Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Is their a minimum price for fine craft?

Fiber artist Karren K. Britto has a fascinating blog about her craft, Shibori, and the business of craft, called entwinements. A recent post about pricing of craft
has my brain in overdrive.

Her premise is that it is impossible to make a handcrafted item which retails for $20 to $25, and have it reflect the "head, heart, and hand of the maker." I am the first to agree that many consumers today do not begin to appreciate the work that goes into creating something by hand. Stores like Target, Pier One, etc., have shifted the ground under our feet. People see something that has elements of good design and style, and a good price, and their expectations shift. They believe it is entirely possible to have the cake and eat it too.

They often are not aware of what lies behind that package of design and low price. That designs may have been stolen from an artist....modified slightly and then moved into mass production overseas. It is no longer an item made with care and attention by the designer. It may be pretty, but sometimes it comes with a hidden price tag. Laborers in other countries, out of view, who toil in difficult conditions, at wages that do not truly support the worker, even in developing nations. Think back to the mills in Lowell in this country's history. Those same scenarios are playing out now in other corners of the world. But the output is being snatched up by the happily ignorant.

I may not like it, but this is the world we live in right now. Add to this the general uneasiness many feel about their personal economic condition.....falling real estate market, rising gas prices, disappearing pensions plans, medical costs that skyrocket,.....and it is no wonder that they hesitate to indulge in high end craft. Impulse purchases that give short-term gratification are more likely. Look at the popularity of high end coffee. Or boutique chocolates. Or shows on cable that promote the idea that you can redesign your room in a weekend for $500 or less and get a high end, sophisticated look. Sure, it is the look, not the substance. But the current psychology seems to be short-term. Not one of investment. Collecting.

So, back to my point. In this environment, is it possible to satisfy both ends of the spectrum? Is it possible to sell a hand crafted item, that reflects the makers "head, hands and heart"? Yes, I believe it is.

One thing I have learned in the last few years, is that it is much easier to make something expensive. Something that has lots of labor and love in it. If I could do nothing but that, it would be utopia. But the last I checked, utopia still doesn't exist. So, the creative challenge is to make something that is relatively inexpensive, but is still something that is unique and wonderful.

I have literally stumbled on my answer to this. The cranes I fold out of polymer clay are made by hand, by me. Each one is unique. Each one is carefully (very carefully!) folded by hand, by me. Each hanging crane has a bead at it's base that is made with clay to coordinate with the crane, by hand, by me. And each one reflects a creative process or journey.

And the cranes have been something that people connect with on many levels. They have been purchased as memorials for someone lost. They have been given as wishes for healing. They are given in celebration of birthdays, or anniversaries. And they are given to reflect a wish for peace. They are the least expensive item I sell. But they have more emotional connections for more people than anything else I do. I often say after hearing someone's story, the universe is telling me I have to make the cranes. They are a touchstone in a fragile world.

I hear wonderful stories about people's collections of pears, or apples. Or someone connects with a design on a piece of jewelry or vessel. But the richest emotional connection is with the cranes. And the money generated by the cranes lets me explore the other end of the spectrum. They finance the vessels. And they let me have the vessels out in the world for people to see and enjoy....and eventually, we hope, purchase.

I wish I lived in a world where people's impulse purchases were art or craft. Beautiful work, made with love and care by talented artists. I wish people did not live in a world so fraught with anxiety about what tomorrow will bring.

But I don't. So in this world, as an artist who wants to do this for a living, I need to figure out what I can do to increase the awareness and demand for my work, and at the same time, offer work that people can afford. These are where the true creative challenges lie. I wish it was easier. But, for now, it is not.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sunday Mornings

Sunday morning is becoming the time of the week when I hear my creative voice the loudest. It is the one day of the week that I am not getting out of bed with a long list running through my head of all the things that have to get done that day. It is the one morning when I can stay a little longer in bed. Spend some time in that space between sleep and wakefulness. This is the place that seems to be the most fertile for me.

About five years ago I got Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way. Many people have read her book. Some have even done the exercises! When I read the book, I was open to the process. Perhaps desperate for some answers! So, I got up each morning, a bit earlier, and wrote the prescribe pages. Each morning you are to get up, and first thing, before you engage in other activities of the day, sit down with notebook and pen, and write out, long hand, three pages. Are you rebelling yet? Why three? Why do I have to write it? Can't I type it? Why do I have to do this everyday? Can you hear all those resistant voices coming up? A lot of people do. It is interesting to me how often people talk about reading her book, but how often they will also confess to not doing the exercises, and especially the pages.

All I know is the pages work. There is some magic in the three pages. The first page would often be grumbling about how I would rather be in bed, and how cold it was or how tired I was. But somewhere on the second page, something else would rise to the surface. Some issue that had been carried around in the back of my mind. It finally broke through all the noise and clutter of what is usually floating around in my head, and could be heard. The next page,...or more in some cases!....would be the chance to explore that issue. The pen could not move fast enough.

Over time, what I found the pages did was connect me with my subconscious. My voice. I learned to listen to the things that would pop up. Time to write the pages was time to listen to myself. In the chaos of our lives today, that is all too infrequent. And the more I listened, the louder it become, and the more it had to say!

