Archive for Techniques & Strategies

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.

 

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!

Phil Hansen Artist

Phil Hansen Embrace the Shake

This week’s focus is Phil Hansen–-a pointillist artist who developed neurological damage in his hands from his own working style. No longer able to make a mark without his hands shaking, he went to the doctor who told him the damage was permanent.

This was devastating news for Hansen, but when the doctor suggested he “embrace the shake” he decided to do just that.

Watch this super inspiring video and find out how Phil Hansen turned the notion of limitation into a fantastic exploration of the creative process and discovered the infinite possibilities within every creative barrier.

Huge.

How could you turn own your limitations–whatever they may be–having self-doubt or being broke or living with no space to make art or working 2 jobs and taking care of 3 kids into a wonderful creative opportunity?

Or have you already overcome a limitation regarding your creativity that you can share?

Take a look and let me know what you think in the comments! Don’t forget, your experiences can help other people!

May
23

Letting Go of Mistakes

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clutterpic-blogpost

A peek into “someone’s” (ahem) art supply closet.

Like most people who sew, I’m a bit of a fabric-aholic. I have a huge stash.

Last week, as I was (semi) organizing my studio, I packed up 2 big bags and gave it away–including a whole bag of pillow forms that I had gotten from someone else.

This was hard to do because I felt guilty about buying the fabric and then not using it. Wasteful.

But I was also happier when it was gone because I didn’t have to go through the guilt of looking at it every day anymore either. And I realized that I had given myself permission to let go of my mistakes.

Why it’s Complicated

I have a friend who is a professional organizer and I have these imaginary conversations with her in my head when I’m tidying my studio. Often these conversations happen because I have piles I can never quite get rid of completely (and I’m wondering how on earth to do that) and sometimes because I’m mentally defending my mounds of supplies that I won’t toss.

I have a box of feathers, for instance, that I’ve owned for over 20 years. Literally. My mom scored them for me at a yard sale in the early nineties. The thing is, I used some of those feathers the other day.  And I could tell you that I use them regularly, which is true lately, but I’ve also gone for years when I didn’t use them.

Hence the agony of the arty person. We can have a seemingly ragtag assortment of stuff that sits for ages without getting used. Normally, in the organizing world, that means you must not really want it and you should toss it.

But that’s not so helpful for the arty collagist type person. It’s true that I could never use it but it’s also true that I could.

Some Guidelines

While I’m definitely a work in progress on clutter and organization myself, I do think, when it comes to art supplies, that normal rules of keeping and tossing don’t apply.

But I also think you can hang on to things too long out of guilt, feeling wasteful, or unrealistic expectations and accidentally create a clutter that interferes with your creativity. This we don’t want!

So here’s a few questions I try to ask myself when I’m attempting to create more order in my studio:

Do I own these bits or do they own me?

Does your stuff control the way you move around? Does it oppress you? Do you feel overwhelmed by it?  Being enslaved by your stuff is a sure sign you need to get rid of it (or at least some of it if that statement just gave you a heart attack!) Either way, don’t let your stuff control you–and don’t feel bad about needing help to figure it out either.

Is this stuff about my “Present Me” or my “Past Me?”

Sometimes we hang onto old stories about ourselves when they no longer serve–except to provide us an identity or a comfortable explanation that we’re used to saying: “I’m a _________ (fill in the blank) type artist and that’s why I have all this kind of __________ supplies.

For instance, you might be defining yourself this way: “I always frame all my artwork myself, so I have all this mat board leaning against the wall over there and all these odd sized frames in these milk crates that I scored at yard sales and that big cutter that’s partially blocking the back door until I set it up again…”

But do you still do that? Do you want to? It’s okay to have changed, moved on, realize you don’t like doing that, etc. It’s okay!

(Or if that definition of yourself means a great deal to you and it hurts to get rid of that stuff because of you still want to be that someone who frames all her art, it’s just that you’re not making any art right now, which is what REALLY bums you out….well, it might be a good time to sign up for a phone coaching session where we can figure out how to get you back to that!)

Is it really so precious or could I actually get it again if I got rid of it now and decided I needed it later?

We artists often collect unusual bits that can’t be gotten in a store whenever we feel like it. But that said, we also have an abundant universe.

