Thursday, March 31, 2016

Unhooking From Praise.

Or how to change my relationship to praise and criticism.  

Another quote popped up in front of me this week from author, Tara Mohr, "Always look at feedback as giving you information about the person or people giving the feedback, rather than information about yourself." 

We all want praise and not criticism.  But what if it's not about us, but about others?

This is definitely an idea that sets me free in so many ways.  Free from the childhood of scowling nuns.  Free from the peer pressure, career pressure, parental pressure, social status pressure and now, ageist pressure to sit out my life and retire. As I expand my life from required work to creative work, it's easy to slip into thinking I am immune to the whole praise/criticism merry-go-round.  

Maybe you are, but I'm not.  But it's not because I'm weird, but because I'm a woman.

According to author, Tara Mohr, women have a harder time getting beyond the praise/criticism trap.  "What I realized was that for most of the past few thousand years, women couldn’t ensure our safety by political, legal or financial rights — we simply didn’t have those protections. Likability, fitting in, social influence — these were women’s primary available survival strategies. For many of us, doing work or expressing ideas that might rock the boat, cause controversy, or bring others’ disapproval can feel very dangerous because, for millennia, it was. Today, we’ve got some serious unlearning to do."

Wow.  Let my learning begin.  Now.  Please.

Now I see it's not about praise=good and criticism=bad.  It's about getting a glimpse of the world through someone else's eyes.  What they say, is...only what they see.  Not what is truly there to be seen.  If someone likes my work, that tells me something about their tastes.  If someone doesn't like my work, that also tells me about their needs or preferences. My work is distinctive and original.  Doing work like that will be liked by some and disliked by others.  I don't need to do different work or change what I do.  

All I need to do is see my true target audience.  And embrace that it's not everyone out there.

A weight lifted in my heart when I read this.  Thank you, Tara Mohr. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Shooting My Work.

I needed help.  My professional photographer retired and I needed new photos of my work. I've always felt that professional pictures, like a professional resume are needed basics.  I also realize that times have changed.  Social media doesn't necessarily require pro photos so taking them on my phone works just fine.  But they're not the high quality needed for shows or websites.  I knew it was time to learn to do this on my own, but I didn't know how or where to start.  

Thanks to artist friend, Michelle Gallagher, I learned. 

First, I found out how to set up a portable photo studio.  You can order these online in several sizes.  Michelle's is a 16" cube.  I ordered the 24" cube.  These come with lights, background inserts and it all folds up into a black bag for storage.  Once you get the background and lights set up, it's time to shoot.

Shooting isn't hard.

Having a tripod, digital camera with a timer and zoom is necessary.  Michelle has a Nikon.  Hers is simple and easy to use.  Michelle showed me how important it is to use a timer, something I wouldn't have figured out.  Using a timer helps her keep the picture sharp and focused.  She can set it all up, hit the timer button and step away, letting the camera do the work.  The tripod allows you to change the angle of the shot, tilting and panning as necessary without moving your work around. 

Lighting is key.

Having the lights set up to produce the right shadows, keep the hot spots to a minimum and give an accurate picture of your piece is essential.  Personally, I think lighting is 95% of the job and the only thing that done poorly results in photography that looks unprofessional.  So I was particularly worried about this step in the process.  

Again, Michelle had figured out a space and a way to set up her lights in her basement studio that really worked.  And it's a simple set up that she can use without too much hassle.  She uses an existing fluorescent fixture behind her photo box and has several incandescent lights nearby giving her nice, ambient lighting.  The key here is her clip light covered with a theater diffuser that angles down onto the photo set up.   This overhead light really does a great job of lighting the pieces and casting the 'right' shadows.

Instead of competition, camaraderie. Or how I got by with a little help from my friend.

We all want to do our best, get into shows, sell and exhibit.  But in the rush to succeed, we can, sometimes, let competition get in the way of community and camaraderie.  I believe that the best art comes from the heart and to be true to that on all levels can be challenging. Artists begin to look at each other and their work as players on an opposing team instead of a community of like-minded souls. 

Spending the morning with Michelle in her studio, learning about photography and sharing our work, showed me not only the art of photography, but the art of friendship as well.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Life: Banquet or Starvation Diet?

"Look at yourself then. Consider everything you have fed yourself over the years.  Was it a banquet or a starvation diet?" 

This quote by Ray Bradbury popped up last week.  It opened my eyes letting me see life in an entirely new way.  I've always known there were choices out there.  Sometimes the choices get a bit overwhelming, sure.  And, sometimes, you don't get to choose because life or laws or circumstances get in your way.  But what I really saw is how much I self-limit my life.

Starvation diet: I was taught to count calories, budget my time and save my money.    