So on Sunday mornings, when I let myself drift in and out of sleep, it is not unusual for an idea, or two or three to pop into my head. I let myself play with them in my head, in this semi-awake state. What if? How? Before long I am out of bed, energized by what it is I want to do. Something that I have to explore.

How do you connect with your voice? Understanding how, when and why can help us listen more closely, and increase the trust in our own voice. The last two days I have been in my studio working madly on several ideas I had this Sunday. Some of them may go nowhere. Some may need more time and inspiration. But I am engaged, and ready for the next idea...whenever and wherever it pops into my head.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Letting Go

On my quest to find out what I really wanted to be when I grew up....which began at of the jobs I held for about a year was selling rugs. These were area rugs. Some were machine made, but most were hand knotted. They were from Tibet, Pakistan, India, China, and other places I do not recall. Some had silk in with the wool giving them a gorgeous luster. I loved taking in the colors and patterns. And I enjoyed trying to find just the right rug for someone's needs.

One of the stories you learn when you sell rugs, is that the weavers intentionally create an error in their rug. Somewhere there is a mistake. The story goes, that the reason for this is that only God is perfect. To try to achieve perfection as a human would be arrogant. To accept your humanity is to accept your imperfection.

I thought of this story recently. I have been going back and re-reading some books that I have mentioned here, or books that I have learned of elsewhere about the creative process. One of the biggest blocks people have is letting go of that need for utter perfection. The work is never good enough to move on and put it out into the world for others to see.

Another thought that occurred to me as I recalled this story is...what about human knees? If everything created by God (or whatever higher power you may choose) is perfect, how do you explain our knees? I say this as someone who sports a very long scar on my left knee. Unfortunately, my knee failed about a year before arthroscopic surgery was introduced. But back to the design of our knees. If our knees were cars...they would have been recalled. There are design flaws in our knees. They are not meant to stand up to what we subject them to. Yet I would be the first to say their is absolute perfection in the human body. One of my favorite things to draw is people. Faces, forms, whatever. Young, old. It does not matter. It captivates all of us.

So how can this be. Can perfection co-exist with flaw. Absolutely. In our work as well. Perfection is when we know that we have reached a point with our work that we can not go any further. We have reached the limit of our skills and talents perhaps. Further work would not add anything to the concept. And further efforts to try and improve it would only cause us to eventually dread even looking at it. We have gone as far as we are able.

I have a pen that I keep. It is the first pen I made that was covered with polymer clay. It has some very lame attempts at canework. And the finishing is horrific. But when I made that pen I was entranced. Thrilled with what I was able to do in my very first attempts at polymer clay. I have come a long way since then. But the pen was perfect for this reason. It opened me up to the possibilities. It started this journey for me. I still have many miles to go. But without that first step I never would have gotten to where I am now. Without letting go of that piece then, and trying to create another, and another, and yet another, I could not create any room for my skills to grow. The pen did what it was supposed to do. It is ugly. But it is perfect. Give yourself room for both.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Thinking outside the Photo Box

Images are everything in this business. Having pictures that can clearly show off your work is essential. Whether it is for jurying into shows, for postcards, magazine or book submissions, line need good pictures of your work.

Hiring a professional is the ideal solution. They know what they are doing. As with any service, getting recommendations is best. And one source is books and magazines. If a professional photographer took the pictures, they will have a photo credit.

But, if you are like me, and starting out, the cost of getting your work professionally photographed could be prohibitive. It is not unusual to pay $50 to $75 per final shot. A good photographer is worth that and more. I just don't have it in my budget right now.

Sometimes "do it yourself" is the only solution. With time, patience, and good equipment, you can get a decent result. But it does take practice, and ideally, you will invest in the right equipment. If you are going to do your own photography, I strongly recommend going to and looking at their photo booth set-ups. They are worth every penny. Be smart. Get the package deal. It may seem like a lot of money, but you will ultimately want it. I did it bit-by-bit, and wish over and over again that I had just bought the set-up right from the get go.

The photo booth set-up they sell is a has pop-up nylon cube, lights, gradient paper, and in some packages stands or specialty lights. The lights are full spectrum, long-life, low heat. The booth diffuses the light so you don't get any harsh shadows. And the gradient is what really makes your work stand out.

I started out with a blue gradient paper. Nature is a big influence in my work, and I associated blue with water and sky. When I looked at my pictures, that is what came to my mind. But it sometimes did not provide enough contrast to the work. Or it would sometimes look just "too" blue. Now when I look at some of those pictures, I want to turn the blue down.
Eventually I decided to try a gray background. I loved the way it worked with my vessels and with a larger piece of jewelry. I got that nice gradient, giving depth to the picture, and the colors popped against the gray. But when it came to shooting smaller pieces of jewelry, I was not so pleased. They would sit on the front end of the cube, and you did not see that dark gray color. It almost looked like a dirty white background. Not the look I was going for.
Yesterday I was down in the basement shooting pictures, and suddenly it dawned on me. Why did I set those small items down on the light colored portion of the paper? Was there a rule? If there was, who was going to enforce it? I put the paper in the larger cube, laying it flat, and pulled it forward. Set the piece of jewelry right where I wanted it on the gradient paper, and voila! I was getting the results I wanted. The black cord and edge of the piece disappear a bit, but the part of my work that most of my energy is focused on, the drawings, and layering over the drawings, comes to the forefront.
Being creative outside of the studio is as important as in it. In this case thinking outside of the photo box was called for. Now I have lots of pictures to retake. But I think I will be happier with the end result.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Color Play

Maggie Maggio has had some great tutorials on her website Smashing Color. ( I am a color junkie and have been for years. I have no intention of giving up my addiction. Playing with color feeds some essential part of who I am.

