Monday, November 16, 2015

sharing the work

I'm posting pictures of some of my new paintings on the blog today. Here they are:

Sharing art work can be weird. Last weekend, when I had a party and sale at my studio, I put all the paintings I've been doing on the wall.  I didn't put prices on them because I told myself that I just wanted to show them. But the truth is I didn't want to put prices on them because I was afraid if I did that, people would feel sorry for me because obviously the paintings are awful and it's just a little pathetic that I actually thought I could sell them.

I don't think the paintings are awful and I like them quite a bit, actually. And I had fun making them which was the most important thing to me while I was creating them. And it's not like I lack confidence. It's just that showing your art is weird and it puts you in a vulnerable spot, and I was doing my best to dodge that.

As it turns out, people did want to buy them, and I wasn't prepared with a price. It was awkward, and people had to come back later after I made up my mind. Note to self: don't do that again, unless you truly have no intention of selling something. It's annoying to everyone concerned.

I'm a firm believer in not sharing work until you are ready. Showing work too soon can backfire if the work is still in some kind of process or you are not emotionally prepared yet. But I don't know where that line is between "not being ready" and "fear".

There are amazing artists out there who never show their work to anyone, ever. Part of me thinks there is a strange nobility in that, to just do the work for the sake of the work. But when it comes down to it, I have to change my mind about thinking it's noble. It's not noble. It's just fear. It's okay to have fear, but I don't think fear should be the decider about important things, like whether or not to share your work.

Sharing is part of the artistic process. I believe art is there to give something to humanity-- something to think about, a new idea, a connection, a moment of beauty, even a moment of transcendence. If the art isn't shown, it can't do its final job of changing people's hearts and minds. If your art is just for one person-- for yourself-- maybe there is a good reason for that. But I don't know what that would be.

Selling is another thing. I don't think art has to be sold, but there is something to be said for moving it along. I really like these paintings, but I can see that I will quickly be drowning under a pile of canvas if I don't find homes for these pieces. So, that being said, I will be posting paintings on my website within the next week or so, and I'll be announcing it through my newsletter and Facebook. You can also contact me if you are interested in any of them.

Friday, October 30, 2015

a tiny lesson in creativity

I've been painting with acrylics for the last couple of months. I used to paint all the time, and in fact there was a time when I thought I would be a painter when I grew up, but then I met pottery and I dropped painting immediately. I literally have not picked up a paintbrush since 1993.

I started painting again because I realized I make too big of a deal about creativity in general and there is no reason why I can't make pottery and paint. I can paint, and it can suck and be awful, and that's okay, because it's not important and nobody cares. I don't have to sell it and it doesn't have to make me famous. But I can still have fun while making terrible paintings. When I came to this important realization around late August, I ran to the art supply store, bought everything I needed, and started painting immediately. I mean like, right away, that day.

My approach to painting has completely changed. When I was younger, I would start in on a canvas with a very clear idea of what I wanted to paint. It was never as good as I wanted to be, and that was always a frustration to me. I think part of the reason why I was so willing to move on with pottery is because with pottery, I was quickly able to make pretty much what I had in mind. It was way easier and more satisfying and the reward of having something useful when it came out of the kiln was even better.

Now when I stand in front of a canvas, I have only the vaguest sense of what I want to do, and I usually just start with color. When I'm about 30 minutes in, this voice always starts up: "Oooooh... I don't like this very much. I don't know about this.... It kind of sucks, don't you think? Please... make it better before you kill me with your bad taste." This voice used to totally throw me off track, because I used to believe that it knew what it was talking about. Now I understand that it knows nothing  and I just ignore it. I keep ignoring it and after about 2 minutes it fades away. I call this "the hump". I have to just get past that first hump and then I'm fine. I can just keep painting away until I feel like I'm done, and I'm usually pretty happy with what I've made. If the hump comes again, I know it will last about 2 minutes so I just wait it out.

This exercise has totally been helping me with my pottery too. I had this piece, a really big piece that I threw in two parts, and when I put it together, it wasn't matching up in the way I envisioned. I wanted it to be a smooth bullet shape, but it had a little curve where there two piece met and I didn't have enough clay to trim it into shape. I did not like it. But it was so damn tall-- 22 inches!-- and I had put so much work into making it that tall that I wasn't going trash it. I decided to approach it like a painting, not give a shit if the surface decoration was good or not, and just have fun with it in the exact same way I am having fun painting.

As it turned out, this piece ended up being one of the strongest in this collection of vases of tall vases I made for a gallery, and it sold for over $1000 within a couple of weeks.

