Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Committing to Creating

Last week I taught a workshop called No More Excuses!. The subject was how to create attainable goals and structure one's schedule to reach them. One of the most significant portions of the lesson was making time to make art.

If we want to be considered serious artists, if we want to define ourselves as serious artists, then our lives must reflect that focus. Even if we aren't selling our work we still need to designate a portion of our time to our studio-ideally on a daily basis. A consistent practice not only produces more inventory it also strengthens the quality of your work. And a sizable quantity of quality artwork means a greater amount of sellable inventory which means more opportunity to make money.

The reality of our lives is that most of us find it nearly impossible to find the time and the space to create art. Other obligations too easily get in the way. We can't afford the luxury of an offsite studio; we can't spare part of our living quarters to make one at home.

But one way or another we must find a solution.

What I advise students and coaching clients is to start by asking themselves where they are now and where they want to be. Don't overwhelm yourself, think in smaller increments of time: where do I want to be in three months, six months, a year?

If you want art to be your profession, you need to figure out your salary. While I don't want to get into the complexities of pricing ones artwork, I do want to mention this basic formula. Consider your medium and the cost of your materials. Tally up how many hours it generally takes to create a new piece of work (obviously this varies based on item). Now add up all your living expenses. What do you need to be earning monthly/quarterly/annually to make ends meet? Once you have an amount you will be able to determine how much inventory you need to be creating on a weekly basis and how much you need to be charging for your work. The great thing about our day and age is that one can readily do an infinite amount of research online. To make sure your prices are on target find other artists who are using similar materials and making artwork in a similar genre. Are you overcharging? Undercharging? How does your inventory compare to theirs?

However, let's get back to the issue, because there won't be an inventory if you don't make the time and the space to make the art. Again, you need to figure out how often you should be creating. But I encourage students and coaching clients to be kind to themselves. If life is getting in the way with reasonable responsibilities it's better to do a little something than nothing at all. It's the analogy of the dieter getting discouraged after cheating on their diet so they throw all their efforts toward weight loss out the window. It is important to recognize your season: perhaps you are caring for small children or an elderly parent, perhaps things have gotten out of control due to illness, a death in the family or job loss. Realize that seasons change and difficulties will pass. While it may be a while before you can devote the time and space you need to reach your goals, you will be able to eventually.

Now about the space. If you can't afford to rent or purchase a studio outside of your home and there isn't an extra room in your home to designate as your studio, it is still possible to have a studio. Set aside a certain portion of the day to use a particular room for creativity. Is there a time of the day when you have the house to yourself? If not, ask family members to respect your need for privacy and space while you are working. Or set up a schedule where you can rise earlier or stay up later than everyone to create. It is important to have a loving, respectful conversation with friends and family members about your need to have time and space for art.

I know from whence I speak. I live in a condominium with a very open floor plan. There is virtually nowhere in my home where one can close a door, except in the bathrooms. What made the situation even more complicated was that both I and my husband were self-employed, allowing for us to be home at the same time throughout the week. My studio schedule had dwindled and my artwork was suffering. Every time I found a moment to create (I'm a painter) it was like learning the process all over again. I realized this wasn't working, not just for the sake of the artwork but for my sake as well. Creating for me is like breathing. My soul was suffering.

My husband and I sat down and worked out a set schedule. He would leave at certain time on a certain day of the week, returning at a certain time. The period of time he was away would be left to me to do what I wanted. This put the burden solely on me to use the time and space in the best way possible. There was no one else to blame if I didn't use them wisely.

This didn't come together perfectly. My husband resented having to leave every week and I resented him for resenting it. But as we both soon recognized this solution was beneficial to us both. I was happier and therefore we were happier as a couple.

It will take you defining yourself as an artist, declaring your intention to focus more time and effort toward that path, and discussing with others your need to designate time and space for this pursuit. This will mean sacrifice on everyone's part. Other activities will have to be put to the side. But anyone who celebrates you and your passions will be willing to make adjustments.

Having the right space and sufficient time helps you get into the creative zone. This will allow you to make well-crafted, focused work.

Here are a few tips for creating that time and space:

-Look at your schedule and find time that you can commit to creativity. This may mean declining invitations, cutting back on activities with friends and family, and letting go of other commitments.

-Even if your “studio” is a shared space, surround yourself with things that inspire you. These could be items that are tucked away except for your creativity time or kept on permanent display. The act of using your mind, heart, hands and soul to transform raw materials into a new creation is a sacred act. Treat your studio space accordingly-it should be a sacred space.