Most of what I know about has come from playing around with fabrics, or painting classes, or just simple trial and error. Five years spent doing custom window treatments helped me expand my color palette beyond what I was naturally drawn to. I had to explore colors I normally did not play with. I learned to see the subtlties of color. All the myriad shades of colors. I learned to look for the undertone in a color. And I learned how to help my clients see these variations so that we could select the best fabrics.

I feel fairly confident in my use of color, but after playing around with her tutorials, I have come away learning even more, and gaining greater insight and confidence. If you love to use color, I highly recommend her tutorials.

I have had mosaics on my mind lately. Specifically micromosaics. I think some links posted by Susan Rose in her blog, Polymer Clay Notes, ( were a part of the reason why. I was fascinated by an artist she profiled who did the most amazing work with thin threads of glass creating intricate mosaics. It got my mind stirring.

I would love to play with micromosaics in polymer at some time, but I just don't have the time right now for that type of fine work. But I wanted to try and translate it into polymer clay in a way that was more manageable. So I started playing with some color blends inspired by Maggie, and then out came my extruder. I started extruding threads of clay, but doing it with stacks of colors from a Skinner Blend. I didn't really know exactly where I was going with all of this. But, some cutting, smushing, and slicing later, I came up with some fun color block patterns which have a slight reminiscence of mosaic. Here are two variations of sheets of clay I created for folding cranes.

I had fun playing with this idea, and I am sure I will revisit it in other forms in the future. Has Maggie's blog inspired you to try something new?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Gravity always wins. Not just on my body, in the waning days of my forties. But also everywhere around me.

I don’t know if it is because I am off to some other task before I get a chance to put things neatly away, or if it is just that there is just no place to put some of it. Whatever the reason, I seem to want to defy the rules of gravity. Piles amass on my worktables. At my desk. Or even in the kitchen sink when I am really in the throes of a creative whirlwind. ;-)

I want to be better about it all. I look at pictures of people's work spaces and they are immaculate and orderly. And then I go into my studio. Piles of things are everywhere. I have a sense of where things are, but there is no orderliness. No neat here. I am weak, inadequate. Shame creeps in. I need to do something about this. But then somewhere in the “mess” I see something that needs my attention. And that is where it goes. I am busy creating again. In my six square inches of free space. Pushing back the pile to create a little room.

Eventually the piles do begin to succumb to gravity. As cranes were flying out of my studio as fast as I could make them this fall, the pile of scrap clay began to grow. The rounded mound of clay became a mountain. Then a more jagged and sharply rising mountain. Then the avalanches began. So I found another box and transferred some of the clay there. A smaller box, but enough to tide me over for a while till I figured out what to do with all this clay. Now two mountains of clay have the occasional “rock slides”. I still don’t know what to do with all this clay!

Yet these precarious piles can have inspiration in them.

I recently had the idea pop into my head ….what if I took some cranes and made a piece that was a stack of cranes. Cranes on cranes on cranes. All sizes. “Peace Rally” was born. The crane on the tail defying gravity, but right where it belongs.

Yesterday, I was working on making earring cards. I was not in love with what I was making. But it was the best solution I had for now. But then as my eyes wandered the room, I saw some patterned paper. ….hmmmm…… Now I was energized to take on this task with vigor. I was cutting, gluing, sticking….I had no idea if this was going to work, but in my zealousness, I created about 20 cards. I brought them upstairs to where most of my earrings were, and began to put the earrings on the cards. Yes! This was much better. Misplaced enthusiasm…..maybe. But one thing I have learned over the last few years, is that the details of how you present your work matters. It is a niggling detail, just like finishing, that sometimes we would prefer to skip right through. But in the end, it affects the way your work is received. Will it change the sales of my earrings? I don’t know. But I do know that I am happier about presenting them this way than anything I had before.
The reality is, I am not a person who works best with too much order. There is inspiration in that mess. Something catches my eye and makes me what to go off and explore a new path. So even when I have cleaned things up, there is still some messiness. I can never finish the job with out finding myself itching to get to work on a new idea.

If you are naturally orderly….enjoy that state. Order has beauty. I just can’t seem to make it work in my life. If you are messy like me, stop beating yourself up so much. Sometimes that mess is there for a reason.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Follow Up

Alison Lee, of, recently interviewed one of the authors, of the book Art & Fear, Ted Orland. I had written about this book and how transformative it was for me in a recent post. (Thank You Donald Murray) You can listen to her podcast of the interview. ( ) It was great to hear the author talking about the evolution of the book and his latest work. Be sure to check it out. Alison has had some wonderful interviews in her podcasts. Each time I am left wanting to see the artist’s work, or learn more about them. You can subscribe to her podcasts on iTunes, or just listen to the interviews on her website.

