Archive for Hot Off The Press

Jan
02

Do You Know Your Own Strengths?

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holdingaweightIt’s a new year–have you made any resolutions for your art or art business yet?

As my longtime readers know, rather than create resolutions, I prefer to make an annual theme for my year.

Themes are neat because:

  • you can’t break them
  • thinking up a theme helps turn your mind to the larger ideas about what you’re wanting for yourself. (As opposed to losing 10 pounds or going to the gym more.)

But whether you’re wanting to create more art on the side or you’re trying to sell what you make, I’d like you to consider adopting the theme I made for myself last year because it really woke me up.

(And for a fuller explanation on how themes work, along with specific ideas on how you might create one, click here.)

Go to Your Strengths

Last year I made “Go to My Strengths” my theme for my coaching business and it was a game changer for me. I was amazed. It really made me conscious of all the ways in which I distract myself and helped me streamline my actions and focus my choices.

But when I say “go to your strengths” I don’t mean “only do things you like to do or think you’re good at.”

This is especially important for those of you trying to sell what you make because it’s so tempting for artists to look for reasons to avoid the business stuff that makes you uncomfortable–like marketing and selling.

So going to my strengths didn’t mean I avoided business challenges that I found hard or scary. But it did change the way I experienced those challenges.

For instance, one of my strengths is public speaking. Last year I made it a priority to improve my public speaking and connect with my right people by giving talks.

So I joined Toastmasters and began to develop my talks on topics relevant for artists and creatives. I then started to schedule talks and workshops at regional arts organizations.

But when I gave my first talk, I was a wreck. A wreck. Who did I think I was? What was I thinking?

Driving to the venue, I thought, Oh Lord they’re all going to say, “This is so simple, we know this already, why are you wasting our time?” and then throw me out. I actually pictured jeering and a lot of bored, disgusted artists. (Ah, the inner critic!) But instead, it went great. I helped a bunch of people and I received lots of wonderful feedback. And then, of course, I remembered why I knew it was a good talk to give in the first place.

In July, I upped the ante and submitted my creativity workshop at the last minute to the big, fancy SXSW festival in Austin, which involved creating a video on the fly and asking everyone I knew–even a teeny, tiny bit–to vote for me. Which, may I add, gave me a complete heart attack.

Make no mistake: A. Complete. Heart. Attack. Getting into this festival was a long shot and I had to create my video (required for the application) in a hurry to meet the deadline. I felt super self-conscious about sharing that video with so many people. I wanted it to be better. It was one thing submitting it to a committee of strangers thousands of miles away. But the idea of making that video public by personally inviting hundreds of people I knew to view it and vote for me felt almost….stupid. I mean, why directly point out how goofy I am?

But attending the festival was a great opportunity and I genuinely felt that my workshop was a good fit. I needed votes to make it happen.

After much hand-wringing, I just decided that I’d risk looking ridiculous and I hit “send.” Lots of you voted for me, wrote nice comments, sent me encouraging emails, and……….I got in!

Maybe it was less goofy than I thought. ;-)

Alignment

These descriptions of all my fear and anxiety may sound a little crazy because I started this article stating that I was good at public speaking. And I am.

So why was it still hard and scary if I’m good at it?

Well, it’s like making a work of art you love. You think it’s good, which gives you the confidence to submit it to a juried show. You’re nervous about getting in, but you do it anyway and you’re accepted! You’re thrilled, but then you’re a nervous wreck on your way to the opening. What if it doesn’t look good? What if people think it sucks? What if everyone else’s work is better?

The fear is part of the process of going from the easy vague world of the theoretical (I should apply to a be in a show) to the unromantic, matter-of-fact world of the actual (I got in! Yay. Gulp.)

It’s the rubber hitting the road. Trying to sell your work is basically selling yourself..it’s much more public than having a job and that makes most of us feel very exposed. Especially for artists who would be quite happy to stay home, create quietly and mind their own business!

That’s why it’s important to wrap what you have to do to succeed (market your work) within the cocoon of what you’re good at. It makes it easier to take yourself to your personal edge because something about it feels solid, familiar, and strong.