So what is the lesson? The lesson is to have fun with your creative work, of course, and not to focus on the outcome but on the process. But it's also about taking the time to notice your own process and pay attention to its hills and valleys. I think with pottery I am so used to my process that I don't necessarily take note of some of the negativity I bring to it. But painting is feeling so fresh to me at the moment that I really notice all the feelings I am having with it, and then when I immediately move on to making some pottery that action of noticing myself and my feelings is still there. It's very helpful. On difficult mornings when I feel like I don't know what the hell I'm doing, which is really all the time, I just whip out 30 minutes of painting just to get things going, and to prime the pump of not being too attached to any particular outcome.

If you are looking for an assignment today, here's one: go get some supplies and make something that is out of your wheelhouse but you think will be fun. Go get some fimo, some shrinky dinks, some watercolors, some styrofoam and spray paint. Whatever. And make something just purely for fun. Notice what is happening in your head while you're making it. Let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I'm havin' a party

I'm having a pre-holiday studio party sale thing on November 7. I always want to have a party at my studio around the holidays, but it is really hard to get people to do anything around the holidays. So I'm scheduling it before the holidays, and I'm going to see if that works.

The studio will open at 5, and my vision is that people who want in on the sale part of the party will come early. All my regular priced items will be 15% off between 5-7 PM. I will also have every last second on a special table, along with randoms, orphans, one-offs, and prototypes. It's a space clearing exercise too.

Around 7 PM I will turn up the music, and perhaps dim the lights a bit. I will have food and drinks and that kind of thing. You can still buy stuff, but you will have to find me to give me money. Perhaps I will have some kind of special bell you can ding or a balloon you can pop to alert me.

If you are in the Bay Area, by all means, please show up. Here are all the details you need. If you are shy about parties, come early before there are too many strangers to interact with, slip in and out, or bring a friend.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

no plan b

Mention to someone that you want to be an artist when you grow up, and you will most certainly be met with a pat on the head and the question, "What is your back up plan?"

For most people, there is no back up plan.

I was listening to one of my podcasts, Bullseye with Jesse Thorn, and he was talking to the comedian Brian Regan about why he dropped out of college before finishing his degree so he could pursue stand-up comedy:
What motivated me even further was when people would say, "Why don't you just wait and get your degree, so you have something to fall back on if this comedy thing doesn't work?" And I didn't want to think that the comedy thing might not work, I didn't want to feel I had something to fall back on. I wanted it to work. It had to work. It was going to work. It was very difficult for me to pursue a goal that I didn't want to happen.  For me to get the degree was for a life that I didn't want for myself. That was the safe route. I was like I was like how am I supposed to wake up, and go to class, so I can get a degree for this "fallback" plan? I don't want that plan, I want this plan that's murky, and weird, and scary, that's the plan I wanna go for. So, I went that route.
I'm not saying not having a Plan  B will assure your success in the arts, but expending a lot of energy on the "back up plan" means that your Plan B is actually Plan A.

I'm feeling a little  Seth Godin today.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015


All of the sudden I am very burned out on social media. This came up for me because I've been working in some new mediums, and of course I feel the need to whip out my phone and document my process and some images. And then I think ought to share them, but I really don't feel like it.

I know exactly why I don't feel like it. Putting it out there is inviting people's thoughts and opinions about what I'm making, and I'm not interested right now. I just want to focus on getting better at what I'm trying to do and I don't want encouragement from strangers or passing comments on Instagram.

My friend Sara Paloma has said many times over the years that she thinks it's very important for young artists to protect what they are making from the public while they are still in that steep learning curve of figuring out what they are trying to make. Too many opinions, too many voices is distracting and even confusing.  They can create value where perhaps there is none or undermine an idea before its had time ripen.

Right now we live in a culture of "A year of making" or "daily drawing" where artists post every single day the thing they are working on, and I do think there is a lot of value in not only sharing work and ideas, but creating a visible example of commitment to your craft. Being an artist is about doing, making, creating, and social media is in many ways a natural  outlet for creative expression.

But there's the flip side to that. The outlet can become an end in itself, the seeking of approval, positive feedback and "likes" from strangers as a way to feel a sense of accomplishment. I would be a liar if I said I don't feel a bit buoyed when I post an image that gets a lot of attention, and conversely a sense of disappointment when I get little attention from another image. And I have to recognize and question those feelings, because in the end it is little more than distraction. The more I've been thinking about it, the more I have been questioning the whole enterprise and my own participation.

As much as there may be value in sharing work--even work that is not very good--there must be value in not sharing it, in holding it close, in forcing people to be seekers rather than passive observers. I can't help but wonder: what would Georgia O'Keefe do?

"It was all so far away - there was quiet and an untouched feel to the country and I could work as I pleased."