I also wrote about the Art Salon group I belong to that has been meeting for the last year. ( )
This group has been a wonderful supportive network of women/artists. Each of us is looking to grow as artists and business people, and we have found this to be one way to help that happen. Today’s meeting welcomed three new artists into the group. It was a fun meeting of sharing stories and a few dreams. There was lots of laughter along the way. As we each shared our stories, there was always some recognition. Something in another person’s story that connected us with one another.

Too often we go through life thinking that everyone else has it all figured out. “They” know what they are doing. “We” however, are somehow bumbling through, still trying to figure out what it is we are supposed to be doing. The one thing we all shared today was lives full of changes. Jobs, relationships, moving. Each one of those changes bringing us closer to who we really are. Each time learning a little more about what makes us tick. Straight lines might be the shortest distance between two points. But the zigs and zags of life sure make things interesting! They are what builds spirit, resiliency, and perspective. Hearing the stories of others can bring perspective to our own life travels as well.

One of our participants shared a story about a technique she loved to do. Early on, someone dissuaded her from pursuing it. She couldn’t make enough money doing it. It was labor intensive. People would not pay enough for it. So she spent the next several years trying to figure out what she should do instead. What should she make? Now she is coming back to the process she loved, but abandoned for awhile. Now she has a greater understanding of her own connection with this process. It may be indulgent to pursue working in this area. But if the indulgence feeds an essential part of who she is, is that a mistake? If this is how she is most satisfied in expressing herself in her work, is it the wrong path? And maybe by exploring this path further, she will find ways to make it work for her. I can’t wait to see what comes of this new direction in her work.

You can see the work of these talented and amazing women at their websites:
Paula Barry, Wallace Hill Pottery:
Sandra McCaw,
Sara Matias, Bumpy Beeler Designs,

Their work is inspiring. But having the chance to meet and begin to know each of these women today was even more inspiring. Zig-zaggers all three. But women with more depth and richness as a result. I look forward to spending more time with them in the future.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Not Ready Yet

One of the most frequent reasons people give for not selling their work, or applying to juried shows, or submitting to magazines, or you name it… that they are "not ready yet.” This may be true. They may have more work to do to get to the point that some of these moves make sense.

But really, how do you know when you are ready? What will be the signal that now is the time? Or is it really just another way of avoiding the anxiety of putting your work out into the public venue? More importantly, can you ever be fully ready before you get yourself out there?

I don’t think I have ever really been ready for any major change in my life. From going off to college, moving to a new city on my own, getting married, having kids, starting a business, etc. Each of these moves created anxiety. But each one was an opportunity to grow. To learn more about myself. More about what I had already learned in my life, and more about what I did not know.

I have worked in a lot of different “industries”. I sold industrial gases. I was a product manager for hydrogen, for industrial tapes, and for ophthamological instruments. I had my own business creating custom window treatments. I sold rugs. I spent a few years learning about the world of children’s book publishing. I even spent about 2 weeks doing telemarketing for affinity credit cards. Obviously I was not cut out for that last job. What I learned in all these different jobs is that each industry has its own vocabulary, and its own standards.

This is no different in the world of craft. Just like any other industry, there are ways to learn. Part of it is learned on the job. Immersing your self into the actual work. Part of it is learned from others who have more experience. And part of it can be learned in classes, seminars, from books or magazines.

One of the advantages of the internet is the world of forums and mail list groups. You can have access to a wide range of knowledge and information. You can get the opinion of two or twenty-two different voices. Discussion groups can be a place with occasional emotional outbursts or catfights. But if you can tolerate some of that, you may also find a wealth of information from people who have already traveled the path you are looking to go down. I have learned many important lessons, or found valuable resources through these groups.

It helps to be able to ask questions. It is okay to not know everything right away. It is okay to give yourself time to respond if you don’t have an answer right away. Not knowing everything is the worst excuse to sit on the sidelines. You will never know everything. Ever. The world is forever changing. What was true five or ten years ago may no longer be true. This is especially true in the world of craft. Those with experience may be having an even harder time trying to figure out the shifting terrain of the world of craft, than those who are new and open to exploring options.

The internet has changed the game. 9/11 changed the terrain. Imports, Target, Pier One, and more are changing the market. DIY, HGTV are changing our customers. Esty, EBay, The Guild, and more are changing the way people buy. What used to be true, may no longer be so.

Who knows where the craft world will be in ten years. I know I will be there in some way. Will you? Or will you be ten years older, and still getting “ready”? How will you know when you are ready?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Behind the Curtain

A turning point in The Wizard of Oz movie is when Dorothy and her crew find out the wizard is really just an ordinary person hidden behind the curtain. The power they had bestowed upon the Wizard was really just imagery filled in by their imaginations. They wanted him to be great and powerful, so he was. Looking behind the curtain can remove some of the mystery and the artifice around an image or idea. But it can also make the inaccessible, more accessible.

