Tuesday, July 05, 2016

asking

We live in a culture where it's very hard to ask for help. Maybe that's just a hard thing for people in general. I often wonder about why that is, since I personally like to be asked for help, and I also like to have the opportunity to help other people. Sometimes I wonder if I give off a helpy vibe because no matter where I am in the world, people ask me for directions.  But asking for help is a different thing, it makes you vulnerable. And I'm like most people in that regard-- I don't like asking for help. I don't like making myself vulnerable to strangers, and sometimes not even to the people and friends in my life by asking for help.

All of these thoughts have been coming up because I signed myself up for an expensive workshop in Alaska with one of my favorite papercut artists, Nikki McClure. I signed up knowing that it was a lot of money for me, especially when sales are still pretty slow. It's not like I don't have the money, but it undermines my cushion, the cushion that makes me feel safe in the world. I signed up anyway. I thought it was an opportunity for me to expand artistically and put myself in a learning environment, which I don't do very often. I also want to connect with artists outside of my field, just see what happens. I want a bigger world for myself.

I also went into thinking I could have a kickstarter-style fundraiser. It seemed like a good idea in the abstract, but once I started putting serious thought into it, every part of me started coming up with excuses on why I should not do that:

  • It was your own decision to spend a lot of money on a workshop, why should others help you pay for it?
  • You're not going to raise the money and you are going to look sad and ridiculous.
  • People are going to think you are a beggar.
  • Why should anyone help you do anything? You should work harder.
  • Everyone is going to think that you are poor. And you are.
Up until the very second I added a (free) fundraising app to my website I was on the verge of calling it off. I would think, "I'm not doing this" I would feel a little rush of relief. But then I would think about the credit card bill with the workshop and plane ticket on it, the lessons I learned from the "Art of Asking" by Amanda Palmer, the many times I've sent money to a fundraiser and felt good about contributing, and I kept plowing ahead. But I'm still uncomfortable.

I'm working my way through the discomfort because I think that just like going to the workshop, the uneasiness is helping me learn something and possibly expanding me in an unexpected way. I don't want to be that person who shrinks away from asking for help, because there is something sad about that too. Also, annoying. People should ask for help when they need it and not scramble in silence and obscurity. So this blog post, which I thought about not writing, is now directing you to my website where I'm having my fundraiser, and I'm asking you to help send me to Alaska. You will get some good stuff back from me for your contribution, and every little bit helps.

Thank you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

nuance and variation

A couple of months ago, I was really struggling with process.  The issue was what I think of as copying myself. That probably sounds strange but the basic problem was re-making motifs that I like. I re-make them because I like them, but I was afraid that this approach will work me into a creative rut... again.  I've been very wary of anything that resembles production pottery. As a potter who makes a lot of stuff, this fear was making me a little crazy and jamming things up at the studio.

The very idea of "copying myself" brings with it a lot of judgement and that voice in my head, telling what's good, what's bad, what works, what doesn't. That voice stops me, I hold back. I don't want to make something that's bad or doesn't work. This is the crux of the main problem I have in the studio-- stopping myself.

The reason for stopping myself from doing anything is I don't want to "waste" materials or my time.  I also don't want to get stuck with "bad" work. When I break down this thought I have to reckon with the fact that the very idea of "wasting" time or materials in in itself a harsh judgement, and not really connected to anything real. The only wasted art material is the one not used. Wasted time is time spent on Facebook or other time I use up procrastinating. Making art that is not one's best work is not wasted time, it's just time used while you get better. It's unavoidable.

Rather than trying to not waste time or materials, I could be trying to use up as much time and materials in getting better. That's the only way. I can't think my way into being a better artist, I have to do it.

Getting back to the idea of copying myself and not generating new ideas. I mentioned it to my friend, Kathleen, who took in what I was saying and said very simply, "I don't think there is anything wrong with the idea of nuance and variation."  She said, "I like the idea of editions. You can work with the same concept but you try a slightly different approach each time."

One of  the reasons I like Kathleen is because she doesn't think like me at all, so I learn things. This was my little "ah-ha" moment. This concept  suddenly gave me permission to continue to explore these motifs that I like, but not have the fear that I would get stuck in them. Rather, look at them as ideas that will keep developing rather than as some arrival point. And suddenly, I was off and running again.


Wednesday, June 08, 2016

spring open studio

My friends, I'll be opening my studio this Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm. I'll be clearing my studio, so up to 70% off seconds, samples, randoms, orphans, and experiments. Plenty of first-rate work and one-of-a-kinds. Hope to see you this weekend!

