NEWSLETTERS 101: #19 Share a Family Tradition!

I did get a LITTLE work done in my studio today. Found the perfect bear for my newest restored-box shrine!
I did get a LITTLE work done in my studio today. Found the perfect bear for my newest restored-box shrine!

It’s been a funky day-before-Christmas, to be sure.

My partner and I are in the middle of a huge spat. (No worries, we’ve been doing this for decades. Neighborhood friends nicknamed us “The Bickersons” almost 40 years ago!)

I finally pulled out and went to my studio, my always-happy place. Twenty minutes later, I got a call from Jon. He’d left his wallet at the supermarket, could I drive him there to get it? (No driver’s license.) No luck. But when we got home, ready to call and cancel all our credit cards, he found his wallet. On his dresser.

Grumbling, I drove back to my studio. But I could only get a little work done before the cold and the dark got to me, and so I headed home again.

I’m sitting here, trying to think about why this hardly even seems like Christmas. Aha! Covid-19! No parties. No Yankee Swap, our biggest, most memorable Christmas event. Our Christmas tree was so last-minute this year. I wasn’t even going to get one, but Jon wanted a tree, so I got a tiny one. Then I couldn’t find my ornaments. It’s decorated with some small thrift shop finds, cat toys, a box of Christmas cards I found at the thrift shop (puppies in Santa hats) and colorful fabric masks….

Okay, so this will be a Christmas-to-remember-for-all-the-wrong-reasons. On the other hand, it inspired this article, so here goes!

All through my childhood, I wanted to open a present on Christmas Eve. It was a hard NO growing up. So guess what Christmas tradition I started with OUR family?

Yup. We all got to pick one present to open on Christmas Eve! It was great!

My husband’s father was Jewish, his mother was Catholic. Actual religious practices were few and far between, but our daughter is none-the-less very proud of her Jewish heritage. So I bought her a dinosaur menorah I found on Etsy a few years go. She loves it!

No Yankee Swap. In past years, this was quite the occasion. Everyone brings an unwanted gift, a White Elephant, (undamaged, not used, etc.) wrapped and beribboned, and placed it under the tree. Then everyone picks a number from a hat/bowl/bag. #1 person picks a gift and unwraps it. #2 person picks a gift, then gets to choose whether to a) keep it, or b) swap with person #1. #3 person does the same, only they can swap with anyone who already has a present. Obviously, the best number to get is the last one! And it’s amazing how someone’s White Elephant is exactly what someone else will love.

It’s also good for everyone to have plenty of Gary Spykman’s handmade “spoonable eggnog” (recipe at the end) because sometimes fights break out. (Well, not FIGHTS, exactly, but just sayin’, don’t get too attached to your gift!

And of course, my Grandma Paxton’s yummy iced brown sugar Christmas cookies. They are the best!

In another family we’ve known for years, everyone gets new pajamas, and wears them on Christmas Day. (I can’t remember if they were matching pajamas??)

A friend told me how their family would go to movies on Christmas Day. (Movies! In a movie theater!)

Why would you share this in your newsletter?

Because regardless of religion, region, etc., holidays are a time for family-and-friend gatherings. In the best of circumstances, there are plenty of laughs and hugs, joy and eggnog (LOTS of eggnog, and don’t forget the brandy!) Being human, there might also be lots of spats and tantrums, sadness and envy, some disappointment (DO NOT GET YOUR PARTNER A VACUUM CLEANER FOR CHRISTMAS!).

There are loved ones who will be missed, for this year, or, sadly, forever.

Family traditions can be sweet. Simple. Complex and frustrating. Unusual. Fun. Embarrassing. (Mistletoe? No thank you!) Informal. Or scheduled down to the last minute.

Sharing a family tradition in our marketing newsletters allows our audience a little peek into our life, outside of the art we make. It reminds us that we are connected in all the subtleties of being human…and that we are not alone.

Of course, we can also share a funny pet story, or a beautiful sunset, or a moment of insight, as I’ve suggested in this series.