Even if you can’t get that exact thing again, if you believe that you can always get what you truly need when you need it, you can have faith that when you’re struck by inspiration, you’ll not be suffering without “x” because you tossed it or gave it to charity or sold it at a yard sale to another quirky soul six months ago.

Don’t forget, you’re creative. Part of being creative is coming up with creative solutions. Your creativity is not dependent on your stash of cool bits.

Is it serving me? Is it feeding my creativity? Does it give me joy? Or do I just feel bad about getting rid of it?

You can think something is neat/cool/fun/handy and still get rid of it. By getting rid of it you’re not saying to it: “You are worthless.” You’re just saying, “You’re neat, but I’m about other things now.”

If it truly has value, then you know a thrift store or charity shop will be happy to have it.

Is this about my beliefs about things other than art?

For instance, do you allow yourself to have made a mistake? Sometimes hanging onto stuff forever is about that: never say die!

Or are you like me–is it hard to feel like you “wasted money” and if you throw that out you’re conceding that that’s what you did?

Remember, an abundance of supplies is an expression of loving to create–it might not have been the smartest economic decision ever, but are you giving that mistake too much weight? I mean, have you never ordered the wrong thing at dinner? Bought shoes that don’t fit right?

We all make mistakes, we all use our money unwisely sometimes. If your art supply shopping is preventing you from paying your bills or feeding your kids, okay, you’ve got a problem. But I doubt that’s your situation. Don’t beat yourself up!

Okay, admit it, did you actually forget about it?

Even though I’m a big believer that you have to see your supplies if you want to create, I still have stuff I’ve put in boxes and forgotten about completely. Then, when I open the box I think, “oh yeah, I forgot about that. Hmm…that’s pretty neat.”

Neat or not, that can go. My life was fine without it. My creativity was not informed by it. I didn’t even remember owning it for goodness sakes.

What do you think?

How are you doing with your stuff? Do you allow yourself to make mistakes? Do you let stuff go? Would you feel more free with less clutter?

What are your strategies for keeping on top of your supplies or organizing your studio/workspace corner?

Please leave a comment–we’d love to hear from you and don’t forget, your experiences might help someone else!

 

I think most people underestimate how vulnerable a person can feel creating their art and having people see them doing it.

When you’re creating something, it’s usually hard to finish it in one sitting. So unless you live alone, it’s highly likely that other people are witnessing your process, your “muck” half way through.

If you make work all the time, this probably isn’t a problem because you’ve got some key factors working in your favor:

  • momentum (huge)
  • confidence (huge)
  • habit (everyone around you is used to you doing it-huge)

But if you are trying to get back into the swing, or you create sporadically, or even if you make things all the time but are nervously TRYING SOMETHING NEW,  it can be hard to feel so……………exposed.

Which can stop you even before you get started.

Because really, this fear of exposure is most likely a fear of failure.

It’s hard to make something bad. Or risk making something bad. Because usually, you leap to the (incorrect) conclusion that it means that you’re bad/not talented/a big loser–you know the drill.

(Of course, it does NOT mean that, but a lifetime of conditioning can take a while to undo.)

So how do you move forward while still struggling with your demons?

Two words: Protective Sentences.

I have long relied on protective sentences as a way for me to do what I want and dodge “helpful advice” (not), potential or imagined potential criticism, or even just the potential need to explain myself or what I’m doing to anyone–friend or stranger.

So what’s a protective sentence? I’ll tell you.

Someone says, “What are you making?” or even better…”What is THAT?”

You say your protective sentence:

“I don’t know, I’m experimenting.”

or just “I’m experimenting.” (without pausing to look up because you’re too busy experimenting to stop.)

Then they say, “Oh.”

Because really, what can they say back? It’s beautiful in it’s simplicity.

In fact, if someone else walks up and says “What is that?”

I’ll bet you 10-1 that that first questioner will answer for you, “Oh, she’s experimenting.”

It’s perfect. It’s a huge cocoon that requires no further explanation. It’s my all-time favorite.

And hey, it may not be the bravest thing to do in terms of self-actualization or whatever, but I don’t care about that kind of brave, I care about a bigger braveyou making your stuff or you pushing to your particular edge, or digging deeper, or reaching higher. And if you’re stopping yourself because it feels hard or you may fail or look ridiculous, then it’s imperative to create the conditions you need to take that risk anyway–however teeny or pointless it may seem to someone else.

A good, simple protective sentence can do the trick.

