Okay, I guess I am exaggerating a bit. But I do believe I have found out how to feel young, on the inside at least. Do work you love. Work that propels you out of bed in the morning. Work that feels more like breathing than working.
I have had many jobs in the past. None has been as gratifying as this one. Others have paid better.....way, way better. But each came with a price. For years, I went into a funk on Sunday night. Like clockwork, I would see my mood start to dip as Sunday began, and by Sunday night I was in a deep funk. Tomorrow meant going to work. To a job, or workplace that I would rather avoid.
Those jobs paid the bills. No doubt about that. I got to travel quite a lot in some of them. In some cases gaining airline miles that let me go on some nice trips. I made many friends, and learned a lot about so many differrent things. But each day felt like I was strapping a heavy weight on, dragging it through my day. It made me feel older on the inside.
Reality check here. I was recently mailed my AARP card in anticipation of my upcoming fiftieth birthday. I am not as young as I feel. But I do feel young inside. How young you feel colors everything about how you approach the world.
Part of youth is the newness of it all. So many things to explore and discover. Been there, done that, seen it may sound like an expression of youth. But the reality is that it is the youth trying on the cynicism of their elders. No one who is young wants to be young! I got some great advice about a decade ago as I approached my 40th birthday. A neighbor told me her secret to stay feeling young was to challenge herself to do something new, something scary, something she had never done before each year. There is something to be said for this approach to life.
I get out of bed each morning, propelled by the thoughts of work that needs to be done. I do not roll over and hide my head under the pillow, wondering if I could call in sick. Asking myself when I last took a "mental health" day. Sure, I am a moving a bit slower, yet there is still a bounce in my step.
I do not believe that you need to be an artist for this to happen. It is about doing in the work you are meant to do. Work that is life sustaining rather than draining. Work that does not feel like work. I have talked to, heard, or read about people in all walks of life who experience this. There was an 89 year old woman I saw on a PBS program who was still working each day as a stockbroker. She was sharp as a tack. Tell me that work can't be life sustaining.
Financially, this work has not been rewarding on any level. More like draining! There are aspects to doing this as a business that do feel like work. But the good parts propel me forward through the dull stuff. I am in the early stages of my business, and the sales are growing rapidly, but so are the expenses. I am fortunate enough to have a family who is supportive of my work. They like me happy more than having the extras in life. My kids would tell you they are the only kids on the planet who have not yet gone to Disneyland. The house needs so much work it scares me sometimes. But it really can wait. We have started replacing windows. Slowly. My kids are becoming bargain shoppers. And my daughter has started her own business.
I do wish I had the courage and the vision to do a long time ago what I am doing now. I have a second job as "mom" right now. It doesn't pay one cent, but it is time consuming. I could have gotten that second job and gone down this path sooner. I didn't. But at least I finally found my way here. Are you on the right path? Have you figured out which path that is for you? Or are you plotting your next mental health day?
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Okay, I guess I am exaggerating a bit. But I do believe I have found out how to feel young, on the inside at least. Do work you love. Work that propels you out of bed in the morning. Work that feels more like breathing than working.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Did I make my point? lol! What is such a must? Mailing lists, of course. If you are in the business of selling art/craft and do not have a mailing list, it is the equivalent of professional suicide.
A mailing list is the collection of names and addresses (email or snail mail, or both) of anyone and everyone who might want to know about any shows or announcements that you have coming up. You've heard the expression about the tree falling in the woods...does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it? Well, if you do a show and don't let anyone know will you reach your full potential??
Collecting names, and beginning your mailing list is not terribly difficult. Begin with names of friends and associates. Anyone and everyone you know who might have some interest in your business, or seeing your work. I began with the personal address book, the school and church directories, and neighbors. Not every single person from those sources, but those who knew me and perhaps knew that I was trying to make a business from my art.
From there I began collecting names and addresses at shows. Some came from those who purchased work from me. Some people stop here. They limit the list to those who have purchased their work in the last few years. "True" collectors.