Here is more info on Facebook, and on my website. Mention you are a blog reader for 15% off full-priced work.


Thursday, June 02, 2016

playing catch up

I got up at 5 am today so I would have time to write a post. The lack of blog writing has been jabbing at me. I haven't been writing not because I don't want to or have nothing to say. In fact it's been the opposite which is what makes that jabbing so painful. I haven't picked up a pen to write anything for myself in months.

Almost all of the time I have in the morning for writing has gone to re-designing the ACGA website. It's a project I started in January. I've been a part of this association for over 15 years and our website was so out-of-date that it was becoming embarrassing to send people there to get information. My good friend offered me some golden life advice that he said has been a guiding principle for him: never volunteer. Also, since he is a criminal defense attorney: volunteer nothing. I have no regrets in doing the work, but it cost me many hours of writing time. The website is officially launched, and I am managing all of the content until we can get more people to help. It's overwhelming, and while the hardest part is over, it's still taking all of my writing time.

By the way, if you are a clay or glass artist living in California, please go join the ACGA. I would make a pitch on why you should, but it's 5 in the morning and just go look at the damn website.

Then there are other things. I was putting a lot of energy into getting ready for a solo show at Roscoe Gallery in Oakland. Yeah, that already happened. I didn't even put anything on this blog about it. Here is the card for it though, I think it's beautiful:


And yes, the show was successful and I was pleased as I can allow myself to be.

About 3 weeks before the show, I got a call from Magenta, the company I've done design and licensing work for. They manufacture pottery in China, and I've been working on and off with them since about 2006, which is crazy. I don't think I realized until this moment that I've been working with them for 10 years. 

It's been an up and down relationship. They've been successfully selling a version of my eight nesting lotus bowls for that long, which I get a check for every 3 months. Other items have not been as  successful, and it's been an ongoing struggle for me to figure out how to license work that will be compatible for manufacture. My friend Rae Dunn has also been working with them for almost as long, and her designs have been incredibly successful. Mostly because of the natural charm of her work, but also because of the simplicity of her work, which is easy to-- for lack of a better word-- copy. 

The creative director at Magenta has always been a fan of my work, and she wanted me to design a collection based on my new stuff. Even though the new work is the opposite of "simple" in a lot of ways, I liked the challenge and frankly, I need more sources of income. While the new work is extremely gratifying to make, it's been hard to sell it. And if creating a collection based on my current designs can get my look more out there and in the zeitgeist, then maybe I can sell more work and not be concerned that I'm going to die from exposure on a dirty mattress under a bridge. Not that I am concerned, it's just something I think about.

So when I was trying to get ready for my show,  I'm was also designing a new collection of about 15 different pieces. I was working 10 hour days, day after day. Which I'm not really good at anymore. I really noticed that I wold often go home in such a bad mood after working like that. While I miss all the money I used to make when I regularly worked like that, I don't miss that Extreme Bitch Mode at all.

So that's where I have been, and that's what I have been doing. And I have a lot of other things I want to talk about, and I will keep getting up at 5 in the morning so I can do that. I hope you are still there.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

be creative despite reality

I've been sharing my basic approach to managing my day as well as my philosophy around it which comes down to this: ritual and systems. I want to make my life as easy as possible so I can expend my energy into making art. So let's get down to the nitty gritty. How do I deal with the nasty, boring bits of running a creative business-- social media, admin, bookkeeping, email, etc?

These parts, which many of us see as a distraction from our real business of making art, is still part of our business. Every hour you put into it is part of your regular work week. I used to think that that part was "extra" and not really important to who I was as an artist-- going to the studio and making stuff was the most important part.

I have a quote on my wall in the studio from Lorne Michaels, who has gotten the best work out of some of the best comedy minds from the last 40 years. The quote says, "True creativity needs boundaries". What that means to me is that I have to rub up against the demands reality makes on me every day, and I have to figure out how to be creative despite reality. Taking care of the business end of things is me working within boundaries, and it makes me a better artist because I can get more of my work out there into the world. So don't think of managing your business as a limitation that cuts into your creativity, think of it as a boundary that you need to be creative.

Let's start with accounting and books since everyone hates that the most.

I set my calendar to remind me to do my books every month on or around the 15th. By then all of my statements from the last month have been issued and I can take a look at everything. I use Outright software for bookkeeping and I really like it. It's easy, takes no special technical knowledge, and while it's not free, it's not that expensive.  It grabs all of my income and expenses from all of my business accounts including PayPal, so with the push of a couple of buttons  I know exactly what is coming in and what is going out. I can also use it to issue online invoices. My monthly bookkeeping usually takes about an hour, and once I get over the dread of doing it, I actually enjoy it. It's fun.