This idea of looking behind the curtain keeps bubbling up in my head lately. I guess part of what I am trying to do is to pull back the curtain so you can look around. The life of an artist/artisan is surrounded by a sense of wonder and mystery for a lot of people. It is one thing to be creative and make something for yourself or for your family. But how do you get from there to where your work is on display in shops or galleries, or your work is on display at shows? This is where all the mystery and questioning seems to begin. “What makes them different from me?”

Aside from the fact that I was now running a business, I now had to think about creating a cohesive collection of work. I had to consider the process of making my work. Is this the best way to make this piece? What else could I do with it? Is my finishing as good as it could be, or needs to be? How can I change this design to reduce my price? Or can I? Some of these questions were raised by feedback I got as I began to present my work to potential customers.

It sometimes takes a thick skin to be able to stand up to the scrutiny of others. But it also can help you see things about your work you might never have noticed. Good and bad.

I am a color junkie. I love to play with color. And it is one of the things about my work that draws people in. But I have come to understand more specifically what it is about the colors I use and the variations in intensity that people react to. Somehow, when I am immersed in making a piece, I have lost the view of the forest. I am focusing in more and more on the details. When I create a vessel, I may spend many, many hours over the course of a week working on a particular piece. I develop a relationship with it almost! I know each piece with an intimacy that no one else could. I know every detail about how it was created. So when I look at a group of vessels together, I am seeing them as the individuals they were for me. But someone seeing my work for the first time is seeing the collection. They are getting struck by a general sense that I could no longer see. What they feed back to me, helps feed me, and helps me grow in understanding my own work.

I used to focus my energy on my favorite steps in the process of creating. Other steps were just done to get through. Not really engaging me fully. Or I struggled with them. I couldn’t wait for a particular step to be done, as I fought my way through. But in the end, my lack of attention showed. I had to learn to pay closer attention. Refine and hone my skills in those areas, or the whole piece did not live up to its potential. Some of that feedback was difficult to hear, no matter how nicely it was delivered. But it was valuable information. I look at where my work is now, after working on those issues, and where it was before….and I can see the improvements. They matter to me. They may not be noticeable to someone who was not previously familiar with my work. But I see them. I know the struggle that went into it. I know what I have learned. And I know where I still struggle.

This intimacy with the material, the process, and the work is what is gained when you dive in with the commitment of making a career out of it. You learn the limits of your material, and you learn how to push those boundaries.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Let the Jury Decide

Too often, artists jury themselves out of shows or competitions. They see a show they would love to do. Or a competition they would love to enter. But then the self-doubt begins to take over. Those nasty little voices that many of us carry around with us. “Are you crazy?" "You’ll never get in." "They won’t like your work." "You’re not good enough.”

Who says so?

Until you are on the jury, let the jury do that work. If you want to try and get into a show, or enter a competition, go ahead. Do it. You may not get in. I have one show I enter every year. And each time, I end up on the wait list. Purgatory. Not good enough to get in, but almost….But I keep trying. Eventually I may cross that line.

Enter that contest. It will push you to go further in your work. You will look at it with more scrutiny, and maybe learn something that you normally would overlook. And who knows, you might just win a prize, or receive recognition for your work.

Submit your work to that magazine. They have 6 to 12 issues to produce every year. Each issue has 15 to 20 articles. Who is to say that your work is not good enough? Let the editor decide that.

Your job is to get into the studio and do the very best work that you can. And continue to try and make your work better. To explore the boundaries of where you can go with your work. And then to put your work out there. Let others see and appreciate what you have created. You might experience rejection. Sure. But you might just be jumping up and down with joy when you get that email or letter that says “You’re in.” If you’re like me, you’ll get both! Go ahead. Take a chance.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Right Brain, Left Brain

We often like to find simple answers to things. We want to be able to categorize people or events in to the right box. One way of sorting used by many is whether someone is “right brain” or “left brain”. The thinking goes that those who are left brain dominant are better at math and science. Logic oriented. Facts matter. Those who are “right brain” dominant are the creative types. Artists, writers, musicians, etc.

This was based on research done by neuroscientist Roger Sperry looking at people who had a split brain. The link between the two hemispheres of their brains had been severed to treat epilepsy. Some of these people were subjects in a study by Sperry to look at how our brain behaves in certain tasks. The book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain was based on some of this research.

So if we can be divided by which hemisphere of our brain dominates, how do you explain people like me? I have loved to draw from the time I was quite young. But I was also very good at math and science. My degrees are in chemistry and business, not art. My dad was an engineer who worked at Lincoln Labs doing research. But he also pursued painting and woodworking as hobbies at various times in his life. And, he was an amateur actor, and self-taught musician. Which box do you put us into?

When I began to work with polymer clay I was fascinated to learn about artists like Nan Roche ( ), who is a scientist with NIH in her full time job. Yet she wrote the book about polymer clay, The New Clay. And Kathleen Dustin ( , who is one of the leading artists in this media, has a degree in mathematics. Julia Sober ( ), who is an award winning polymer clay artist, is also a Radiation Safety Officer. And the amateur ranks swell with many more examples of the same dichotomy of talent.