-Help yourself get-and stay-in the zone. When you are in your home it is all too easy to get distracted. Family members interrupt you, the dishes need to be washed, the doorbell rings. Make a promise to yourself and everyone around you that this is a DO NOT DISTURB time. Keep your cellphone and your computer off. If you can, mute your telephone. Only emergencies should warrant you having to break your concentration.

I found these articles to be helpful as both guides and inspiration:

what night owls get done

stop your internet addiction


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Introducing the 2013 Focusing Series

I want to take a moment to announce this year’s Focusing Series: a year round series of professional-development workshops hosted by Alternate Currents, the Jamaica Plain Arts Council, a2n2.net and MattMcKee photography. I spent the later part of December furiously creating the 2013 curriculum-which includes new topics and new instructors, and I am very excited about this year’s offerings.

The Focusing Series offers affordable workshops intended for small business ventures, writers, artists, craftspeople and creative entrepreneurs. 

January brings two opportunities to get the year off on the right track. My evening workshop No More Excuses covers how to set realistic goals and develop your focus so you can achieve them while finding time in your busy schedule to pursue those goals and make genuine progress. This workshop is ideal for anyone interested in structuring creativity into their life in a meaningful and/or professional way. Participants will walk away with a concrete strategy for getting to the next level. This workshop is scheduled for Monday, January 21 6:30-9pm.

My Focusing Your Art Career: Two-Day Boot Camp offers a comprehensive overview of all you need to know to start up a creative career or take your career to the next level.  Topics include: goal setting, time management, building your brand, developing your audience, creating an online persona for selling and marketing your work, learning what opportunities are out there for your medium and how to successfully pursue them, pricing your work, managing the administrative elements of your business, networking and how to create a lasting impact to separate you from the crowd.

The workshop allows students to learn and share in a confidential, small group setting.  The lessons will be personalized for each participant, so that he or she will gain a focused understanding of “where to go from here.”

Boot camp fee includes class materials & a one hour private consulting session with me.  The consulting session will allow participants to ask further questions and develop a career strategy. This workshop is scheduled for Tuesday & Wednesday, January 22-23      10am-2:30pm (both days)

February gives everyone another opportunity to join in on our boot camp in addition to a wonderful workshop with the renowned photographer Matt McKee. Matt will be teaching Click & Connect, a workshop everyone would benefit from attending.  Matt has made a successful career out of creating professional photography for corporate clients and private collectors.  If there is anyone around who is worthy of teaching how to take a great photo-it’s Matt!
Visual documentation of your artwork is necessary if you want to develop your art career.  Artists use photographs for online marketing, printed materials, and to find new exhibition opportunities-the more visually stunning the images the better.  However, getting great photos of your work does not have to be expensive, complicated and frustrating.  These days, all of us have the tools right at our fingertips: our digital cameras and smart phones!
This workshop is perfect for anyone who is not a technical genius-you will discover simple ways to take fantastic photos.  Learn how to plan and manage a successful photo shoot, and what to do afterwards to ensure top quality images.  This introduction to the needed basics will ensure you can document your artwork in the best possible light! The workshop is scheduled for Monday, February 11 6:30-9pm.

It’s easy to register for our workshops: simply email focusingseries@gmail.com or call
617-955-3472.  The deadline for registration is always noon the Friday before the workshop or boot camp.  Evening workshops (always held on Mondays from 6:30-9) are $45 and the two-day boot camp is $150.

Registration for our January workshops ends at noon, Friday January 18!  It’s just a couple of days away, so get your year off to a great start and register right away

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Miles to go...and Much to Learn

We were stranded in our broken down car at a closed gas station located somewhere in the middle of Nowhere, New Jersey. Shivering in the freezing darkness we watched a doe hobble about on three legs and wondered if she was meant to be some sort of sign.

My husband and I have always been avid road trippers, even before we met. The lure of the open highway and being the master of one’s domain were part of the appeal, but since our families live quite a distance away-mine below the Mason Dixon, Joe’s in Pennsylvania-driving was the most affordable way to travel home.

Several years ago we got into the habit of traveling overnight as it cut down considerably on our time. Because of this getting through New York and New Jersey is far easier; however there is the drawback of often arriving at our destination at odd hours. We learned quickly that bed and breakfasts and inns are far more flexible about check-in time than hotels, and this was certainly the case on this trip. We had an English countryside-themed b&b waiting for us in Virginia and our GPS had us arriving there around 8am. It was 2:30am, Tuesday November 20th and we were gloating over the great time we were making with not another vehicle in sight.