Drawing on your strengths helps you continue forward (because the sane part of you knows you can do it) and more importantly, you’re aligning your actions with your essential nature, which in and of itself increases the likelihood of success.

Let me say that again. You’re aligning your actions with your essential nature, which in and of itself increases the likelihood of success.

How?

Now, the challenges of marketing and selling your work can make you feel like you’re never using your strengths. You might feel like you’re constantly forcing yourself to do things you barely understand or are convinced you’re no good at–which can take a toll on your confidence and make you forget why you started this little art business venture in the first place!

So you may be thinking—“All my strengths are artistic or creative—how can I use them to tackle all these hard, confusing marketing tasks required for selling my work?”

Well, it requires that you use your imagination to interpret your strengths in this new context—and as an artist, chances are, you have a good imagination. (In fact, your imagination and creativity are strengths you’re probably not maximizing when you think about marketing and selling.)

So I ask you, what are your strengths?

These can be personal qualities like being a great team player, having a knack for remembering names, or being hilarious. Or they can be technique-type skills like graphic design ability, social media savvy, or superior draftsmanship.

After you identify them, own them. Write them down. Say them out loud to yourself. Tell other people. Feel them and believe they are true. You aren’t being arrogant by being honest about what you’re good at. What we’re good at makes us happy. It’s okay to like it.

Then ask yourself: How can I make my strengths a key part of marketing my work so that I’m aligning my essential nature with the challenge of getting my art out into the world?

(And if you’re not selling your work but focusing on making art you love and living your life as the artist you are, this still works. How can you use your strengths to make room for your art? Even telling yourself that your artistic skills ARE one of your strengths is an important first step to moving them to a higher spot on your priority list.)

What do you think? What are your strengths? Are you maximizing them? Is it embarrassing for you to say them out loud? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts and your personal experience might really help another reader!

Hugs, Sarah

P.S. If you’d like to explore how you can improve your art business or dig deeper with your creativity with the help of a coach, email me to set up a complimentary phone consultation–sarah@makegreatstuff.com.

 

andree-headshot

Andree Kehn

This month’s Inspiring Creatives interview is with Andree Kehn, a smart, talented, and super successful wedding photographer living in rural Maine.

Andree went from resisting wedding photography as a career path altogether to being named one of the top 100 Wedding Photojournalists in the world by the Wedding Photojournalism Association (WPJA). Wow! Clearly, she has talent.

But before you get depressed and intimidated, one of the reasons I chose to interview Andree (aside from her being one of my favorite people) is that her path to success was a very long and windy one. So if you’re thinking it’s too late for your creative career, it’s not.

She shares some super inspiring insights into how she succeeded in business being her quirky artist self, her techniques for pushing herself creatively, and finding her niche within a niche.

The Interview

Here’s the interview–broken down by topic–plus a few images of Andree’s wonderful work. See more gorgeous photos in the gallery on her website, andreekehn.com.

And if you have a question for Andree (or just want to share), please ask it in the comments area and we’ll respond.

1. It’s Never Too Late:
From Carny to Award Winning Wedding Photographer

Click HERE to listen to this segment. (13 min. 13 sec.)
Find out how the years Andree thought were wasted in supposedly dead-end jobs ended up giving her incredible skills for wedding photography.

Sarah and JesseRachel and Dale maine-wedding56

2. Rebels as a Target Market

Click HERE to listen to this segment:
(5 min. 12 sec.)
Learn how Andree figured out who her right people were and how she helps them find her. (We also dig deeper into this topic in the segment called Her Smartest Move, so make sure to give that a listen too.)

3. Welcoming Criticism

Click HERE to listen to this segment.
(5 min. 55 sec.)
Andree shares fantastic insights about the power of welcoming criticism, making bad stuff, the illusion of perfection, and the truth of hard work vs. natural talent.

4. Creative Challenges

Click HERE to listen to this segment.
(3 min. 48 sec.)
Andree shares her favorite techniques for keeping it fresh and I was psyched because it’s one of my favorites too–even though it’s often frowned upon and misunderstood. Have a listen.

