even more amazing it is in person.

Wow. Just…..wow.

Today I got home to a beautiful email from a delighted buyer. I always respond, with gratitude and joy.

But because I’m human, because I’m afraid to be too happy, afraid to be too hopeful, I tend to respond well outside. But inside, I hold back. Thinking, “Well, that’s great, but…..” “Don’t get a swelled head, because…..” “Don’t get your hopes up because…..”

But this time, I read that email. And something told me….

Be in this moment.

Embrace this moment. Stop and celebrate it.

This moment is the blessing, the extra gift, that comes for making my work and getting it out into the world.

Take note of this moment.

I remembered, decades ago, a wise woman I crossed paths with, who shared a powerful insight with me.

When we really want something, she said, there is a centering, empowering way to ask.

Stand up, head bowed, humbly. Think of what your heart desires. Breathe in, breathe out. Then stand tall. Expand.

Raise your head, open your arms, and hands. Look to the heavens above.

And simply ask, with all your heart, what it is you desire.

The very first time I did this, I was in an antique store. I’d been looking for years for a wonderful book that was long out of print. (This was years before I finally discovered Bookfinder.com, the absolute best tool for finding any book in the world.)

I thought, what the heck? I did the mantra.

And when I was done, I look up. I saw a bookcase in the booth across the room. I walked to it.

And I found the book.*

So today, before I could diminish my joy, before I could “be logical” about my delight in this sale, and this email note from my buyer, I decided to take a moment to celebrate.

I did my little ceremony.

But instead of asking for anything, I simply said….

“Thank you.”

In these days of “Be careful what you wish for”, in these days of “Yeah, but….”, in these days of, as Anne Lamott succinctly put it, “…compar(ing) our insides to other people’s outsides”, in these days of internet fame and viral prodigies, in these days of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), in these days of wondering, “Will I ever be a successful artist?”, without ever stopping to think of what “success” means to YOU….

Take a minute to give thanks.

To count your blessings.

To feel the full joy of having a voice in the world.

And the unexpected delight of having someone else hearing your song.

Now…go to your studio and make stuff.

 

*David and the Phoenix (Illustrated) by Edward Ormondroyd, if you want to know, and it’s been reprinted since then.

(OH,  and you can see my Etsy shop here.)

 

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