This has always fascinated me. Then one Sunday morning, as I was driving to a show, I was listening to NPR on the radio and the program Studio 360 was on. The program was looking at this very issue of the right brain/left brain dichotomy. Can we really be divided so neatly?

Well, the answer is not really. It is more likely that we are training other parts of our brain to be engaged in certain activities when we go through exercises as described in the book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Not that this is a bad thing. But the left brain is not shutting down. The left brain actually is more focused on details, while the right brain is looking at overall patterns. So engaging both parts of the brain in the task is the ultimate goal. Letting each side of the brain play on its particular strengths.

Creativity, it turns out, is not determined so much by our right brain, as it is by drive. The balance between the front and back of the brain is what really seems to make the difference. It is not the natural talent that distinguishes as much as the drive.

So we can learn to draw, or sculpt, write or play a musical instrument. But without the drive, creative work does not evolve. Perhaps this is why you hear over and over again from artists of all sorts that their work is something they have to do. That drive propels them to write, draw, or compose. They are driven to create.

Maybe it is time to rethink those boxes. Are you who you thought you were?

You can hear the full broadcast from NPR here:

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Noise, Noise, Noise, NOISE, Noise!

I wish I could say that I was one of those people who has a "practice" of meditation. That each day I would go to a certain place and follow my practice of meditation. But I am not.

That being said, I do have to say that meditation has taught me alot about observation, and about being better able to quiet all the noise around me. This quiet is the only way I know to be able to really find my "voice". To be able to listen to the ideas that surface. They mostly come to me at other times, when I am not in a meditative state. But it was through meditation that I learned how to focus and turn up the volume on that tiny little voice that pipes up from time to time, and might otherwise be drowned out.

Sometimes I am not even aware of the level of background noise that is constantly around. I am always amazed when there is a power outage at how much quieter everything is. The constant background hum of motors is silenced. Suddenly the "tick,...tick,...tick,..." of my battery run clock is the loudest noise around. And when the power goes back on, it is not just lights or blinking LED's that signal it's return. It is the rising hum and whir.

It is easy to fill in the blanks with sound and other stimulation. Turning on the TV or radio, listening to an iPod, or even getting on the computer, are all done with such ease that it is not even conscious most of the time. Just habit. I am an NPR junkie. I can rattle off the schedule of my favorite local NPR station with way too much ease. It is on in my studio, in my car, in the kitchen. I even wake up to it most mornings! But lately I find the need to just turn it off a bit more often.

I became more aware of the power that silence has through guided meditation. I used to hate to meditate. I thought I couldn't, actually. But when it was finally explained to me that all those thoughts about everything I had to do that start pouring through my brain are absolutely normal. All I had to do was gently guide my attention away from them, and back to my breath. The noises in the background. Observe them and then go back to your breath. That was it. No right or wrong really. Just gentle attention and focus. I could do that.

I found it was just the remedy I needed at those times when I thought my head was going to explode from all the things I was trying to juggle. It calmed me down, and focused my energy.

One of the most amazing things I observed during meditation was the pause. The space between the inhale and the exhale. When your breathing slows down, and your focus increases that pause becomes another moment in time. To me, it was almost like time was suspended for a moment. And I guess there are days that this is exactly what I am craving. "Stop the clock! Let me breath for a minute!" With meditation I was able to do that. It really takes slowing down and focusing to observe the pause. And if we can observe the pause, what other things are there that we can observe if we just slow down and focus.

If you have never meditated. Give it a try. If you used to meditate. Try it again. You don't have to do it everyday. But you might want to. For me, it is the perfect antidote to a harried life, and a valuable tool for an artist's life.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Thank you Donald Murray

On and off again, I would read the column of Donald Murray in the Boston Globe. While he was of a different generation, his simple reflections offered in his column, entitled Now and Then, were genuine. He often offered insight into who we are as human beings, and why we do the things we do. In addition to being a writer, Mr. Murray was an amateur artist. Late in life he began to draw again, and wrote about it in his column.

In one of these columns, he talked about a book called Art and Fear, ( written by David Bayles and Ted Orland. He enthusiastically described the book and said he loved it so much he would buy it and give it to friends. That anyone and everyone should read it. On his recommendation, I bought the book. I have since recommended it to many, many people.

One lesson from the book that I loved, was about "bad" work. You make something awful. You absolutely hate it. It has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The usual response is to take this as proof that you are lacking in any talent or creative abilities. "You might as well just throw in the towel. What were you ever thinking, anyway?" We are often in search of just this evidence. That we are not one of those talented people. Those creative types. They are just different than the rest of us.

What I learned from this book is to embrace the bad work along with the good. Look at the bad stuff as just some of what you have to do on the way to the good work. And, look at it as an opportunity. Yes, an opportunity.

You hate it. The only place it should go is in the trash, and fast. But, wait a minute. If you hate it so much, you can't possibly ruin it now. It is already destined for the garbage. So why not have some fun with it now. Do the outrageous and daring things you can't or won't do when it is precious. Throw some more stuff on it. Cut it up. Make it into something else. No matter what you do, you will not hate it anymore than you already did. And you might end up loving it when you begin to let loose. I have made some wonderful discoveries in this fashion.

