LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Challenge vs. Injury

There’s a big difference between perseverance and suffering.

I overheard another intriguing comment at the physical therapy practice I go to. Out of nowhere, one of the therapists told a client, “We want to see perseverance, not suffering.”

Oh, the memories…..

Years ago, (seems like an eternity) I was really into martial arts. (No, I never got a black belt, though all my instructors along the way said I was well on my way.)

I never got there because…..injuries.

I pursued martial arts over a spread of 15-20 years in my middle age, sometimes with massive breaks in between practices and schools (Tae Kwon Do, Thai Kickboxing, then back to Thai Kwon Do.)

Typically, I was the oldest person in the class. I always did my best, but I’ve always been “heavy” on my feet as opposed to “light”. Ironically, this quality is not due to weight. Jackie Gleason was always heavy, but he was also “light on his feet”. I’ve talked with my husband (a former gymnast), physical therapists and athletes about this quality. They recognize what I’m saying, but can’t identify what it “is”, whether it is innate or can be learned, and why some people have it and some don’t. It is not an indication of ability, but is a recognizable style.

And so, encouraged by my instructors to push myself, I always, eventually, ended up injuring myself pretty badly. (Although, come to think of it, my most major injuries were inflicted by a) an instructor who should have known better, according to other instructors in the class, and b) another student who was even more inept than I was, tried to kick me below the belt, and when I blocked him, his shoe broke my finger. (He had to wear shoes as he was diabetic.)

The story typically goes like this:

One evening, I went to Tae Kwo Do. We did a kicking work-out. The instructor yelled, “Faster!” and I didn’t want to be the one everyone was waiting on.

So I picked up the pace a wee bit, landed wrong on my foot, and injured my Achilles tendon.

I instantly had a cap on almost all my other activities for many months.

I felt pretty stupid. The instructor wasn’t urging me to go past my limits–he was yelling at the green belts. I was the one who felt I had to prove something–that I may be older, but I was still a competent student.

Well, I went over that delicate balance between challenge and injury, and landed hard on the injury side.

It wasn’t even my own challenge. I was worried what other people would think if I didn’t try harder. Even though I should know by now that is NOT the way to get what I need. The only thing I get with that attitude is more injuries.

I told myself I would not give in to self-pity, nor get angry with myself.

I went swimming instead. And with each stroke, I chanted to myself, “I…..can…..handle…..this.”

I realize I walk a delicate balance in everything I do. Working out. Friendships. Relationships. In my business. And with my art.

I need to push myself enough to challenge myself, to make myself grow stronger, physically, emotionally, artistically.

And yet hold just enough back so as not to injure myself, or others.

As in martial arts, so in my art. There’s that same balance between taking the professional risks that challenge me, without injuring my bottom line (and my ego) irreparably.

That particular injury (and there were many along that path) happened just before my (very full) fine craft wholesale/retail show was scheduled. I realized I was in the same place with my art biz. Although I had no idea what to expect, I knew I had to try.

Sometimes I get freaked out thinking it out–“What am I doing??!!” Other times, I feel it is a reasonable venture.

Hopefully, I would find buyers who were looking for work that had a more western/southwestern/northwestern feel.

If not, I knew I would come home feeling like I need to crawl into a barrel and mosey on over Niagra Falls…..

But not for long. I knew if this show proved not a good fit for my work, I would just have to get over it and try a whole ‘nother strategy.

Like my tendon, my ego eventually healed. And like my injury didn’t keep me away from martial arts very long, guessing wrong will not discourage me from making my art. Not for very long, at least.

In the end, the injuries accumulated to the point where I did have to walk away from that passion. And those shows? Well, that was just before the recession in 2007-2008. They turned out to be a gamble, one I finally decided was not worth it.

After creating new strategies over the years, I finally found what worked for me: One major show with a deep history and very loyal following, open studios, and online sales.

Moving to California meant rebooting in may ways. I’m still working out my best plan to persevere in my art-making.

What worked for me then doesn’t work for me now. What works for me now is still in process. There continue to be obstacles and injuries along the way.

But here are two big truths I hope inspire you on your own journey in making the work that lifts your heart:

As I said, I was not a “natural” when it came to Tae Kwon Do. But every instructor always reminded me: We are competing with ourselves. (One class was “Olympic” but there were plenty of folks who obviously weren’t going down that path.)