5. *Her Smartest Move*

Click HERE to listen to this segment.
(6 min. 6 sec.)
We talk more about how she embraced her super narrow niche-within-a-niche and the actions she takes to support that choice in her marketing. She offers some GREAT advice about how to do the same thing yourself and why it’s so important. If you can only listen to one segment, listen to this one!

AmyI’ve finally started my Inspiring Creatives Interview Series–conversations with creative souls I know and admire designed to help you succeed in your creative business or simply live your life as the artist you are. Or both. :-)

Today’s interview is with the super successful Amy Noelle from Sugar Flower Cake Shop in New York City.

Amy makes a fabulous living making gorgeous edible art–that is, special occasion and wedding cakes.

The images on this page are two of her cake designs–and note, every decoration on these cakes is handmade from sugar!

photo 3photo 1

I know those flowers might LOOK like she just plucked them from the garden. But they are all edible. All made by hand. All made of sugar. Crazy. (Crazy-Beautiful that is.)

Her work has been featured in STYLE Network, TV Land, Martha Stewart Weddings, and many more. To view more images of her handiwork, click here.

Amy is also a business woman extraordinaire, and she kindly shared her mistakes, her struggles and some wonderful wisdom about how she makes her creative business work.

The Entire Interview

You can listen to the whole interview by clicking here, or you can listen to individual topic segments–listed below.

Hear ‘em all or choose the topic you find most interesting or that touches on an area that you’re struggling with in your creative business.

Topic #1: Taking the Mental Leap: From Hobby to Business

Click here to listen to this segment: (3min:21sec)

Amy talks about how long she’s technically been in business, and how she switched from treating her business like a hobby to finally taking the plunge and going for it as a full-time gig.

A key take-away here is to remember the time-frame she mentions–no one is an overnight success. But it’s also interesting how certain mind shifts change everything.

Topic #2: The Emotional Roller Coaster Called Pricing

Click here to listen to this segment  (7min: 36sec)

Amy and I had a fantastic discussion about pricing–how to fix it when it’s wrong, how that might affect what you thought was your target market, and why it’s not as scary or confusing as it might seem after all.

It’s great to know that someone as successful as Amy made mistakes with her pricing and how she corrected it.

This was my favorite part of our discussion because it’s such a bugaboo for so many creatives.

If you’ve ever struggled with pricing, DEFINITELY listen to this section.

Topic #3 The Struggle for Balance and What it Means to Be Clear

Click here to listen to this segment (3min: 21sec)

Find out Amy’s biggest business challenge and how she handles it.

Topic #4: Solving the Delegation Struggle–Resistance, Systems, and Freedom

Click here to listen to this segment (5min: 45sec)

Amy shares her struggle with delegating, a great example of what she did to make it happen and why systems are critical to success. Hearing what she did to might surprise you–but you can do it too!

Topic #5: A Creative Challenge: Incorporating Client Feedback into Your Design

Click here to listen to this segment (2min: 45sec)

When you’re in business, your creative challenges are different than when you’re on your own. Find out how Amy handles it.

Please Leave a Comment

Please share your thoughts in the comments. What was most useful for you? What would you like to know more about? And if you have a question for Amy, put it in the comments section and she’ll answer it there too.

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Aug
28

SXSW Creativity and Collaboration

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I’ve submitted a proposal to teach a workshop on the intersection of creativity and collaboration called The Creative Breakthroughs Technique at a giant, uber-cool annual conference and festival called SXSW (South by Southwest) in Austin TX in 2014.

Some of you have taken a similar class with me over the phone. (Yup, art over the phone–it works!) I’m in love with this technique for building a creative momentum and providing a structure to unleash your creativity.

Building Creative Muscle

The workshop I’m proposing for SXSW includes a new and interesting addition to the original workshop–collaboration. It fascinates me that collaboration itself is such a complex creative challenge for artists and non-artists alike.