I have seen this approach turn around a sullen thirteen year old, who hated what she had done. Suddenly she was re-engaged, and ended up producing something that she loved. The next day, she was early to class, and eager to have at it.

Learning the dangers of the "precious" is a valuable one. You would be surprised how liberating it can be.

Donald Murray passed away at the end of 2006. I will miss his wisdom and insight. But then again, some of it I will carry with me forever. Thank you Donald Murray. You helped this person learn a few valuable lessons, and in the process, opened many doors.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

This Little Light of Mine

You know the song, ..."This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine." Usually it is a group a adorable preschoolers or kindergarteners singing it. And all the admiring adults are hoping that they do let their little lights shine. We want them to grow in to the perfect and wonderful beings they have started to become.

But then, somewhere along the line, the light begins to diminish. Those same people sitting in the audience and beaming at those adorable kids have begun to temper the dreams and aspirations of those same beings with reality. Of course this is done to protect them. But the consequence of all this protection can be that light loses some oxygen and begins to fade.

My dad was an engineer. But when I was young, he used to paint. And he was really quite good. He could sit down and do some amazing sketches. I was in awe, and inspired. I remember watching him paint or draw, and wanting to be able to do that too. And I would spend many, many hours drawing pictures. My parents sent me to several art classes along the way, which I remember to this day. They were feeding something inside of me that was so essential to who I was. I was desperately absorbing as much as I could out of these experiences.

When I grew up, I wanted to be an artist.

But as I grew up other messages began to be absorbed. My dad stopped painting. To this day, I don't know why. And he is not around to ask. When I voiced my aspirations, I was told that this was a difficult path. I might not want to do that. It might be better to keep it a hobby. Only those who are really good can succeed at it. (You can spot the implication there, can't you?) All of this was done with the love and need to protect that we all feel as parents. It is hard to watch a child struggle, especially if we see a perfectly good, and easier path for them to follow.

At school, I was a good student. In particular, I was good at math and science. There are lots of good paying jobs that one can pursue with math and science. Not only was this message coming from home, but also at school. When it was time to figure out what I was going to do after high school, that little light still wanted to go to art school. But it could not compete with all the other voices in my head, and from the adults around me.

So I went to an engineering school and studied chemistry. By my junior year I realized I hated my choice, but did not see a way out at that point. I began taking business classes to create some new alternatives in my life. I liked marketing because it gave me room to be creative. When I graduated with my degree in chemistry, I went to work selling industrial gases. In Cleveland. Where I did not know a soul.

While I was in school, I was at least able to take some art classes. Yes they do have them at engineering schools! But once I was out of school, and trying to adapt to a new environment, I started to lose touch with that side of me. I began to take some classes here and there. It was my way of grounding myself. Unconsciously reconnecting with who I was. But I would not let myself take any of that seriously. Compliments from instructors or other students would not fully penetrate the armor I had built up by then.

I went on to get an MBA. Work in several different companies. Pursuing the jobs that I thought would make me happy. Changing companies to try and fix what was wrong. But none of those things worked. I still was only my happiest when I was creating.

But I still would not allow myself to see that this was my light that needed to shine.

It was only when I had kids, and gave myself permission to leave that world that the process of reconnecting began. That, several wonderful books, lots of work, and some therapy, have all helped me find and nuture that light.

So, how bright is your little light these days? Could it use some oxygen?

Try this out. Begin to write down the bits of your story. The parts where you learned your light was not as important as someone else's light. Or that it didn't quite shine the right way. Or that it was just plain silly. Write them all down. Put each one a separate piece of paper. And put them in a box. This may be something that you do in a day. Or for years. You can even decorate the box if you want! And this is not just for artists. Whatever light you

Now the object is to then take out a piece of paper and read each one. One by one. And ask yourself, "is this true"? "Do I have to believe this or hold on to this?" You may not be ready to let go of some of them yet. Some of them may be so deeply embedded into your sensibility by now that you can not see them, or let go of them yet. But when you are ready. Throw it away. Rip it up. Burn it. Get rid of it in anyway you choose. But let it go. Get rid of it, and you will start to feed a bit more oxygen to your light.

You know what is going to be in your head today...."this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine..."

It is not just for kindergarteners. Let your light out. Let it shine.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Color Travel

When I start to create a new piece, I nearly always start out with the question, "What is this one going to be?" I am surprised at how often a color, or color scheme that is my launching point for a piece. This is especially true when I am making cranes. But it also true with the vessels or the jewelry at times.

After my oldest daughter was born, I began a business making custom window treatments at home. I had been in the corporate world for about 13 years, in sales and marketing. But I hated my job, and traveled way too much. So I left that all behind. And began my journey into the entrepreneurial world.

There were several valuable things I got from the five years I spent doing window treatments. First off, I gained confidence in my ability to launch my own business. Secondly, I expanded my color vocabulary, and absorbed lots of patterns and designs. Color was so essential to what I was doing. And I was working in palettes that were not in my personal taste. But I had to "make it work". And I did. I began to fully appreciate the nuances of color when I began to try to find just the right fabric to go with someone's room.