Because I was “bad” at it, I had to practice more than others did. I showed up, every class. My last instructor said, after the last big injury that meant I could never practice again, that my perseverance had gained me excellent technique, and indomitable spirit. He said he felt guilty they had started me at the beginning all over again (they doubted my credential from an instructor who had moved away.)

He said I deserved a black belt.

So, wait, four big truths:

I did what I loved.

Perseverance almost got me there. 

Practice makes perfect.

I’ve gotten very good at not giving up.

Whatever you need to do to make your place in the world, never give up what you love until it takes away from you. Even then, there are ways to keep moving forward. (T’ai Chi!)

Find the balance (life/work/art) that works for you.

And keep doing it ’til you get better.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #8: Get the right support.

Luann Udell discusses the importance of support.
Luann Udell discusses the importance of support.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #8: Get the right support.

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.

Find ways to “hold it together” during the hard times and the slow times.

We all need the right support, literally and figuratively.

In martial arts, no guy goes out on the sparring floor without a cup. And those of us women who are, er, heavily endowed on top need a sports bra for those more vigorous sports–jogging, kickboxing, etc.

And here’s my $100 tip for those women today: I used to spend big bucks and much time searching for the perfect sports bra, even by mail order. They either didn’t work as promised or I felt like I was girding chest armor for battle. Yuck!

Then I discovered you can simply wear TWO regular sports bras, even the cheapie brands. Together they work just as well as the much more expensive kind.

But the other kind of support that’s vital is the support of your community.

On the first level, in your intimate community, someone who genuinely wants you to lose weight and get fit (and surprisingly, not everyone in your circle wishes that for you.)

On the second level, in your immediate community it’s more fun to work out with others who are just as dedicated as you are to showing up.

And on the highest level, your bigger community, it’s a lot easier when you have the facilities of a local gym or Y. Or when your town provides safe places for you to run (good sidewalks, well-lit recreation areas, bike paths and bike lanes on roads, public-access basketball courts and ball fields, etc.) Sometimes we’ve lived in areas where even WALKING was not a safe activity, and pedestrian-access was limited.

The communities you find, develop, and grow for your art is just as important!

I wish our country’s public schools in supported the arts as vigorously as they do sports. (And I wish they supported the kind of sports EVERYONE could do for the rest of their lives (swimming, jogging, biking, walking, tai chi, etc.) rather than focusing on team sports only the best athletes can try out for after a certain age.)

That’s true with artists, too.

If your intimate circle is not supportive of the work you do–if they can’t respect your work time, or don’t value what you do–you need to keep your hopes and dreams to yourself until you find people who do. Write in a journal, or a blog instead. Find a family member who is on your team and share with them. Or mentor another family member–maybe you are someone else’s inspiration and cheerleader!

Find ways to share your art with schools, community centers, and other town/city resources. Show people that art isn’t “something special and precious” that only works for a privileged few. Show them that our creative work is a lifelong activity, a way to have a voice in the world, and a healing balm for our spirit.

Find people in your community who share your dreams and visions for success. Some of them may not be in your medium, some of them may be further ahead or behind than you in their progress. Some of them may not even be in the arts. They could be other small business entrepreneurs, or people who have strong personal vision for other good causes. You’ll find many of the same business strategies and exercises for staying focused and staying on your core vision are still similar.

And finally, find ways to make your greater community at large more supportive of the arts.

Tell people about what you do–open studios, press releases to your local paper, demonstrations and presentations to professional groups and schools.

Show up when development proposals come to your city council, and advocate for the arts.

Join local art organizations, and support them. Some of them are a time drag, and some are sorry things. But all of them work to increase the visibility of the arts, and their efforts may be the only way many people ever experience the arts. They at least deserve your money and word-of-mouth support. And you can always join their team and encourage them to find ways to be more effective and focused.

At their best, ones like the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen here in NH work tirelessly to promote their membership and the arts and crafts.

Support. We all need to get it and we all need to give it.

It’s the, um, foundation garment for what we do.

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EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #7 Work (gently) through your setbacks.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #7 Work (gently) through your setbacks.

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.

Hiatus hurts, for awhile. 

Getting back in the saddle again hurts, for awhile.

But never going back to what you love, hurts forever.