Admin is a daily task, which is mostly managing orders and communicating with customers. I have a system with email:

  1.  Open email.
  2.  Delete as much as I can.
  3.  Answer every query as quickly as possible. 
  4. Close email.
 This will take me 1-2 hours. When I'm done with email in the morning, I'm pretty much done with it for the day. I will check it at lunch to see if there is something important, and same in the evening, but anything that can be put off for the next morning, I put off. I think answering a customer within 24 hours is a good goal rather than trying to answer emails as they come in. Checking and answering email throughout the day is pretty distracting, especially in the studio, so I keep a lock on it. My phone has most notifications turned off so I don't get pinged throughout the day.

Then there is social media, which for me is not only the public platforms many of us use like Instagram and FB, but also includes my monthly newsletter and things like this blog. I spend probably 3 hours a month getting my newsletter ready, and each post I write on the blog takes about 3-4 hours total. I think artists should incorporate social media into their routine and not just use it willy-nilly, because you end up spending way too much time on it. But... like many people, I love connecting with the world through social media, and it is hard keeping it in check. I know there are a lot of apps out there to help you schedule posts and send them out across platforms, but I am more plodding about it.  I try to post as often as I can about my work, but noodling around on it is something I try to use as a reward for myself and not just as a constant indulgence. I know that when I am going down a social media rabbit hole, I am bored, uninspired, and/or procrastinating. It's an awareness I had to develop over time, and it helps me manage myself.

All in all, I work anywhere from 6 to 9 hours a day (not including my 30-90 minute lunch), and I dedicate about 25% of that to the things that happen outside of the studio. I do not work weekends except for emergencies and holiday time.

I've said it before and I will say it again: it's never to early to start managing your business in a professional way, and it's never too late either.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

daily rituals

This is my second post in my series about how to manage the schedule of a creative business. If you missed my first post, read it!

 There has been a lot of interest lately in the daily ritual of artists and writers. I think it is a bit of a mystery how creative types manage to discipline themselves enough day after day to actually get their work done, while also indulging their creative whims that help fuel the work they do.  And making your way in the world as an artist, which means doing your own thing on your own terms, takes lots of discipline and self-control.

All of us want to be in the studio, but many of us have a hard time getting in there consistently and as I pointed out in my last post, consistency is key to running a successful creative business. So many things to do to prepare ourselves properly before we step into our creative space, so many cute cat pics to look at first.  The way to address this problem is with a daily ritual that will help you transition into your studio smoothly and without fuss, day after day.

The reason for the daily ritual is three fold:

  • One, it sets a daily pattern that alerts your brain to the fact that we are going to do some familiar and routine things, and then we are going to the studio. You're brain doesn't have as much of a chance to dream up exciting capers and out-of-studio adventures because you've given it notice that we are not doing that today, we're going to the studio and focusing on work. 

  • Two, a daily routine eliminates the need to make decisions about petty things and uses that brain power for more important things. It may seem silly, but it's well documented that humans only have the capacity to make so many good decisions in a day, and you don't want to use them up on mundane things, like what to eat for breakfast.

  • Three, the daily ritual is a weapon against procrastination. You're set with a routine that meets your needs, and over time it becomes a well-worn path that is easier and easier to follow. It's not difficult to dismiss the procrastinating actions that your brain tries to throw in your path because your ritual becomes more comfortable to execute than doing something else that you know is going to delay your entry into the studio. 

The daily ritual is all about transition-- transition from the your regular life to your creative life in the studio. You start developing your daily ritual by looking at what time of day and from what place you transition to your studio. For me, I'm transitioning from my home in the morning to my studio to work all day. So my daily ritual encompasses an everyday morning routine-- personal hygiene, exercise, meditation, breakfast, computer time, etc. I include all of these things in my daily ritual because once I'm in my studio, I don't want to be distracted by anything such as needing to get exercise, racing thoughts, anxiety about responding to a customer, or feeling hungry.  I've dealt with all of that stuff already and I don't have to think about it anymore.