I add the wannabes as well. People who want to own my work, but for whatever reason have not purchased it at a show so far. I know I could not possibly own work from every artist whose work I adore, let alone admire, at the few shows I attend each year. But, what if the stars were to align just so. I am feeling flush. I get a postcard from one of those artists whose work I adore but do not own. I am able to go to the show, and was not even aware that it was coming up, or that this artist would be there. Now might be the time that I can finally indulge myself in a piece of their work. You want to create those opportunities for yourself. Will every postcard or email generate a sale. No. But I have seen visible evidence at shows that they do bring people to a show to see you and your work. And in the end that is what you want to achieve.
And what about the people who do not come to the show. Well, we all know how busy life can be. I cannot possibly attend every show I would like to. But each time I receive a postcard from an artist such as Elise Winters (www.elisewinters.com) or Barbara Sperling (www.beadunique.com), I get a reminder of that artist. I get to have them in my head again for the next several days as the postcard floats around my house and studio. Again, is that such a bad thing? I may wear my earrings that they made several times that week because they are in my head. And someone may see them and ask about them. And then they may have a new potential customer out there.
The postcard may well go right into the recycle bin. That happens. But, even if only a few opportunities get created, it is worth the time and effort. It is a way we show our collectors and fans that we care about them. We want to see them again. We want them to know where we will be and what we have been up to lately.
In addition to my mailing list for retail shows, I have a mailing lists of shops and galleries. Some of these are places that have contacted me after seeing my work. Others are places I have seen in magazines such as American Style or profiled on the wholesale website I am on, and believe that they may be a good fit for my work. As I approach my first wholesale show this spring, I will be putting that list to work for me.
I maintain my list in a simple spreadsheet/database. I can sort by zipcode for shows. The information can then be downloaded into a word processing program to print out labels for the postcards. And then I (or my kids) will spend an hour or two putting stickers and stamps on the postcards. This task can be done in front of the television. Or if you are lucky enough to have someone to help you, it can be a great chance to sit and talk while you work.
Not on my mailing list and want to be added? Send me an email. judyATjudydunn.net. I'll be happy to add your name. Snail mail, email, or both. And thanks in advance.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
This Friday, Alison Lee of Craftcast will have a podcast of an interview she conducted with Alyson Stanfield of Art Biz Coach. Alyson is known for helping artists learn more about how to run a business. She does this through on-line classes, seminars, and her Art Salon program, which I have mentioned previously.
If you have not discovered Alison Lee's podcast interviews yet, I highly recommend them. Each one is under an hour, and she interviews a wide range of artists or authors in many different media. They have included polymer clay artists such as Donna Kato (last week), and Elise Winters. I enjoy the range of interviews. While the media may be different, the issues we all face in the creative journey are often similar. If you missed any of her previous interviews you can download them for free on iTunes. You can subscribe on iTunes as well and be notified each time a new podcast is available. Just try to listen to them when no one is around. I find I get so engrossed in her discussions with the artists that any interruptions by kids or my husband creates too much frustration. I don't want to miss a word!
Friday, February 16, 2007
I have talked about Julia Cameron's book The Artist Way before. This book was so helpful to me in finding my way towards expressing myself creatively, that I guess it has become something of a sacred book to me. One of the tools she recommends having in your artist tool box is something she calls Artist Dates.
Artist Dates to me, are just play dates. Times when you go to the park just to take in the beauty of nature, perhaps with camera in hand. Visit a museum, explore the possibilities of a trip to the Dollar Store with $10 to spend. Go to a movie by yourself so that you can really take it in without distraction. Play around with some other media with no other intention but playing.
Watch a group of preschoolers approach art supplies and there is no hesitation. No one is asking, "What should I do?" The biggest question is probably what color they want to use. Then maybe they are thinking about what they will draw, build, mold, paint or whatever. But only after they are well immersed into the media. There is no over thinking.
Put the same supplies out in front of a group of adults and the reaction is very different. There is probably a lot less abandon. And there is a great deal of hesitation, and probably discussion. And most of that discussion will go along the lines of how inadequate they are at drawing, or painting, or sculpting, or whatever. Before they have begun interacting with the medium, they are already judging the outcome. Explaining their inadequacies to all who are present.