 When we work out, despite our best efforts, we run the risk of injury. Injuries can range from annoying to debilitating. And they can derail your fitness program faster than you can say billy blue blazes.

Nothing is sadder than someone who’s grown dependent on their workouts for their good mood, their steady frame of mind and their focus. When my DH had a serious foot injury a few years into our relationship, I didn’t know who would lose their mind first–him or me.

And when I was first majorly injured in martial arts, it took me almost ten years to work up the courage–and physical ability–to return.

But the second time I injured myself two years ago, it took me only a few months to get back out there. And a year later, when I tore my hamstring, it took only weeks to get back on my feet again.

Not at the same level of intensity and skill, to be sure. At first all I could do was show up. I would do my physical therapy while everyone else practiced their spinning back kicks.

But I’ve learned to show up. And to always do what I can. Because I learned my lesson in that ten years of relative inactivity.

For one thing, studies show that injuries heal faster and better when we use our bodies. (Being mindful of moving in therapeutic ways, of course.) In fact, our bodies are so dependent on movement for our well-being, muscles will start to atrophy after only days of idleness. I’ve been told that the weakness we experience after a rough bout of flu actually has less to do with the illness, and more to do with our immobility as the disease runs its course.

For another, the less we move, the less we CAN move. “Use or lose it” is vital to our physical, mental–and artistic–health.

It’s the same with our art.

I will now tell you the saddest story in the world.

It’s the person who says, “I entered an art exhibit once, and didn’t get in. So I never tried again.”

Or “I got into an art exhibit once, but I didn’t sell anything. So I don’t even try to sell my work anymore.”

Or “I used to paint but I couldn’t sell my work. So I quit painting.”

Or “This show used to work for me but now it doesn’t. I don’t know what else to do.”

Or “I just love to (whatever) but I can never find the time to (whatever).”

As my mom used to say, people who say they love to read but they don’t have time, don’t really love to read. Because if you do, you know you can ALWAYS sneak in a book somewhere.

Experiencing failure with our art is daunting. But it’s simply part of the process of making art. Making art means learning how to make art, and learning how market our art. And learning how to sell our art. AND learning how to make better art.

The people who are successful making art and marketing their art and selling their art, aren’t people who have never failed.

They are simply people who didn’t quit just because they failed.

They keep at it, doing what they can and figuring things out as they go.

If their early work didn’t sell, or later work quit selling, they either changed their style, changed their marketing or changed their venues. If shows started to fail them, they tried something else.

Not all of us will be world-class artists, or hugely successful artists, or even very good artists. But if you love it, and it’s important to you, you must find a way to keep doing it.

 It’s as important to your creative nature as moving is to our physical bodies.

Whatever your art means to you–whether you intend to support yourself, or make a name for yourself, or whether it’s something you do part-time or something you do to amuse yourself–find a way to do it.

Even if, somedays, that means just showing up.

At my last open studio, one of my customers recommended an affordable place to ride a horse. I haven’t ridden in five years! But I went yesterday for a lesson. Nothing spectacular, and I was never a “spectacular” rider to begin with. (I am the eternal “adult beginner”.) But I scheduled a lesson with the instructor (who is delightful) at the ranch (which is beautiful, and takes great care of its horses.) I rode around the ring on a gentle little guy for an hour, and it was wonderful.

Today, I hurt all over. My back hurts, my hips hurt, my knees are killing me. I’m exhausted, too. I didn’t do much at all, but that’s what it feels like the first time you get back to something after a long hiatus.

And yet….I am soooooo happy!

This is what it feels like to be doing what you love. Especially after setting it aside for way too long.

It hurts.

But not nearly as much as not doing it.

Whatever has taken you away from your creative work, find a way back. For your sake. For our sake!

Flex your creative muscles. Start slow, but go steady, and work your way back to your happy place.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #6 Measure your progress. And celebrate your milestones.

Don't miss Luann Udell's inspiring words on celebrating how far we've come.
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s inspiring words on celebrating how far we’ve come.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #6 Measure your progress. And celebrate your milestones.

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.

If we only look at how far we have to go, we forget to celebrate how far we’ve come.

This is one of the most important ways to encourage yourself to maintain an exercise program. And it’s one of the first things we neglect to do with our art and art business.

It’s such a simple concept yet so easily overlooked.