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

the cost, the price

I'm in recovery mode from the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival. It's always a good show for me and this year was no exception, though Sunday was one of the worst days ever. So it was way out of balance-- Saturday was excellent, Sunday was not-excellent. It is very strange, how the energy of a show is set and how it affects everything. The energy of Sunday was downright lethargic, and by noon I was limped out in my chair, wondering if anyone would notice if I just crawled under one of my tables and slept for a little while. People were nice enough, but few were in the mood to buy anything. Though they were still in the mood to come into my booth and touch everything, which believe it or not, sucks up a lot of energy.

Early on the first day, one of my fellow exhibitors came into my booth to check out my work. He's a glassblower, older than me and very experienced with the whole making-a-living-at-making-art thing. He picked up a few pieces, and then got blunt with me. "Your prices are too low."

I was blunt right back. "I hate it when people say that to me." And I do. I take it personally. I feel like what is being said is that I don't value myself enough, and that makes me feel defensive. I think I value myself but also, maybe I don't sometimes and that makes me embarrassed. Also, I hate it when people try to tell me what to do. That's my goddamn job.

"This bowl," he said, pointing to a giant bowl, "should be at least $475. It's way too cheap." (It was $250.)

"Okay, " I said. "It is my favorite bowl." (And it is. It's fucking amazing.)

"There you go," he said, "at least leave yourself some room to negotiate. How are you going to feel when that bowl walks out of here for $250?"

I changed the price to $475.

Later, we had a more in-depth conversation about pricing. It was good for me to have the conversation even though it was pushing some of my little buttons. I realized that I have been letting my prices stagnate or even drift down, much in line with the wage stagnation of low and middle income Americans. 

For example, 8-10 years ago it was very common for me to sell vases and other vessels for $400 and up. It wasn't a stretch, I did it all the time. Most of my work was well over $100, I made very few pieces for under $75. The work I was making at that time was very labor-intensive. I was always pushing the price as high as I could, and I had no problem with it.

But I also wanted to develop less expensive pieces to broaden my market reach, so I did. Then my etsy shop took off, and over time the only things I was making were the less-expensive pieces, cause that's what was selling like crazy. I literally did not have the time or focus to make more elaborate, more expensive work. And over time I basically painted myself into a corner with the $44 item.

Oh, and bored myself to death too.

And now I've gotten more cautious about pushing my prices higher. I did do a nominal price hike on most of my smaller items last year for the first time in ages, but I've been reluctant to take a hard look at the way I've been pricing my newer items. I think it's underpriced-- I know it is-- but I also want to get it out there. I'm still developing and learning a lot and quickly moving up the learning curve so I don't want to get overstocked on work. I want it to move. But then I have to think about setting the expectation. If I underprice too much for too long, it makes it harder to get the prices up to where they belong later.

Pricing is tricky for artists, it's one of the most common struggles we have. My glassblower friend made the point that when you get into a certain market-- the high-end market-- price is not the first thing that is considered, and usually doesn't represent a barrier at all. Even in the lower-end market a price differential of 20% will not stop the people who really want the thing you are making. And pricing too low has the unintended effect of making people value the work less. Even wondering what is wrong with it.

I walked away from the conversation realizing that I cannot continue to be passive about my prices, that I have to think about what the work is really worth and price more appropriately. What about you? If you are an artist I know pricing is something you have to contend with, what are your thoughts? And if you are a buyer of art and craft, what do you think about when you are considering the price of an item? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival-- this weekend!

The Palo Alto show is this weekend. Usually, I go into a fever about 6 weeks before the show. I stop taking care of myself, I cancel all social engagements, and I start drinking even more wine so I can focus on making stuff. It sounds like a mental illness, doesn't it?

This year, I did a 3-day getaway to the mountains with a friend LAST WEEK. I haven't skipped any meals, I'm drinking more water than wine, and I even went and got a pedicure yesterday. Shit is changing around here.

I'll still be unloading a hot kiln the morning before the show, but oh well.

I'm rubbing my hands together in anticipation for the show, and I'm also a little nervous. I'm bringing a bunch of my new work, and I have some of my old work too, and I have no idea how I'm going to make room for it all, or how it's even going to all go together. I decided a couple of days ago that I have to re-design my table coverings and curtains-- I have to inject some insanity  into the process or it's just not me-- because the old colors and textures just don't work. I'm not freaking out because it's just a show, but I'm feeling pretty amped up.

If you're in the Bay Area, for god's sake-- stop by! I'll be in booth #61 in a new dress that I sewed myself. (I also decided I need two new dresses that are sewn by me, I've recently sworn off shopping, but that's another blog post.) You can get all the details right here.

I hope to see you there!