Sometimes that fearlessness of the preschooler is what we need more of. The advantage to working in some other media, or perhaps in a technique that is outside of what you might normally do, is that you can reconnect with that sense of playful exploration. That is when we allow our creative voice to emerge. Get a coloring book and a box of crayons if that is what it takes to remember how to have fun with your art. Or maybe some Playdoh. The smell alone is likely to bring back feeling of happiness buried deep down in your creative soul. Glue something. Get out the glitter or pipe cleaners. Build a snow creature. Give yourself permission to just have some fun.
Not everything has to have a purpose or be justified to anyone else. I know trying to explain to the more straight-laced folks in your life that you spent your day coloring may not be something you want to do. But maybe they need a little coloring time, too.
So why is this so important? Because until we can shut that critical voice up, or at least turn down the volume, it is impossible to find your voice. Until you let yourself explore without boundaries or too many rules, you will forever being limiting your own potential. And the world needs and wants you to live up to your most amazing self.
Plan a play date. And make sure you do not go months in between these times of play. They will recharge your creative batteries. If you wait until you are depleted, it will take longer to get back in touch with yourself again. Just like a professional athlete would not skip their training, if you take your art seriously, you need to take care of your creative soul.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
One of the blogs I like to visit from time to time is called the Accidental Creative. A recent post about expectations (http://tinyurl.com/2zd7yv) struck a cord with me. Some of the points he talks about are ones that I have touched on here before; the perfect image in our heads that our work never measures up to, and the opinions of others about our work and how that can influence our creative process. But one area that he discusses, which I have thought about, but not written about before is that of hero worship.
The idea is that we are struck by the work of another, and an imitative process develops. At first this imitation can be slavish. Eventually the voice of the maker should emerge. But sometimes that new and unique voice can be still influenced by the "hero". There is a question, conscious or subconscious about direction. Is this how she/he would do this? It may be a lack of confidence in our own abilities to adequately interpret the technique and give it a new life. Or perhaps a fear that we will not be honoring our hero by straying too far away from their point of view. The questions he poses in this regard are a good ones...."Is my worship of the work of others affecting my creativity? Is my desire for the "benefits" of their success clouding my creative vision?
When I started working with polymer clay almost four years ago I began by getting several books and experimenting and learning as much as I could. One of the books was Foundations of Design in Polymer Clay by Barbara MacGuire. On the cover of the book is one of Kathleen Dustin's heart shaped vessels/purses. I was in awe of that piece. It motivated me to learn more and more about this material.
I began experimenting with translucent clay and layering translucent clay. I went up to the New Hampshire Craftsman's Guild show at Sunapee that first year, and was thrilled to see that Kathleen Dustin was there with her work. Seeing her work in person made me more in awe of what she had accomplished.
Eventually I was able to take a class with Kathleen. So many of the questions I had about "how" were finally answered. But now the real work began. I knew in my heart, that as much as I loved the work she did, trying to do exactly what she does would always feel empty. Both in the results and in the process. I had to take what I learned from her, and figure out how to make it my own.
It is virtually impossible to work with this technique and not see Kathleen's influence. Initially, I was hearing the things that Kathleen taught us in the class, and trying to stick to the process as taught. But over time I have been wandering off the path, so to speak. Accidental discoveries. Or changes in the process that better suit who I am as an artist. The goal is not to deny her inspiration, but just to find my own way with the knowledge she has shared. Develop my own designs, my own palette and subject matter. To bring my experience and influences to the work.
I cannot be Kathleen Dustin, and the universe does not need me to be Kathleen Dustin. But I am thankful that she teaches the technique that she uses. It has set me on a path of exploration that is loaded with possibilities. Who inspires you to learn more about your media? Are you trying to work in their shadow, or have you been giving yourself the space to discover your own interpretation? Wandering off the beaten path may seem scary. Yet look at the long lines at the roller coaster rides at an amusement park. Scary can be exciting and exhilirating. Break a rule. Scare yourself with your work. Step outside where you have been before. And above all, enjoy the ride.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I have been playing around with several new ideas lately. It is exciting and scary all at the same time. The new is filled with limitless potential I suppose. But is also on unsteady ground. We have not traveled this path before, and there seem to be more questions than answers. So many decisions and choices to make.