It’s a good short-term strategy to get you through your workout, of course. There’s a huge mental difference between the groan of “I’ve only done 20 pushups!” vs. “I’ve only got 20 more to go!”

But it’s even more critical for the long haul. “I can only do 25 pushups” is self-defeating. “I could only do four when I started this program, and now I can do 25!” is self-encouraging. Same number of pushups. Totally different mindset.

And guess which one will get you to the gym tomorrow?

It’s the same in your art, and your art biz. “I only have four galleries!” vs. “I had none when I moved here, and now I have four!!”

My first year in business, I had to save for three months to buy a piece of equipment that cost less than $200. That’s how much I sold one piece of jewelry for yesterday, in the first hour of my open studio.

I remember visiting the ACC-Baltimore show years ago, wondering if I would ever be able to get accepted to an amazing show like that. Then I applied, and was accepted. Now I wonder what all the fuss was about. It’s a very nice show, but was still just “business as usual”.

But is it really?

Looking at our accomplishments is important for several reasons. For one, it encourages us to stay the course. It helps us overcome feelings of discouragement, inadequacy, failure.

But most of all, it encourages us to turn around our whole way of looking at life.

You got rejected from that top-tier show? Well, you’re in good company. LOTS of great artists don’t get in every year. One well-known artisan shared that they apply to dozens of shows a year, hoping to get into a handful of them. Even the very best get rejected.

And look at you–an artist with great jury images and pretty cool work even applying to that show! Did you ever imagine you would ever CONSIDER applying to that show? And did you think you even  had a chance of getting in?

Look at you! You have the courage to follow your dream, make stuff with your own two hands, search out your venues, research your market, find a photographer, fill out those applications and get your work out there. Do you know how many people fail once–and never try again? Yes, you do. Because you yourself had to get over that mindset long ago to get where you are today.

Take a few minutes today and make a list. Start with everything you’ve already accomplished this year. Quite a list, isn’t it?

Now go back to last year. What did you accomplish LAST year? I’ll bet that’s quite a list, too.

Now look back five years. Ten years. Where did you start? How far have you come? Where are you now?

And look how much closer you are to where you want to be in the next five years! Ever so much closer than you were when you first started out.

When I first started out, I didn’t even know anyone who made stuff and sold it for a living. I didn’t have an idea. I didn’t have a photographer, a peer group, a network of friends in the biz. I didn’t have any idea how to sell my work, where to sell my work, or even who would buy it. I couldn’t see further than my own little town of Keene, NH for a market–though it didn’t take me long to figure out there was a big world out there!

I didn’t have a catalog, publicity, postcards, a body of work or any customers, let alone wholesale accounts.

I DID have a business plan. And every year or so, I pull it out and look at where I am in it.

It’s always an eye-opener. And it always needs updating.

No matter how big I dreamed, I always have to make the plan bigger. No matter how many goals I set for myself, I always have to add more.

Let’s make this beautiful day a “Pat Yourself on the Back” Day.

Let’s celebrate your progress, your efforts, and your future success.

Gosh, I’ve gotten myself so riled up, maybe I’ll make a list today, too.

Come back and share what surprised you on your list. What made you realize you are actually pretty good at what you do? Stick it above your work station. Let it remind you that one bad day/event/missed opportunity/year will not break you.

You got this!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #5 Eyes on the Prize!

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.

People who successfully stick with an exercise program for any length of time know this one:

Eyes on the prize.

Keep your mind everywhere except on how hard you’re sweating.

This is important in martial arts, and it’s something I struggle with in all my endeavors, even today.

It’s easy to get distracted while working out: “I suck at this!” “My kicks have no power!” “Everyone else is doing better than I am!!” “I can’t do anything right!!!” “I forgot to feed the cat!” “I’m so mad at so-and-do!”

Nothing saps your will and your workout quicker than second-guessing your performance, overlooking your intention and side-stepping your focus.

I constantly remind myself to focus on a) the moment and b) the end game. Oh, and remembering to c) try to have fun.

When I focus on the moment, I line up my stance. I make sure my guard is up. Whoops, forgot to pivot my feet! Get that down on the next shot. Breathe. Breathe!!

I lose myself in the process and forget about all the work piled up on my desk at home, at the orders I have to get out, the kitchen sink full of dishes I didn’t get to. I try to blank out what the guy on my right me is doing, and how many more push-ups than me the woman on my left is squeezing out.