If you are transitioning from a day job to your studio later in the day, you will have to take different factors into consideration. Or if you have a family to mange, even more components to evaluate. The only thing that matters is that you are taking a regular, repetitive action daily
that brings you comfort while addressing the things that may distract you once you are in the studio, so you can walk into the studio ready to focus. It must be something that you can look forward to so you don't mind doing it day after day. If your life is very chaotic with a lot of elements you can't always control, your daily ritual can be as simple as a cup of tea before doing your work. Or it can be very elaborate like mine, covering all of your basic needs.

I developed my daily ritual by making a detailed list of everything my most ideal self would do every day to make a perfect morning. It's true that things don't always go as planned and there are interruptions that throw my day off. But for the most part, my daily rituals sees to all of my needs and protects me from the chaos of my own mind. I would love to hear from you about your daily ritual, or struggles you have while trying to establish one.

My next post in this series will cover more of the nitty-gritty on how I divide my time up between all my tasks, how I streamline things, and how I keep a lid on the chaos.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

managing details

I got an email the other day asking how I schedule my work week, break down my days between home, studio time, bookwork, social media, administration, and everything else in my life. This is a question I get all the time, and I always skim over it because it's a really long answer, and it's not an easy answer. I promised this person I would write a blog post about it so I can give my answer once and for all, which I did, and the post is so long that you may find yourself skimming over my answer.

So I'm breaking it down into parts and fleshing it out in detail, which I hope will help some of you who are struggling with scheduling your days around your creative business.  I will publish all the parts over the next couple of weeks and tag it with "questions answered" so you can easily read through all the posts. This part is my basic philosophy of how I approach my work every day.

The main problem with running your own business is getting overwhelmed with the details. The details are relentless and constant, and someone who is trying to be diligent will attempt to address every detail with a daily to-do list that never gets done. And it doesn't get done because trust me, too much stuff gets put on that list to begin with. There is only so much time in a day to cope with the details that shore up your business, and there is absolutely no way to do everything that needs to be done every day. There just isn't. So if you are feeling like a failure because you don't get your list ticked through every day, stop it. You're not failing, you just have too much stuff on there.

A business is like a ship, and the ship will sail even if it's not perfectly tuned up. It just needs to float, it must be able to move through the water, it must avoid hidden icebergs and shoals, and it must be regularly maintained so it doesn't sink. Yes, we want it to have pretty sails and scrubbed decks and a fresh coat of paint and a completely sober captain, but we can't do all of that every day. Keep that in mind as you write up your daily to-do.

I keep things manageable by systematically addressing the details every work day. Almost 100% of this is on the computer, so I get it out of the way first thing in the morning. I allow at least an hour and up to 4 hours for this part, and it will fluctuate depending on what's on the agenda. It will usually be in the 1-2 hour range, and the longer days happen when I need to deal with more deep maintenance items like marketing.

You've heard that prioritizing is important. The best way for me to mess up my day is to treat everything equally and just dive in willy-nilly. You. Must. Prioritize. It comes down to defining what is urgent, what is important, and what can be held over for another day. Knowing how to prioritize is a skill that is learned by practicing, it doesn't come naturally to most of us, and we usually have to put ourselves in a pickle any number of times before we figure it out. Every time you have a complete breakdown because you got overwhelmed is another tick on your learning curve.

The way I prioritize is before I turn on the computer, I make my list. It doesn't have to be in order. I can put a number by items to order them, or star the them to alert me to their importance.

The things that are the hardest and are nagging me the most are usually the most important, and I deal with those things first, such as a communicating with  an unhappy customer or printing out tags for items that will ship that day. Next I deal with details that come up every day, like social media postings and answering email. Then I look at irregular details that pop up like ordering supplies, updating my website, writing my newsletter, or paying bills. The goal is to avoid having to bail water out of my ship, which would be things like poor communication, missing deadlines, or making mistakes because I let things get away from me and I am now in a hurry.

Obviously the thing that can really trip you up here is the distraction of the internet. My personal weakness is Instagram, cat videos,  and the many newsletters I subscribe to. I have no magic here, it takes a will of steel to resist the pull of the rabbit hole. If you managed to get through that last sentence without clicking a single link, you have the potential for a will of steel. If you clicked, you're just like the rest of us. I tend to give myself a little goof-off time before I get started on the computer, and then reward myself with a little more goof-off time at the end. 

The key is consistency, which is such a nice word and so easy to say, but it is so hard to be consistent, especially when it is only yourself to hold you accountable for your actions. And many artists types are not necessarily consistent by nature, that is what makes us artistic... right? My next post will be about developing consistency through daily routine and how you can create a workable and fun routine for yourself that will help you run your creative business. Meanwhile, if you have questions about this post, please feel free to comment below and I will answer.