At some point, sharing the work with others can help clear out some of the confusion....sometimes. I am learning that not all audiences are equal. And in the end, your voice or vision is the one that makes the final choices.
I recently shared a few pieces with someone who is close to me, and yet, over the years, has shown she is not so certain about my choices in career, or that she shares my aesthetic. But my enthusiasm outpaced my judgement. The feedback was less than helpful or encouraging, and very vague. Knowing someone well means you can read between the lines much more easily. For two days I was annoyed by some of what was said, and it definitely started me questioning my direction.
After two days of funkiness, the reality of what had happened surfaced again. This person has never been a person who has the knowledge, experience, insight, etc. to be able to really offer a good critique. What did I expect from her? And was she capable of giving it to me? That was the real question to be answered. And when I was honest, the answer was no.
I took those same pieces, and a few other new ones to our Art Salon meeting this past weekend. And the areas that I felt unsure about were zeroed in on by several people. While it seems like this should make me feel more insecure about the work, their feedback gave me the insight I needed to make the pieces stronger. And they pointed out something that needed work that up until then I was just ignoring. They helped me see what I could not see. And they also shared with me what they liked, or dare I say, loved, about the work.
The feedback was broad and specific. It cover the positive and the negative. It was honest, but not brutal in any way shape or form. As I have begun to rework some of these pieces I am realizing the gift I have been given. Their insight will be with me as I move forward. There are several other voices I carry in my head. People who offered me an intelligent insight who have been able to help me strengthen my work. They have strengthened muscles in a way. The focus on a detail or aspect of my work that needed more attention.
So far, the changes have made a big difference. They did not give me solutions to the problems so much as help me see the direction I needed to work towards. They opened a door I did not see. Thanks, guys!
Saturday, February 10, 2007
If you have ever taken a class in marketing, one of the first things you are likely to learn about is the 4 "P's".....Price, Product, Promotion, and Place. Each aspect is important to being successful in the marketplace. Let's assume that you have a product, and you have a price for your product....now you need to let the world know about you and your product.....Promotion.
Advertising, promotion, "guerilla marketing" or creating "buzz" are all ways to promote your product. This is a Primer of sorts about each of these alternatives, and the pros and cons.
Advertising: This is when you pay for an ad. The ad could be in a magazine, newspaper, show guide, or on the web. While there are often constraints with any place you decide to place your ad, you are paying for the space, so you have more control. Control over any images used, size, text, content, etc. But it does cost money. Anywhere from $50 or so for a small ad in a show guide, to thousands of dollars in high end magazines geared toward the collector market.
But to some extent you get what you pay for. There is no guarantee that anyone will read that ad in the show guide, or that it will have any life beyond the show. A well produced magazine will have higher quality paper, printing, and a longer shelf life. It may be the kind of magazine that is found in the waiting room of a doctor or an auto dealer. But that high end magazine ad may well be out of the reach of many artists. Resourceful artists have been known to get help in the cost of those ads. They may ask several galleries who represent their work to chip in for the cost of the ad. Their gallery name appears in the ad, and they get exposure for their gallery and any cachet that the artist brings.
But advertising is something that can't be a one-shot deal. You need to have repetition in the ad before you will see any significant results from it. The rule of thumb is that you need to run an ad at least three times before you can judge the results. Most of my advertising dollars go to The Buyer's Guide produced by Wholesalecrafts.com, and in advertising on their site. After two years on the site, and a more consistent effort in this area, I am seeing a difference.
Let's say that you are still in the early stages of your business, and don't have much money available to spend on any advertising. This is where promotion comes in. I like to think of this as the "free" advertising. Promotion is the press releases, the articles or pictures submitted to magazines, the contests, etc. The cost is your time and effort in pursuing these opportunities. There are no guarantees of return for this effort. You may enter a contest, submit a press release, or send pictures for the gallery section of a magazine. This does not mean that your work will be accepted. You give up the control that you have with an ad. But you may gain some credibility. Even if a newspaper or magazine uses every word of your press release, completely unaltered, there is the perception that editorial content....articles, etc....are less biased than an ad.