And best of all, they’ll never know!

And while you’re at it, come experiment with me this Sunday!

Sign up for the Creative Breakthrough’s Collage Tele-Class–it’s over the phone (not online) and it’s super simple and fun to participate. It’s happening this Sunday,  October 21st, at 3pm EST.

(And if someone asks what you’re doing, tell them “I’m experimenting.”)

Do you have any protective sentences that you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

 

Dec
29

What’s Your Theme?

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It’s the end of the year which for many of us is a time of reflection–especially this last week between Christmas and the New Year.

I used to create resolutions every year, but last year my friend Cairene introduced me to the idea of creating a theme for the coming year instead.

The idea behind an annual theme is to provide yourself a unifying idea or motif that you can return to and interpret over the course of time and to help you connect any specific goals you might create with your highest desires for yourself.

And you can’t break your theme either, so there’s no failure factor which is a nice change of pace from the inevitable breaking that seems to happen within a few weeks or months for most of us with New Year’s resolutions.

Your Creativity

This year I’m inviting you to choose a theme specifically for your creativity–your goals, dreams, secret wishes–however humble or lofty they might be.

It’s useful to keep it to a few words. Take your time thinking about what you want for your creative self, and how that might be captured as a theme. Your theme might come to you instantly, or it might take a few weeks to evolve.

To give you some ideas about what your theme might look like, here are some suggestions to spark your imagination:

Possible Themes:

  • Dig Deeper
  • Loving Patience (with yourself of course)
  • Allow
  • Be Consistent
  • One Foot in Front of the Other
  • Show Up
  • Look and Listen
  • Honor
  • Be Joyful
  • Be Present
  • Acceptance
  • Community
  • Be Committed
  • Take Risks

Tag Lines

As you consider what theme will most benefit you in 2011, you might also want to develop a tagline. Last year, for instance, my theme for my business was Break Through and my tagline was Have Faith.

I felt like this combination was the perfect expression of what I was hoping for myself–to push past some self-imposed barriers while also not forcing things or fretting–having faith that things would unfold the way they should.

So you could resonate with one of the suggestions from the list above and use it for your theme–and then use another word from the list as your perfect tagline.

For instance, your theme could be Take Risks with the tagline Acceptance–this tagline can help you remember to be on your own side as you take your risks, which is important if you commit to sticking your neck out on a regular basis.

Or perhaps you’d like your theme to be Be Present (with your creativity), with the tagline Allow.

It can be easier to stop judging yourself and let yourself Be Present with where you are in your creative process when you Allow yourself to make mistakes, make bad stuff, or be a beginner.

See how it works? I love it.

What’s Your Theme?

So, what do you think? Are you ready to create yourself a theme for your creativity this 2011? Do you know what that is already, or are you just putting on your thinking cap?

Please share your thoughts in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

Oct
19

Free Trial!

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I’ve got an exciting new offer! You can now get a FREE trial of the Creative Breakthroughs Collage Tele-class just by signing up for my newsletter–right up there on the right of your screen.

Watch my short video where I explain all about it:

(if you’re receiving this in your email and you can’t see the video, click on this link: http://makegreatstuff.com/free-trial/)

Yay, FREE!

How Do Current Subscribers Get the Coupon?

If you already subscribe to my blog, thank you!

However, I’d love for you to re-subscribe because I’m using a different service that behaves better, lets me put the title of the post into the email subject line (so you can tell before you open it if it’s probably something that interests you), and sends prettier emails.

And if you do, you’ll get a coupon for a FREE trial of the Creative Breakthroughs Collage Tele-class.

This class is a great way to get unstuck, work around your self–censorship, and make time for your creativity every week.

And if you’ve already taken a Creative Breakthroughs Collage Tele-class, you still completely qualify for a FREE coupon–just  re-subscribe and it should arrive in your email shortly.

(You’re doing me a huge favor by switching subscription services, so I’m happy for you to have a free coupon.)

Please Share

I’d be honored if you’d share this offer with everyone you think might benefit so they can get back to their creative selves as well.

Tweet it, put the link in your FB profile, or email it to friends and family.

Here’s the link that has the video and explains all about it: http://makegreatstuff.com/free-trial/

Thank you, I really appreciate your willingness to spread the creative love.

I hope to “see” you on a call soon, and I really look forward to making art together!

Big hugs, Sarah