My only competition is me. I’m just trying to do a little better than I did yesterday.

When I focus on the end game, I forget about working toward my black belt (or how I’m NOT working toward my black belt….) I focus on the fact that as long as I show up and keep trying, and simply try to do a little bit better each time, eventually I’ll be at least better than I am today. Maybe someday, even pretty good.

When I whine, “I’m not gonna qualify for a black belt until I’m 60!”, my heart answers, “You’ll be 60 anyway. Won’t it be cool if you are even CLOSE to getting a black belt?” And if I never get a black belt, well, at least I’ll be in pretty good shape. (Update: Now I’m 66! Never made it to black belt, though I was this far away. Too many injuries. So what? I did my best until I couldn’t anymore. And I still have a pretty good right jab! I regret nothing.)

And if I can’t enjoy the workout while I’m doing it (“OHMIGOD!!! THIS HURTS!!!”), at least I can feel virtuous AFTER the workout.

Same with my art. (You knew this was coming, right?)

Keep your eyes on the prize.

If I let myself flail, then when I’m doing bookwork, I feel guilty I’m not putting a fiber piece together. And when I’m sewing, I feel guilty I’m not getting that jewelry order together. And when I’m packing that jewelry order, I’m frantic because I’m not working on that writing assignment.

What do I accomplish?

A huge guilt complex and no joy.

That’s gotta go. I want to let go and be in the moment, enjoying just what I’m doing RIGHT NOW. Then let go and be in the NEXT moment.

The long-term goal? The right—the privilege–to say, “I’m an artist.” Maybe someday, “I’m a financially successful artist!” Or maybe even “I’m an internationally acclaimed artist!” (Update: Still not happening, but I’ve accepted that not all careers and choices make us wealthy. And that’s not a bad thing, either.)

Eventually, it simply becomes, “I love what I do. And I wouldn’t trade what I do for ANYTHING.”

If we learn to do what we can, if we can let go of the “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s”, if we can leave our studio at the end of each day with the satisfaction of work well done and know we’ve done the best we can, if we can lose ourselves in the moment of the pure joy of making something W*O*N*D*E*R*F*U*L, what more could we ask from our avocation?

And if in the ‘making’, we find ourselves, if we restore ourselves to our highest self, if we heal, and grow, how cool is that?!

And when we get our art our into the world, if our art makes the world a little more beautiful, a little more interesting, a little more delightful, a little brighter, that’s even cooler.

If  it speaks to someone else, if it inspires THEM to do the work of THEIR heart, if it lifts THEIR heart and heals THEM, the circle keeps on growing.

Art is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

And if we make some money doing that, yippee!! (Just did my banking this morning. Feeling better.)

Eyes on the prize.

P.S. My words are working for ME! Mondays are very full of “to-do’s”. So I wasn’t going to go to the gym today. But I put on my gym shoes anyway. And here I go!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #4 Do (Something) Every Day

Luann Udell discusses how we must nourish our artistic nature regularly
Luann Udell discusses how we must nourish our artistic nature regularly

 

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.

Do it every day.

The people I know who are in the best physical shape they can be, exercise daily. They do something every day.

And the artists I know who are the most creative and most productive do their art every day. They make something every day.

Let’s pursue the exercise metaphor:

Healthy people exercise every day. Or as nearly as they can.

They mix it up. They run alternate days, and bike in between.

They vary the intensity of the activities. High-intensity workouts with something less “pounding” in between. Yoga, for example, or Pilates (which is strenuous but not high impact.)

They vary the type of exercise. Gym workouts. Walking and Tai Chi. Swimming.

They make accommodations for the season. They run more in the more temperate seasons and swim (indoors in New Hampshire!) in the winter.

They accommodate for injuries. When I couldn’t do martial arts after knee surgery, I walked and swam. Now I walk and gym. Hopefully, back to Tai Chi soon!

People who exercise regularly get creative about how to get a daily workout in. Because they’ve learned something important about exercise:

Once you stop, it’s really, really hard to get started again.

I’ve had to come back after several major injuries. The first time, after a debilitating knee injury, it took almost ten years to get back in the saddle again with martial arts. Going to class and not being able to do the things I used to do easily was humiliating. My pride and my frustration got in the way.