That was when we heard the noise.

There was suddenly a loud, metallic clattering in the engine. The computer screen lit up with messages, each more dire than the last. My husband quickly veered off the highway. We pulled into the deserted gas station and cut the engine. The night was bitter cold and so our teeth chattered as we waited for a tow truck, watching the injured deer.

I’m not sure how most people would have handled a situation like this. Perhaps they would have cursed their fate, bickered with one another, or broken into tears. We certainly had more than enough cause to react strongly and bitterly to our circumstances. It had been a very hard year for us, matching the first difficult year of our lives: 2006. 2012 began with my husband searching for work after his best friend and business partner decided to go it alone. After Joe found employment in the corporate world we had to adapt to that new lifestyle. Years of business ownership had given us a fairly flexible schedule and casual wardrobe. Now Joe arose at 5am five days a week to don a suit until he came home at 7pm. Still we rejoiced in this new opportunity, feeling it was clear that this transition was God’s plan.

May began the most difficult portion of the year. We learned Joe’s sweet mother, always so healthy, had cancer. She would be gone within weeks, leaving us reeling. Meanwhile some tooth pain I had been complaining about to my dentist for years was finally attended to. The dentist decided to perform a root canal, despite the fact I told him I felt the tooth should be pulled. Over the course of four visits that accumulated to thirteen hours, he worked on me, leaving my mouth open for so long it ripped on one side. The Novocaine would wear off during the later visits with me writhing in pain before he gave me another shot. For some unknown reason he would not prescribe me antibiotics nor painkillers. After the fourth visit, I was up all night as it felt like someone was perpetually stabbing me in the face and neck. After visiting an endodontist and a new dentist who specializes in dental reconstruction, I learned from both that the root canal had been the wrong decision, that indeed the tooth needed to be pulled and I would have to get an implant. As I realized the pain I had endured, the money we had spent on the root canal had been all for nothing, I couldn’t help but cry.

“Minor” things happened as well and heaped upon what we were already dealing with, they bore more and more weight upon us. We got a $5000 bill for repairs on our property. My dermatologist found a growth in the arch of my foot that looks suspicious. My grandmother’s health declined rapidly, to the point where it seemed at times she wouldn’t make it. And after witnessing what Joe’s mother had gone through, Joe and I decided I needed to follow up on my stage 3 cancer diagnosis from 2006 (part of what made that year so dreadful). My doctor and I decided a hysterectomy was in order to take my chances of developing full-blown cancer from 50% to 0%.

The trip south, with the eventual objective of spending Thanksgiving with my family, was supposed to be our treat after everything that had happened. It was Joe’s first vacation from his new job and it was meant to be a time of relaxation and bonding with loved ones. Instead we huddled in our car until a tow truck arrived at 4:30am. After flat bedding our vehicle the driver dropped it off at a local dealership. The dealership would not be open for a few more hours, so we asked if he could help us find somewhere warm to wait. He left us in front of a nearby hotel where blessedly the staff took pity on us, allowing us in even though we had a dog.

After getting a ride back to the dealership, and then waiting a couple more hours, we learned our car’s engine had to be replaced. Fortunately the car was still under warranty, so the service and supplies would be covered along with a rental car. Enterprise lent us a compact and got us on our way. We didn’t arrive at our b&b in Virginia until close to 5pm that evening: nine hours after our original scheduled time.

The next day, after walking around the little town and grabbing some breakfast, we headed off to Asheville. This time we were in the middle of Nowhere, Virginia when the check tire light came on. A plug had worked itself out of an already damaged rear tire. The next couple of hours were spent on the phone with Enterprise as we tried to figure out where we were and what we could do to continue our trip. Enterprise sent us ten miles up the road to another location to trade the compact car for a cavernous minivan. All of the Christmas gifts and our luggage were yet again relocated to a new vehicle along with our despairing dog.