Promotion can be a win-win. Magazines are in continual need of content. 4, 6 or 12 issues a year. 8 to 20 articles in an issue. Local newspapers have less reporters on staff these days, and are often looking for articles about local people. You are helping them find material to fill that constant void. But you need to make sure your work is a good fit for the magazine or newspaper. Each publication has different standards for submissions. They can often be found on their website. And the pay-off is often not immediate. But over time, it is one way to build your exposure, and credibility.
Competitions are another great way to build your exposure and credibility. Win an award in a competition, and now you are an "award winning" artist. Lists of competions can be found in many magazines including The Crafts Report. There are an endless stream of books that are being published in the world of craft. They will often include a gallery section. Lark Books for one, has a place on their website where you can see what types of submissions they need for upcoming books. You risk rejection in each case, but the potential rewards are great.
Finally there is the guerilla marketing or buzz factor. This is the more organic type of marketing. It can be a blog where you post your latest work, or about your upcoming shows. Or it can be networking with other artists. This takes time, and effort, and without some sincerity in your message, is likely to fall flat.
I am someone who loves to share finds. Good or bad, if I learn about some new product or service that I really liked or absolutely detested, the people in my life are likely to learn about it. Some companies are trying to build on this in a more formal way. There are Bzzz Agents, or guerilla marketers and You Tube. I had joined Bzzz Agents because I thought it would be fun to do, and a natural fit with who I am. Turns out, for me, you can't force something like that. I did not Love or Hate any of the products I tried out, so creating buzz felt artificial to me. I am a flunk out of a Bzzz Agent. But I am opinionated, so this blog, or on-line forums are a great way for me to share my opinions and thoughts, and perhaps help people learn about my work.
Do you have plans for Promotion for your business? If not, now is a good time to start thinking about where and how you can get the word out about the gorgeous work you are creating.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
Once upon a time there was an artist. This artist made the most beautiful work. She would spend hours in her studio, never tiring of the process, and never lacking for inspiration. And as each piece was finished, magically, a buyer would appear, ready to pay whatever price was asked, in order to acquire the just finished work. Occasionally, magazines or books would contact the artist, begging her to share a bit about her work in their publications. Museums wanted to have her work in their exhibits. Needless to say, she lived happily ever after.
Okay, the fairy tale is over. The real life of a working artist once in awhile touches on some of the magic above. But more often, it is work. There are orders to be filled, or inventory to create for shows. Materials, packaging supplies, and more need to be ordered. Finished work needs to be packed and shipped. Receipts need to be tracked. Books need to be kept up to date. Sales tax payments need to be made. Inspiration sometimes goes into hiding, and doing one more whatever is threatens to send you over the proverbial edge. Applications for shows, photography, submissions for articles or books, designing a booth display, and so many other tasks are on the list of things to do. Besides spending time in the studio, you are an entrepreneur, running a business.
You need capital. You need to be able to sell your work and promote your business. You need to be organized enough to keep track of the paperwork and financial record keeping. You need to figure out how you are going to package that amazing piece, and will it be able to survive a trip across country in a box?
Why would anyone want to take all this on? Well, for one thing, most people are not thinking about all these other responsibilities. The transition may sneak up on them. Some are in denial. They don't want to acknowledge the business side of being a working artist.....and they may be the ones most rapidly doomed to failure.
Or, some, like me, realized they were not so well suited to working for someone else. And working hard to make this business work, with all the inherent risks and sacrifices, are well worth the trade-offs. I actually like a lot of the business side of it all. I get satisfaction in seeing the efforts on this area get results.
And, I love the fact that every day, or very nearly everyday, I am in my studio. I wake up with ideas of things I want to explore, and can't wait to get my hands on the clay. Or I wake up with a list of projects I need to tackle on the business side, and I am ready to dig in. I get satisfaction in seeing the small but necessary improvements in my work over time. It is never ending work, but I am not planning when I can take my next mental health day!