I saw color combinations in fabrics that I never would have imagined, but that worked. It gave me courage to experiment more with color. I learned how colors interacted and played off of one another. And I learned how to distribute color in a room to give it a balanced feel. I found out that I was good at seeing the subtleties of color, and educating my customer about these undertones of color.

One of the other things I absorbed in this journey, was how often colors have associations. They may bring to mind emotions, or seasons. But I also believe they can evoke a sense of place. The cool blues, beiges and silvery grays of Scandinavia. The dusty, muted tones of an old English estate. Red, black and gold often bring to mind Asian art for me. Think tropics, and you may think of lush greens, vibrant reds, pinks, yellows. When I think of saffron, fuschia, teal and gold, I think of my friend's beautiful embroidered silk saris.

This can help me come up with inspiration at times. All I need is a color to begin the process. From there, I may think about a place to create the full palette and the tone. And then pattern or design follows suit.

Try a little color travel in your play some day. Think of a place you want to visit in your imagination, and bring that place to life in a color palette. You'd be amazed at the places you can go in an afternoon of color travel.

If want to know and understand more about color, check out the new blog by Maggie Maggio....Smashing Color. I am learning more each time I visit.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Group Hug

Groups can have infinitely more power than the individual. And artists, by nature, work in isolation. This isolation can be part of how we create. That time alone allows our creative voice to be heard. But when it comes to the business side of being and artist/craftsperson....that isolation can be deadly.

Many years ago, in my corporate incarnation, I found that the time spent talking with others about ideas or projects was often helpful. They might know something about what you are doing and be able to lend insight, or a shortcut, or steer you around possible problems. Also there was that annual process of setting goals. As much as I dreaded it each year, it did help to have a target. Something that you were working towards, that you could measure your success against. When you are working alone, it is easy to skip that process.

Last January, I began meeting with a group of artists, brought together by fellow polymer clay artist, Amy Crawley. We were mostly working in different media, and all had different products. But we shared a common goal of wanting to make our businesses more successful, and to figure out the best way to do that.

We had help. Alyson Stanfield has a free artist marketing program for groups to follow. The groups need to be made up of at least three committed members. They meet for at least nine sessions. And Alyson provides an agenda, and background information for each meeting. Amy recruited six other artists, and we began meeting last January. Only one person had to leave the group because of time constraints. But the rest of us came together every few weeks, and over time became a tight knit group.

There were things that Alyson tells you to do, that most of us would just as soon skip over. The 30 second, and 10 second introductions for one. But Amy stuck to the program, and it paid off. We all became better at being able give that succinct intro to a stranger, or shop/gallery owner. Practice does make things easier.

And we set goals. Where did we want to be in a year? In five years? We shared these goals, out loud, with one another. It is one thing to think about these questions. It is another to write them down. But the real power comes from verbalizing them to others. It requires courage and trust. But it also means that you are accountable on some level. And you have support. When you share your goals, you now have the eyes, ears and wisdom of the group to help you along the way.

We have all grown in many ways. Our businesses have grown. Our confidence as business women has increased. We have learned more about standard business practices in this world of fine art and craft. We now have a group to go to when we have a question. An email out to the group usually generates several responses in a few hours. And for those more prickly issues, there is an active discussion. Ultimately, we as individuals still make the decisions about what we do. But, we have had the opportunity to talk with others, and sort through our options. And they know first hand, the issues we each face. Our spouses may be supportive and knowledgeable, but they don't necessarily have the knowledge and experience in the world we travel.

Our group continues to meet, beyond the nine meetings suggested by Alyson. This month we will be inviting some other artists to join us for brunch, and to share what it is we learned by working together like this. Perhaps some new groups will be born that day. Given my own experience, I hope so.

Check out the work of my fellow artisans:

Amy Crawley: polymer clay and mixed media artist
Gayle Joseph: Ceramics
Deb Malone: decorative painting, and now, soups!
Martha Munroe: fine artist and 3-D images
Linda Williamson: Photography

And a big group hug goes out to all of them.

Monday, January 1, 2007


Resolve to have fun this year. Resolve to do something you love to do, but never seem to have the time to do anymore. Make it managable. Read one book. Paint one picture. Laugh nearly every day.

This wisdom is from a sermon I heard some 11 or 12 years ago by Unitarian Universalist minister Patrick O'Neill, who at the time was the senior minister at the First Parish of Framingham, MA. Too often the resolutions we make are to fix what is wrong. We focus our lense intently on our flaws, and fail to celebrate life and what is good in us and in others. Some things don't need to be fixed. They are perfect just the way they are. And maybe if we spent a little less time fixing up what is failing, we would have more time to enrich what is so wonderful in each of us.

So when you sit down to make a list, or as you ponder the idea of a resolution while you rush through your life, think about what makes you special. What brings you joy? Resolve to focus a bit more on that this year. You would be surprised at how much power to deal with our imperfections is gained by strengthening that which is already quite wonderful about us. And if you are stuck by this question, find someone who can help you answer the question. Or, think about what you loved to do when you were a kid. Chances are, whatever that was, some version of it will still bring you happiness today.

This year, grow a little joy, and spread it around.