Our time with family was hectic, rowdy, and fun. For our return trip, Joe booked a night at a b&b in the aptly named New Jersey town of Hope. It was apparently settled by missionaries who had come to serve the American Indians. Driving through the night snow began to softly fall. We pulled in to our inn at 6am. We woke up later that afternoon to a winter wonderland. The snowy landscape was the perfect backdrop for the light grey stone mill and surrounding buildings. We called the dealership that had been working on our car and delightedly found the car would be ready the very next day, not the following week as we had originally been told. We woke up the next day, had a hearty breakfast and then drove what turned out to be a mere twenty minutes up the street to drop off our rental car and pick up our own. As we rode home in our newly pepped up car we marveled at the snow that crusted the tree branches on the high hills above the highway. The effect looked almost fictional, like special effects in a film, it was so surreal. Joe and I have gotten a lot of flak-particularly from my family-for our road tripping ways. As we took in the sight I turned to Joe and said, “This is why we travel this way. How else are you going to witness this?”

In 2006 our life had been hard for many sad reasons but the saddest one was the way we handled our difficulties. Instead of rejoicing in all things we were angry, bitter, and anxiously sought solitude: away from each other and away from God. We shook our fists at Heaven, whining “why us?” Joe became hostile and critical at the slightest provocation. And I took to the streets, literally, spending hour after hour building a life-with new places and people-that had little or nothing to do with my actual reality.

2012 was met with the wisdom of experience and knowing we can survive anything because God is on our side. When Joe’s Mom was sick, we used that time to forgive old hurts and to offer whatever comfort and care we could. Her funeral was a beautiful revelation of what Heaven will be like and we couldn’t help but rejoice that she is in the presence of her Father. While I still have no idea what I was to gain from my experience with my tooth, in fact when it was extracted the surgeon said there was so much damage from all the years of decay (which could have been avoided had the dentist listened to me) she had to drill out my jaw and it will take about a year to heal before we can progress further on the implant, I am pleased the trial for now is over and that eventually my situation was handled by competent professionals. And I acknowledge that perhaps it was not about me. Perhaps there was something my dentist needed to learn in order to change his ways and protect his business.

2013 is here with me going in for a consultation about the growth on my foot tomorrow. A biopsy will probably be scheduled soon. My hysterectomy is set for the end of February. But I am not shaken. This past year has brought with it great peace, even happiness that God is using our circumstances to teach us and bring us closer to Him. During most of this year I was overwhelmed with joy over the abounding blessings of our lives. Neighbors, some we barely know, came forward to offer us comfort as we dealt with the illness and loss of Joe’s Mom. One neighbor drove me to the airport for the funeral. When we returned home she surprised us with a home-cooked dinner. Another friend, wanting to find a way to be helpful, drove across town in morning traffic to pick me up and then chauffeur me to an art event. As I got out of her car she gave me a hug and a bottle of water. Blessings have been found in the smiles of friends over coffee, the kindness of shopkeepers in our community. The innkeeper in Virginia, feeling so bad over what we had gone through, made us a wonderful dinner-on the house-complete with white coconut cake that tasted like you were eating a cloud. The next morning she sent us off with fresh baked muffins and homemade chocolate truffles. A woman working in a highway tollbooth asked us to wait as she fished around and then produced a dog treat and two sticks of gum. “You all look hungry.” she said as she handed them over. The holiday season brought neighbors inviting us over for champagne in front of toasty fires and greeting cards slipped under our door with messages of gratitude and appreciation. A client of mine asked me to join her at a nearby upscale bar, her treat, just so she could thank me. When I got there she presented me with a beautiful earring and necklace set from her native land.

This past year has felt a bit like going back to the basics. I am a fiercely independent, “I can do it myself” sort of person. Being put in such extreme situations forced me to wave the white flag and surrender completely to God’s care-something I had never been able to do before. Those who know me were mystified by my new laid back attitude. I am more willing to go with the flow than I used to be. And it has been nice to allow others to care for me. As I approach my hospital stay and subsequent recuperation, friends and neighbors have already volunteered for dog walking, dinner deliveries, and laundry cleaning. It is humbling and overwhelming to feel this loved.

When asked this Thanksgiving what I was thankful for I told everyone I am thankful this year taught me so much and brought me closer to my Heavenly Father. I am grateful my eyes were open to blessings and my heart was open to gratitude. I am grateful we broke down in a place where the nearest dealership was staffed with caring, considerate employees who took great care of both us and our car. I am grateful I live in a country where breaking down on the side of the road is not a death sentence. I am proud I live in a land where there are always options, always strangers who will go out of their way to help you.

Speaking with others throughout this year I know we are not the only ones who faced unusual hardships. This world as it ages is destined to grow darker, bleaker and crueler. I pray you will use your trials to find peace through Christ, the One who was born to bring peace to the world: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

May 2013 be the year you open your mind, eyes, ears, and heart to the Light.