It is hard work. But the rewards are inumerable. Nothing beats that first sale. Or the first time your work appears in an article or book. This past year I had three shows use pictures of my work in their promotional advertising. Talk about affirmation! I was floored and ecstatic. But each success is just a moment. It does not stop the need or the desire to get back to work. Back in the studio, or back to the paperwork. I have only been at this for three years, so I am still on the learning curve. I hope that by sharing some of my experiences, and some of what I have learned, it may help light the path for those of you hoping to explore this unfamiliar terrain.
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Have you ever seen the movie, Akeelah and the Bee? It is a story about a little girl who has a gift for spelling. It may not seem like much of a gift to some, but given the rest of the struggles in this little girl’s life, her gift gives her strength and will. When every possible obstacle gets in her way, she still manages to find a way to live out her gifts.
Recently someone reminded me of this movie, and a quote in that movie. After Akeelah is recognized as a prodigy, she is hooked up with a mentor. This mentor reads or recites (can’t remember which right now) the following to Akeelah:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?'
Actually who are you NOT to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won't feel unsure around you. We are born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just within some of us; It is in every one.
As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
These words were written by Marianne Williamson, and spoken by Nelson Mandela when he became president of South Africa in 1994. I guess you could say it goes back to my earlier post, “This Little Light of Mine”. We all have some way that we need to shine. Hiding your talents and gifts does not serve you or anyone else.
If you have never seen the movie, I highly recommend getting a copy of it and watching it. Get some tissues. Crying is likely involved! This morning I printed out a copy of this quote to post where I will see it regularly. Feel free to do the same. We all need reminders from time to time.
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
Sunday, February 4, 2007
You know the saying...."Dance as if no one is watching.."
This thought came to my head recently when there was a big surge in visitors to this blog after it appeared on Cynthia Tinapple's wonderful blog, Polymer Clay Daily, (www.polymerclaydaily.com), and on Susan Rose's inspiring blog, Polymer Clay Notes (www.polymerclaynotes.com). I, along with many, many other polymer clay artists and enthusiasts from around the world visit these two sites regularly. And they never fail to "wow" me with the discoveries they make. I am happy, too, to have a place to send links of an artist I may find, or some other cool site I may stumble across. It is nice to know there is a place for these things to go so that they can gain some exposure to the wider world.
But when the numbers of visitors to my blog took a big spike last week, I had a moment of panic. Uh, oh. People are reading what I am writing. Self-consciousness took over. What will they think? What should I write?
That was when I thought about the phrase ...."dance as if no one is watching.." But now, I had to try and write like before...as if no one is reading. Some people will like what I have to say, and perhaps come back, and others will yawn and move on. But this act of writing is something I do for the pleasure of writing, and the insight I gain by writing things down.
As I thought about this, I had a sudden insight. This same need to take away the self-consciousness is just as important with my work. Sometimes, I work just for me. I am in that zone. Creating what comes from my hands and heart. But sometimes, I am making something while I have someone else in my head. I am trying to figure out what that person will want. Any tiny snippet of information gets magnified. "She said she liked that part of the necklace, ....is this what she means?" It is as if there is someone over my shoulder the whole time. Watchful. And of course, critical. I am no longer fully engaged in the process. I am trying to read the mind of someone else and translate that into the clay.
But by doing that, I have lost the very energy that may have made that person like my work to begin with. My voice was what drew them to my work. Now I was trying to infuse someone else's ideas and experiences into my work, without really having lived them. Talk about an impossible task.
I guess it gets back to trust. Trusting myself to make something that they will be happy with. And trusting that if they are not, it is not the end of life, my career as an artist, or any such calamity. It is just clay. It is just a pretty object. If they don't like it, ...which has only happened once, so far,...there are many possible solutions. And I am creative enough to explore those.
So, my anxiety about more people reading my words, actually taught me something about my work. Play with the clay as if no one is watching. Trust myself enough to have just me there when I am making my work. The reviews and critiques can come later. But while I am in the process of making a piece, it has to be just me.