I’m targeting two different parts of the festival and adapting the workshop for each audience. The approach for the workshop for SXSW educators is geared toward helping those professionals who might not feel creative or artistic to better understand the creative process and how a more fully developed creative muscle enhances one’s thinking in every context.

For the professional SXSW digital creatives, I want to get them back to a physical, hands-on creative experience as well as move them out of their comfort zone with unexpected collaborative challenges.

Will You Please Vote for Me?

Competition is fierce and it would be a HUGE credibility boost for me to speak and teach at this conference. Almost like saying I did a TED talk. (Which, of course, is another goal…but I digress.)

Voting is a big part of their selection process. I’ve submitted one proposal to two areas of the festival.

Could you take a moment to vote for my proposal in both places?

  • Click here to vote for my proposal for forward thinking educators.

    PanelPicker_Vote

  • Click here to vote for my proposal for digital creatives:
    PanelPicker_Vote_14-blog

The Nitty-Gritty

For those of you who’d like more details about what the heck I’m talking about, here’s a recap:

I’ve submitted the same proposal to two separate arenas of the festival:

  • SXSW interactive:
    This show caters to super hip, bleeding edge digital creative types–they received over 3,000 proposals because of their uber-coolness factor. It’s probably a stretch for me to get in, but their theme this year is creativity and inspiration which is why I thought my workshop could be a great fit even though I’m not famous or uber-cool.
    |
  • SXSW edu:
    This show is smaller and a fairly new category for SXSW. It’s dedicated to forward thinking education leaders, thinkers, and entrepreneurs. It’s also closer to my heart because I think like a teacher myself and I believe educators (esp. art educators) are some of the most maligned, under supported professionals today.
    I’m starting to realize that I want to be a part of the education conversation in this country as well as a more vocal advocate for the relevance and necessity of the arts and creativity in every aspect of learning and living life.

The Upshot (Basically, Please Vote)

To vote, SXSW will ask you to register/create a login (don’t worry: they do NOT put you on a promotional list).

  • Click here to vote for my proposal for forward thinking educators.
    PanelPicker_Vote
  • Click here to vote for my proposal for digital creatives:
    PanelPicker_Vote_14-blog

Afterward, I’d love for you to post comments in the proposal area and share our proposals on Facebook and Twitter with your friends and contacts.

Thanks so much, I really really appreciate this!
Warmly, Sarah

 

 

Funny boy dancing with a hat and glassesLord, I’m on a deadline.

I’m a week into a 2 week deadline for a couple of very large custom pieces for a boutique hotel. I’ve got to share at least one of these images with my art consultant in the next 48 hours so I can make changes if necessary and start the second piece in order to show the client something promising at the end of next week.

Right now, I really don’t think I’ve got the right hook yet. I keep looking at the descriptions of what the client (thinks) they want, images they’ve collected to help me understand what they (think) they want and then back to what I “do” as an artist and the images I’ve created so far.

I’ve got some work to do. Sigh.

In this situation, it’s very easy to panic. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious. But I’m trying to remember what I know deep down about my particular creative process and my success with tight deadlines in order to both keep the faith and simply keep going.

False Starts

For instance, whenever I start a new project, I always have what I call a “false start day.” This is the first day that I commit to spending a big chunk of time on a new project.

Each time I make that plan, that day is, inevitably, a mix of “almosts” and “kind ofs” combined with missing supplies, distracting phone calls and other irritating interruptions. Nothing gets done on the surface and usually about halfway through I realize, “Oh yeah, this is my false start day.”

I’ve also learned that this “false start” day seems to be required before I get down to brass tacks. So rather than beat myself up about it, I understand that for some reason, I need the “false start day” in order to have my productivity.

Even though it’s a very consistent experience, I still don’t usually account for it and I actually truly believe that I’m going to get lots and lots done that first day.  But once I’m halfway through and realize what’s happening, I accept my fate. At least I know it will be better tomorrow.

End of the Day Blues

Another part of my creative rhythm that I have to keep my eye on is the fact that I while I may like something I’m working on during the day as I create it, I usually decide by the end of the day that it’s not working–that I”ve somehow taken myself in the wrong direction or I just plain hate it.

