THE FOUR QUESTIONS #1 Create Your Artist Support Group

For some reason, I didn’t republish my initial articles for this series, which originally appeared on Fine Art Views. So I’ll be “catching you up” the next few days. Enjoy!

Luann Udell discusses the importance of having an "art group" and how it can help you grow creatively.
Luann Udell discusses the importance of having an “art group” and how it can help you grow creatively.

When your peeps have your back, it’s easier to move forward.

When I first stepped up to the plate with my art and my art biz, I was fearless. I was focused. Not even rejection set me back for more than a few minutes, just enough time to sidestep my lizard brain and get back to my higher self.

I educated myself at every opportunity. I sought out advice and insights from more experienced artists. I took notes and kept good records. Every day I sought to take one step forward.

Many folks were surprised to learn I had only been in business a couple years.

So when I found a notice about an upcoming artist support group workshop (on how to create your own support system), my first thought was, “I don’t need that!”

But something told me otherwise. Just a quiet little voice saying, “Maybe someday it will get harder…” (Spoiler alert: It can, and it does.)

So I took a chance and signed up for that a three-day workshop.

It changed my life

The workshop leader was Deborah Kruger, a fiber artist who already had a solid body of work behind her, including incredible installation art. A beautiful, intelligent vibrant, woman full of insight, and wisdom, good at listening. And really, really good at seeing where we get hung up in the details.

We were in awe of her. (Put a pin in that for a later article.)

Deborah’s work has evolved, as her own story changes.

We did many exercises in that class. I kept a notebook, of course, and filled it with observations, insights, and comments as we went along.

The heart of the class was learning and practicing how a good artist support group works. The main premise is:

The greatest gift you can give a woman is to listen to her…*

(NB. Times are changing, somewhat, so maybe we can now include “artists” or even “creatives” in this premise.)

And the corollary:

Because…We already know what to do.

We all know what is right for us.

We need to listen to that little voice inside. Not the loud, buzzy, snarky, critical lizard-brain-voice that tells us we aren’t good enough, or not smart enough, or not deserving enough.

We are here to find the quiet little voice that knows we are doing our best. The one that knows “we are already ‘enough’.”

We must not override it with too much logic, too much preparation, or too much self-doubt.

To discover this voice, we need people who will ask the right questions.

We need people who will ask, and then listen to what we say.

We need people who keep listening, and questioning, until we come up with our own answer, our own truth. 

It’s actually a scary place to be… because this process is unlike most conversations we ever have with other people. 

This premise (and corollary) is why today, I believe everyone has a place in the world. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a voice.

And everyone’s place, and story, and voice, is unique to them.

Every day, we are told we aren’t good enough, pretty enough, strong enough, lucky enough. Every day, we are told we’re “doing it wrong”. Every day, yet another social media site swears it will catapult us to fame and fortune. Every day, there’s someone who promises they have the secret to success (usually for a hefty price!) Every day, it feels like everyone else “gets it”, and that we never will. 

This is why you need people who will have your back in your support group.

    

Years after that life-changing workshop, Deborah again guided me to my truth: It’s not about the technique. It’s about the story. And I’m not done telling my story.

Did you do your homework last week?

Did you think of a handful of people who might be willing to do this with you? And who, in return, are willing to be recipients of the same process?

Do they accept you, flaws, faults, and foibles, as just another human on their own unique journey? They don’t have to be your best buddies. They don’t even have to be people who have known you a long time.  Heck, they don’t really even have to love your creative aesthetic. They just have to believe we are all capable of moving forward and achieving our dreams.

Do they treat other people with respect and patience?

Do they have an open heart, open to trying something new?

Do they want you to succeed, to achieve your definition of success?

Do they have their own goals and dreams? And do they understand you want the same for them? Because they will get their turn, too.

Reach out to them. Gather them together, meet up. Tell them why you chose them.

Don’t be afraid to jump in. You may have some mishaps.

Some of you may be at different points in your life. That’s okay. Beginners, experts, pros, all have something to offer.

The only requirement is to respect where people are, right now, and to respect where they say they want to go next.

The exercises you will participate aren’t about telling people they’re doing it wrong. It’s about helping them clarify where they want to go, and how they’re going to get there…on their own terms, at their own pace. 