I finally found a way to ease myself back into hard workouts by joining an independent women’s gym. After a year, I was able to try martial arts again.

When I injured myself again a few years ago, it only took me about four months to get back into a routine again. It was just as frustrating and humiliating. But I didn’t give up. I learned to find some way of maintaining my routine by alternate exercise, modifying my movements, and doing extra strength work.

What’s really insidious are the people who try to cajole you into “taking it easy.”

“Come on!” they wheedle. “It won’t hurt you to miss a day!”

Well, no. It doesn’t hurt to miss a day–at first.

But it’s so easy for one missed day to turn into two or three missed days. Soon you’re looking for excuses–“I’m really too busy to exercise today. I’ll work twice as hard tomorrow!”

Skipping exercise only makes coming back that much harder.

We do the same thing with our art, when we make a habit of skipping our studio time….with the same devastating results.

Life sometimes gets in the way of our best intentions. When we are devastated by loss, by illness and injuries, by financial setbacks, by a job loss or move, often the first thing we abandon is the very thing that gives us the energy, the power, to deal with it: Our art.

Our artistic nature is like a muscle. It needs to be exercised regularly, too.

Yes, sometimes we need to compensate for overwork/injury with rest and recuperation: We need to allow time for our “artistic well” to refill.

But too much time away from our studio means we have unplugged ourselves from our source of power.

When an artist tells me they are struggling, that life is clobbering them, that they feel sad about their art, the only advice I can’t stop myself from giving them is this:

Go make your art.

And like our physical workouts, when we hit a wall in life, sometimes we just need to mix it up a little. It’s good to try new things. It may help to take a class to develop our techniques or expand our vision.

Sometimes we need to vary the intensity–alternating lighter art (short fun projects) for serious art (the stuff we pour our soul into).

Sometimes we need to warm up first, doing quick, easy tasks to warm up the right side of our brain before settling into our long “flow” work periods. Sketching out new ideas. Restocking our materials: Paint. Tools. Frames. Meeting up for an artist support group!

Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have leisurely, long periods of time to work on our art. Other times, we’re lucky if we can grab fifteen minutes. But those fifteen minutes may be crucial to us keeping up that habit of daily work.

I’ve learned the hard way that this means actually touching the things that involve what you DO with your art. The days I spend putting together show applications, or doing press releases, or doing banking, or shipping orders, are related to my art business. But they are not my art. It’s too easy to think you are “doing your art” when you are actually “taking care of business”. After all, you have to make art in order to have a business selling and promoting it.

Learning to say “no” to the constant interruptions and distractions from doing my art may be the most valuable lesson I learn this year. On one hand, this year drained me of many things: Hope. Enthusiasm. Joy. I felt overwhelmed with exhaustion. I felt “too tired” to go to my studio.

On the other hand, once I forced myself to get back to my studio, all of those sad feelings lessened. Softened. It got easier and easier to go. And finally, my daily habit was restored.

And that restored me to my artistic self. It restored me to my creative self. It restored me to my best self, the person I choose to be in the world.*

Sometimes I would do one step in my process. Sometimes a sketch. Sometimes it simply meant washing an old wooden box.

Some days, all I could do was wash ONE BOX. 

But then that box was cleaned. It could be sanded. And then it could be waxed. And then….

Other days, it was just putting something IN a box. 

It could hold one of my artifacts. It could hang on a wall. It can go into my inventory.

It can be admired. And sold. And go to its new home, with someone who loves it.

But all the days I did “just one thing” added up, and helped me over the rough parts. 

Go to the studio and make something.

Make a decision about subject, or color. Pull some fabric pieces. Create a study for a larger piece. Make a bead you will use in a later project. Do one more step in that project you’re working on–polishing a piece, pulling the bead selection for that new necklace, a sketch for that next quilt.

Put your hands on your art. Pick up your tools and materials.

Enjoy the way they make you feel.

Do it today. 

  

*Er….not finished yet, though. I’m still a work in progress!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #2 Do What You Love!

Luann Udell discusses the benefits of doing art from the heart
Luann Udell discusses the benefits of doing art from the heart,

by Luann Udell

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.

When we do the work of our heart, it’s easier to get to the studio!

Second in a new series of exercise tips you can apply to your art biz. I’m not working from an article this time. This all comes from personal experience:

Find what you love to do, and do it.