In the past, I would have done something rash at this point. But now I’ve learned to wait–to see if I still hate it tomorrow. Because even if I decide it still needs work the next day, it’s usually not quite the overhaul I imagined was required.

And when I’m working for myself, as is the case now, I also look at the project one more time before I go to bed to give my sleeping mind a chance to figure out what I should do. No touching, just looking–this doesn’t have to take long either–in fact, it’s probably better that it doesn’t.

Gestation

The other thing I know about my particular creative process is that I spend longer in the “gestation” stage than most folks. That is, I stay in the messy middle for a long time where things neither look good or like they’re going to get finished on time.

For instance, when I worked in a design office, I was usually the last in with my finished products. I used to share an assistant with 2 other designers and she’d always get quite worried for me as each deadline loomed and they appeared to be accomplishing much more and what on earth was I doing?!

But by the end, I’d always get my projects in on time and I’d usually also have the most work done. I learned this in college when I was writing a paper–Id’ be the last one to start my paper but the first one to finish. I knew that if I lingered longer in the idea-wrestling phase, I’d be able to put my thoughts down much more quickly–basically not forcing myself to start before I was ready.

This habit, though, is the most stressful under a deadline. While I know it works for me, the desire to provide concrete evidence of great progress is very strong (that’s why we start before we’re ready). It’s hard-hard-hard to look “behind” or that you’re just not “getting it”. And when you have a long “gestation” period, it really means living with a project while it looks “bad” which is VERY uncomfortable.

But it’s usually worse if I get too focused on producing “evidence” too quickly. I just keep reminding myself that I’ve been here before–so really at this point, the most important thing is to keep the doubting voices in my head in check.

Respect

We each have our own particular creative rhythm. And the more you know AND RESPECT your own rhythm, the easier it is to get out of your own way and let it work.

For me, I’ve been pretty aware of my own creative process for a long time, but it’s taken me longer to truly respect it as well. And shushing those doubting and negative voices is an important part of offering that respect.

And it’s definitely more complicated on a deadline because everything is exaggerated and you usually have to speed up your natural rhythm–which almost always feels unholy, un-natural and unjust. But again, it’s worked before, it can work again.

(Of course, I never quite fully believe that as it’s happening–and I don’t want to jinx myself mid-project–but that is, in truth, what has always happened up to now.)

What About You?

Have you thought about what your own creative rhythms are? Do you get out of your own way and let them work?

If you haven’t, consider asking yourself some questions like:

  • What is your best time of day to create?
  • How long do you like to work at a time?
  • Do you need music to work? Silence? Privacy? Company?
  • How do you help yourself through the messy parts? Do you take a walk when you’re stuck? Eat twizzlers?

Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. (Remember, we’re all struggling with the same things, so when you share your own struggles, you’re helping someone else realize they aren’t alone!)

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Here’s this week’s Art Inspiration Hit List–a few links to wonderful artwork from around the interweb to get you thinking, dreaming, and creating.

This week’s focus is art that explores travel–-from sepia toned vintage images embedded in old suitcases to carefully consructed bronze sculptures to a giant travel celebration machine in the center of Paris.

I hope they inspire you to carry your own ideas forward into your own unique new territory.

Do this artwork speak to you?

Take a look and let me know what you think in the comments!


“Old Suitcases are Canvases for Memories of a Past Life”

These sepia-toned images on the suitcases feel so homey and deeply personal, they really evoke a feeling of stories and domestic histories. I love them.

 

Yuval Yairi Memory Suitcases


 “Bronze Sculpture: Traveling With Bruno Catalano”

These bronze half empty figures carrying their luggage seem to speak about the past and the future at the same time. The solidity of the bronze and the fragility of the open spaces somehow speak to the human condition in a way that’s both traditional and very fresh.

 

Bruno Catalano Travellers


 “Escape Machines” by DDB Paris

Is it art?Is it really about travel? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly joyful, unexpected, and over the top! Watch the video and see.