It’s about shining a light on self-blaming, self-denigration, insecurity, and the (incorrect) notion that we don’t deserve to dream big.

And it’s also about holding someone’s feet to the fire when what they say they want isn’t reflected by what they’re doing. (Ow!)

In the weeks ahead, I’ll share powerful exercises we learned in that workshop. They can be hard at first, if you haven’t learned to push back against that lizard-brain. It can be heard to share your true heart with others, if you’ve never been deeply listened too.

Some of the exercises are so simple, you’ll smack your head and exclaim, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” Some will be fun.

And everyone’s experience will be different. You will learn from each other, too.

It’s not about being a saint.

It’s about having, and being, an ally.

Stay tuned for more columns on this! Next is how to put a little fun into the mix. After that, a simple exercise to have more confidence in yourself and your abilities to grow and change.

THIS IS LOVE

For Bobbye…..

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Bobbye Sansing’s beautiful handformed, pit-fired pottery vessels.

I felt something was wrong for weeks.

I sensed it when I first reached out to an old, dear friend, months ago. I was relieved to find she was glad to hear from me. Yet no new messages followed.

We hadn’t parted on bad terms, really. Oh, I look back and cringe when I see how I sometimes took her friendship for granted. And how I pushed–too much–for her to get her art out into the world.

She was my Wise Woman friend for years, as I slowly broke out of my eggshell beliefs that I wasn’t good enough to be a real artist. She was in my first “artist retreat”, a workshop led by another Wise Woman, about how to find true support from a small circle of trusted cohorts. We would celebrate each others’ successes when the world noticed us. We would raise each other up when the world took us down a peg.

As I grew more confident, and knowledgeable (I thought), I began to urge her to be more visible in the world.

It’s easy to believe we know better than others. I felt I knew what was best for her. And she (rightly so) resisted, firmly.

So we drifted gently apart for awhile. And then both of us eventually moved thousands of miles away, until we both found ourselves out West, me on in Northern California, her in Nevada.

My early blog posts and personal journals are filled with her words of wisdom. She taught me so much. She could be so honest, it hurt. But not in a mean way. In a way that held my feet firmly to the fire of my own self-doubt and whine-iness. (Yes, I’m a bit of a whiner. There. I said it.) Because of her, I began to grow a backbone. (Still growing. Not done yet.)

In a few small  ways, I helped her, too. She is a potter, specializing in pit-fired vessels. Determined to be professional in every way, she asked us (our group) for help to build a body of work for exhibiting and selling.

After several suggestions were shot down, I thought to ask her this question: What is your production process now?

She explained how, when her husband got home from work, they would eat dinner and watch TV together in their warm and cozy den, and talk. Every night, almost without fail. She hated working in her basement studio, alone. She wanted to be with Bob, and so she chose him.

As they sat, she worked a lump of clay, turning it into a beautiful hand-pinched pot, ready for the kiln.

“Every night?” I asked her.

Yes.

“And every one is a good one? Good enough to exhibit, or sell?”

Yes.

“So at the end of a year, you have over 300 good pots?”

Yes.

“Is that enough for a year’s worth of exhibits and sales?”

Uh…..yes.

So she had a reliable process that slowly-but-steadily created a beautiful, substantial body of work. Why would she mess with that??

She said it didn’t sound very professional. She felt she was doing it wrong.

I hope in this single, small way, I helped her realize that any way you get your work made, and out into the world, is ‘professional’ enough.

So today I just learned that her husband died.

Almost half a century together. So many years. So much love.

I took her pots out today. I only have a few, but I treasure them.

And when I look into the graceful swirling edges, the haunting mystery of their interiors, the hand-polished exteriors, everything of her hands and fingertips, their shared hours of companionship, togetherness, a life built from fragile–yet resilient–human clay, filled with laughter, and children, and family, and friends, and home, and art.

Each pot, made with love, surrounded by love, infused with love.

This is love.

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SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE Part 2: Lessons from the Bym, Tai Chi, and the Circle of Life

My latest post for Fine Art Views helps you put everything into perspective about your art career. And, maybe, your life.

SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE Part 2: Lessons from the Gym, Tai Chi, and the Circle of Life