But if you get a kick out of our Yankee Swap party, or fall in love with Gary’s eggnog, or find a new passion with my Grandma’s cookie recipe (which I’ll post on my blog), imagine how YOUR audience will feel!

SPOONABLE EGGNOG BY GARY SPYKMAN (Note: If the name sounds familiar, Gary is the person who taught me how to clean, repair, and restore antique and vintage wood boxes for my Shrine Series, and offered me the use of his studio, his toolks, and his expertise to make them! You can see his work at his website:  Spykman Design

This will put a little (or a lot of) Christmas Spirit(s) in you! Thick, rich, potent… irresistible!


4 eggs, separated
2 cups heavy cream (whipping cream)
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup top-shelf rum or bourbon (really, the good stuff)
1/4 cup brandy
whole nutmeg

You’ll need three mixing bowls for this.
Bowl #1: Beat egg whites until stiff.
Bowl #2: Beat egg yolks, sugar, and salt until thick and lemon-colored, stir in the booze.
Bowl #3: Whip the cream.
Gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the whipped cream, then fold in the egg whites.
Chill for an hour or two.
Scoop into individual cups, grate fresh nutmeg over the top, and serve with spoons.

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GRANDMA PAXTON’S CHRISTMAS COOKIES

1 1/2 c. brown sugar

1 c. butter

2 eggs

4 TBS. sour milk (you can add a teensy bit of vinegar to get it ‘sour’)

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla

4 c. flour

Preheat oven at 350 degrees

Cream butter and sugar.

Add eggs and vanilla.

Combine dry ingredients. Add alternately with milk.

Roll and cut cookies on a lightly-floured surface. (Keep your rolling pin lightly-floured, too!)

Bake about 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned.

FROSTING

Beat 2 egg whites till fluffy. (My recipe says you may need to add cream of tartar, but I’m not sure why…?)

Add enough powdered sugar to make stiff frosting.

Spread on cookies and decorate!

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Your shares and comments are always welcomed!

Copy this link FineArtViews.com to share, or view my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com.

If someone shared this article with you, and you’d like to read more in this series, visit my articles at FineArtViews.com.

STAY IN TOUCH: Newsletter Tips for Artists

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

Keep it real, keep it human, and be yourself.

In my last column, It’s the Little Things That Count a reader asked what we should write about in our email newsletters.

Short story: Our email newsletter is how our audience gets to know us.

And long story (which follows): There is no single “right way” to do that.

I have seen beautiful, heartwarming, informative newsletters that I eagerly read as soon as they show up in my inbox.  I have seen pompous, bragging newsletters that make me stop reading after the second paragraph.

I have seen brief notices of an event, and I have seen long, meandering missives that wander here and there and everywhere.

All of the writers have an audience, so just because I like them or don’t like them doesn’t mean they are necessarily “doing it wrong”.

I do see (and you are all going to laugh knowing this comes from ME) that keeping it short and to-the-point makes it more likely people will actually read it!

Here’s the thing to remember: If someone signs up for your newsletter, they already believe you have something of value to share with them.  So really, all you have to do is be the best “you” you can be.

Of course, usually I create a newsletter to inform my audience of an event, whether it’s a show, a meet-the-artist event, or an open studio, or even a sale.

But many artists share tips on how they actually make their work. Or they share WIPs (works in progress), providing a little behind-the-scenes peek into their creative process. Or they share a little life lesson or funny story. (I tend to share this kind of stuff on other social media, but that’s me.)

In short, every single newsletter is a reflection of who that person is. Their newsletter tells us what they want us to know about them, and their work, what they’re up to, where they’re heading.

So think about who you are: Confident? Humble? Cheerful? Grounded? Funny? Very serious? Quiet? Talkative? A sharer/teacher? An eternal student of life?

Show that in your writing!

Be authentic. Write about what matters to you.