Creating and sharing your work is often an ongoing struggle with “going public” and feeling exposed.

It’s a thrill when people respond positively to what you’ve made and it can be truly painful when your latest creation is met with criticism or–often much worse–silence.

Not Knowing “How”

First of all, people often say the “wrong thing” or nothing at all is because they don’t know how to talk about art or design. They simply don’t have the language.

What I’ve never realized fully until lately though is that this actually makes people feel inadequate themselves. They either don’t know what to say and think they should OR they have no idea how to respond to something that isn’t representational or not their style with any kind of grace or skill.

Heck, I studied a lot of art history and I don’t always have the language either. (The FaceBook “like” button is actually very helpful in that situation!)

And if I’m struggling when art, design, and everything handmade is my obsession, well goodness, these civilians don’t stand a chance!

Which is why I think we need to let people off the hook.

So when your partner, friend, or business associate doesn’t know what to say–or says nothing, consider not taking it personally. Because in truth, it’s not personal even though it probably feels that way.

Even more importantly, consider not filling in the silence with your own terrible sentences of what you think they’re really thinking.

Which takes me to my “second of all.”

False Stories

When a loved one, friend, or colleague says nothing (or something non-committal) about what you’ve made and you feel naked, vulnerable and ridiculous, it’s easy for your mind to go a little crazy and start thinking the worst–filling in the silence with your own terrible sentences about your talent, your value, and your right to make art at all.

These terrible sentences are part of the whole self-critical story most of us tell ourselves all the time, but I think it gets even more exaggerated around your artwork because it’s like your putting your soul on display–an exposure of a different magnitude than most other ways we put ourselves “out there.”

When you can “tell” that someone doesn’t like something you’ve created, it can feel like that person is rejecting your essence.

And the reason this can feel so awful is that it is triggering your sorrow about the countless losses, shaming moments and various rejections you’ve experienced throughout your entire life.

It’s the rare person who reaches adulthood who accepts and loves themselves completely. Feeling “not okay” or “not enough” or “unworthy” –on whatever level–is practically the universal human experience.

And because your artwork is a direct expression of who you are, the usual bevy of self-protection mechanisms that effectively shield you from having to experience these feelings aren’t in place.

It’s like being on a fast track to accessing your unhealed pain. Ugh.

What To Do

Well, first, have compassion. Forgive yourself for judging yourself so harshly through the eyes of another. (Actually saying to yourself, “I forgive myself for that thought” can be quite powerful–try it.)

The second is to simply “notice” to the best of your ability. This can be hard in the throes of hurt, but to whatever degree you can, ask yourself:

  • “What am I feeling right now?” (Try to give it a word so it’s not a nameless, overwhelming blob.)
  • Where in your body are you feeling it? Does it have a shape and color? (A shape is finite and finite is good–again, much easier to tackle than a nameless, overwhelming blob.)
  • What old memories is it conjuring up? Who or what from your past is popping into your mind?

The third is to consider the idea that however true it might feel, it’s not. It’s a merciless story you’re telling yourself.

And even though it might be hard not to indulge that story, all efforts to interrupt it are powerful. Even thinking the thought, “Sarah said this is a merciless story and not the truth” is an interruption and an important first step.

The Big Pay-Off

What I actually love about this whole challenging experience for myself is that it elevates my artistic journey into a spiritual one.

Because creating is who I am, it’s the path through which I can explore the sacred and heal my wounds–and not just in the “making” part of my art, but through the entire experience–the showing and sharing, the applying and hoping, the acceptance and rejection, the selling and not selling, the praise and the silence.

It’s the place I do so much of my hard growing.

And an unexpected gift from this process is that it creates an increased...intimacy somehow between me and my artwork. It’s like they become private symbols of my healing process and growth (in addition to be artwork about this or that.)

How about you? Do you face these challenges too?

What do you do when you feel exposed and vulnerable? Do consider your creative journey a spiritual journey?

Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you and as always, remember that sharing your own experiences and struggles–even when you don’t have an answer or solution–can help other people know they’re not alone!