When it comes to exercise, you either have to do what you enjoy or find the joy in what you do. And believe me, it’s a heckuva lot easier to start with the former.

It was the secret behind my commitment to martial arts—Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing—which I took up in middle-age.

Disclosure: I still love love love martial arts. But due to many injuries resulting from same, I cannot practice it anymore. So. Gym, and maybe more tai chi instead!

But it was perfect when I could practice! It’s intensely physical, with a good mix-up of strength work, coordination, and aerobic components.

Kickboxing especially felt “light”. There’s a bit of mental workout, but not nearly as much as other martial art disciplines. Eventually, though, I found I missed the katas–those longer, choreographed movements that look like fast tai chi. And eventually I went back to Tae Kwon Do.

There were things I was good enough at to be proud of, and plenty of things for me to work on.

Martial arts taught me a lot about myself, too. I learned my biggest enemy was ME. Yup, I’m my own worst enemy. I had to learn to focus on my own performance and improving it a little bit at a time, rather than compare my performance to anyone else’s.

It was hard, as an older woman, to get comfortable with punching, kicking and striking, even yelling. The mindset was extremely foreign to me. I could feel brain cells and ingrained social conditioning fighting me every inch of the way–“Don’t hit!” “Don’t raise your voice!” “Be nice!” I remember raising my hand to hit in a martial arts class years ago and being almost physically, psychologically unable to do so.

I got over it.

The whole thing was challenging but rewarding. I was exhausted when class ended–but also exhilarated.

And the fact that I enjoyed it so much is more important than all of the other reasons I just gave.

Because the enjoyment is where I found the discipline and the courage to keep going. I rarely missed a class, even when I “didn’t feel like it”. And even though I wasn’t that good at it. (That is, I’m not a ‘natural’. It didn’t come easily to me.)

But I’m glad I started with something I love. Especially when even today, I can say with pride, I studied martial arts for more than 12 years, I attended almost every single class, without fail, except for major injuries, major illness or being out of town. (And as I said, eventually the major injuries took over completely.)

I still have hope for the next work-out routine that brings such passion and commitment.

Do the same with your artwork.

The thrill of doing what you love will carry you over many hard times, and boring times, and frustrating times.

In fact, whenever I do a mentor session with client, that’s the first question out of my mouth–especially when someone shows up with a hodge-podge of projects, all different in media, theme and colors:

Start with, “What do you love doing?”

“Where does your heart lie?”

“Which of these is calling to you?”

Don’t focus with “what sells” Don’t even start with, “What’s easy?” This is the hardest, but don’t even start with, “What will make me the most money?” That’s important, but that will come later. It can wait.

Because that powerful connection will help you through all the hard stuff later.

Success in making and selling art, like a productive exercise program, begins with finding what you love so much, you can’t imagine NOT doing it.

Yes, once it’s made and out in the world, there’s the question of marketing and selling, growing an audience, connecting your story with your work, and encouraging others to connect, too. It may not be as much “fun” or as rewarding, or as easy to fall into. (Though I’m amazed how much I love that part of the process, too!)

But loving what you do means when you talk about your work, your authentic connection to it will show through. When you talk about it, you will be speaking your truth.

And that is the most powerful place an artist can be: Telling your story. Speaking your truth.

Consequently, if you are not crazy about where you art is right now, that can make it harder to get to the studio. It’s okay. We all go through periods of enthusiasm and not-so-much enthusiasm. We get enormous energy from a great new project, and then may fall into a period of stasis, recovering from all that activity. We hit walls, roadblocks, and setbacks. That’s life. We get sick, we need a vacation, life whaps us, and we need to recover.

But if you really can’t muster any enthusiasm for long, long periods, consider a change. Maybe your focus has shifted, and your joy has been slowly leaking away.

Take a class in a new technique. Create a (kind and gracious, but firm) critique session with fellow artists, to see if there are gaps in your style or process. Are you ready for a bigger change? Explore a new subject matter, or perhaps even a new medium. Heavens—maybe even another form of creative work! (It happens!)

Constantly explore, and focus, on what brings you joy, and go from there. It’s your measuring stick and compass needle in life.

I still love carving stamps, and when I need a break, I pick up my carving stamps and hit the rubber! (Literally)