Write simply, and get to the point.  Some of the newsletters I get go on and on, as if I’m listening to a stream of consciousness in the author’s head. Not fun on a busy day…

Be funny (if that’s your style.) If not, be serious.

It’s also okay to experiment with different styles and approaches until you find the one you’re the most comfortable with.

Now, for the concrete: I’ve written many blog posts over the years, about what I’ve learned about writing effective press releases to magazines, newspapers, etc. and I consider an email newsletter a personal, mini-press release.

So when you’re setting one up, think about the 5 (or 6) W’s: Who, what, when, where, why, and how (okay that’s not a W, but you get it) if you are including something educational.

  • The “who” is you, of course.
  • The “what” is what you want your audience to know: An event? A class? An honor/award/prestigious show you’ve been accepted into? A new gallery? A new body of work? A sale?
  • The “when” is obvious. Nobody will show up to your event if you don’t let people know what date and time it is.

What is not obvious (and what I struggle with) is, email newsletter experts say you need to let your audience know multiple times about the “when”. That is, if you have an open studio event, you need to not only let people know in multiple arenas (email, Facebook, etc.) but multiple times. Give people plenty of time to plan ahead. But then remind them over and over that it’s coming up.

The “where” is obvious, too. But you’d be surprised how many emailers assume their audience KNOW where the where is. I finally replied to one gallery newsletter last week, asking them what CITY AND STATE they are in. (In fact, I just realized I did not do that in my most recent newsletter. OOPS)

  • The “why” is trickier. But untangle it a bit, and it becomes obvious. For events, the “why” is, “Because I’m hoping you show up and buy something!” For notices of awards and honors, it’s “Because now you can see other people/organizations think my work is pretty cool, too!” For a new body of work, it’s “Because you love my previous work, you might REALLY love my latest body of work!”

The “why” could also include your call-to-action. That is, what do you want people to do with this information? Do you want them to come by? Share/tell their friends, so they can help you grow your audience? Order something online? Be happy for you? How about just to say “thank you”? That works, too!

  • The “how” can be an interesting tip, suggestion, insight into what you do. Some people want to know as much as possible about our process. Others want to take a class, and this can encourage them to do that. Sometimes, they just appreciate the fact that you care enough to share!

The only caveat (beyond the ones I’ve already mentioned) is to tread carefully about the hard parts of your life you’re dealing with. It’s okay to share a setback, or to explain why you’ve been out of touch, or why you had to take time off from your art this year. I would advise you not to overdo it. Here in Santa Rosa, the fires last year devastated a lot of lives, immediately and peripherally. It will take most people years to process their loss, and heal.

But to make every single newsletter/conversation/announcement about that is overwhelming to our audience. After all, we are all struggling with something. We are all broken, someplace in our heart. We are all healing from something.

Asking for a little sympathy and understanding is human nature, and support from others can be a healing factor. But asking someone to listen over and over and over to our sad story is exhausting.

It also doesn’t serve us, in the long run. I’ve had a rotten year myself. I would say “nobody died”, but actually quite a few people died, and quite a few involved let me down horribly. It was hard, and trust me, I’m happy to tell everyone about it.

In the end, though, where the most powerful healing came from was, getting back to my studio and making the work of my heart. It helped restore me to my better self, the person I chose to be.

And that message, a message of healing, and restoration, and solace, and hope, a message of what our art does for us and for other people, is the message we really want our audience to hear.  

As artists, we want our art to inspire, to bring joy, to lift hearts. We want to bring messages of hope, and love, to others. We want to provoke thought about difficult issues, and to share our own personal view of the world and our experiences.

This is our job, as artists. And the people who are attracted to our work, who want to see more, learn more, hear more, are just waiting to get more of that from us.

I hope this encourages you to reach out to your audience, and let them know what’s going on in your world! Clint Watson, founder of FASO, has written great articles about the more practical points of producing an effective email newsletter, and I encourage you to go back and read them.

But I assure you, if you approach this with as much integrity and openness as you approach your art, you really can’t go wrong.