Now, sometimes these are good things to do.  I want to be healthy and energetic.  I want to be creative and productive.  I want abundance to support my loves and my life.  This means choosing wisely on many levels.  But a steady diet of limits leads to a life lacking in joy and enjoyment.

Banquet thinking: See my life as a plate to fill, refill or change with what really feeds me.

Again, that means choosing people, experiences, creative projects that fill me with yummy plates of soul satisfying sustenance.  It does sound wonderful, doesn't it?  It also sounds impossible.  Egotistical.  Or is it?  

Curiosity.  My word of the year pops up again, here.  

I'm curious.  What if just for a day or two, I look at my every little thing in and around my life as an item on a banquet table.  Seeing this moment, hour, day all as sections of the plate of my life.  I get to browse through all the experiences; people, sights, sounds, tastes, ideas and information and choose what and when I feed it to myself.  If there's too much of something or too little, I can change the menu.

On the banquet menu now:  Curiosity.  Creativity.  Fun.  Family.  Friendship.  Truth.  Connection.  Happiness.  Soul food.  Peace.  Fresh air.  Sunshine.  Flowers.  And, of course, Coffee and Chocolate.  Not necessarily in this order.  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Field Trip.

It was a dark and rainy day.  The bowls were still too wet to trim and the clay was turning to mush in my hands.  At the wheel in my damp, cold garage all I was getting was cranky.  After I gave up on clay for the day, I knew just how to spend my time.

Take a field trip.

On a rainy day like today, it seems like an odd thing to do.  I know.  But what I've found out along this sometimes bumpy creative road is field trips are not only necessary, they are vital to keeping the vitality coming in especially when it feels like the inspiration light is going out.  

So, I forced myself to back a way from the wheel.  Set the wet clay down. 

I put on my boots and parka, wound a scarf around my neck and headed out into the famous Portland rain.  I had a bunch of little errands that I'd put off, so now it was the perfect time to run them. Off to home store for salt for my salt grinder.  Into the art store for a bottle of clear glaze.  

Down the street to that lovely haven of silliness and tactile wonderland: Craft Warehouse.  I wandered the isles, looking at mini fairy lands complete with twinkle lights.  Coloring books for adults aimed at encouraging 'mindfulness'.  

Journals and wall art from the silly to the snarky.  

And my favorite, a glue gun wonderland of pompous, beads, and pipe cleaners in all those happy childlike colors.  

Heaven really is in the small things.

I roamed the baby store for a new outfit for my granddaughter and played with the cutest monkey finger puppet.  I almost bought it, but truth be told, it would have been for me.  You see, she's too little to play with it yet.  

But there's the key: play.  I forget this too often to count.

I get all busy and all business and all work.  And no play.  I know it and you know it and we all know it, but in our culture it gets pushed aside so much, we all forget the importance and value of play.  Recess isn't just about running around a field, it's about so, so much more.  It's about breathing in the fresh air, feeling the rain on our faces and walking in puddles.  And getting out side of our heads and getting a little mindless.  

Field trips are a chance to take a trip beyond our working day, see new things, have an adventure, smile, laugh and yes, even play with a monkey finger puppet. (As long as no one is looking,)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

As The Wheel Turns: Distractions.

Life is full of distractions.  Things to do.  People to see.  Places to go.  Add a goal of dedicating yourself to creating new work and life gets even fuller, sometimes to the point of over flow.  Now, don't get me wrong, having an overflow of ideas, taking these ideas from inspiration to a finished pieces of art is a wonderful, exciting thrill ride.  

But sometimes, the ride gets sidetracked.

The road to creation can take many detours.  Some of those detours wind their way to new ideas and back to new creations.  But some of those detours are sharp turns that lead the creative life off course.  Ideas, projects and new pieces get lost.  Along this road, I tend to get busy driving through the traffic of to-do lists, outside pressures or some kind of internal expectations of achievement.  I forget the most important thing in my life: creating.

The sign says stop.

But stopping is one of the hardest things for me to do when I'm driving my busy car.  I want to make it through the yellow lights, pass the slower cars and get there first.  Creating, I know from experience, doesn't work that way.  Putting the peddle to the metal does not get the art work done faster, in fact, it causes more creative crashes than anything else.  And even as I write this, and know this, I still see there's this push inside to drive on, faster, anyway.  But I am learning, finally to stop.  

The way is simple, really.

Routine helps me immensely.  Taking a walk in the park every morning with my sweet dog, Jilly.  Look at the trees budding.  Feel the leaves swaying.  Hear the crows gossiping. Smell the fresh grass and taste the spring air around me.  Bring that outside into my quiet space as I wedge the clay, get out my tools and put down Jilly's bed next to my wheel and let it spin.  Wherever it goes, I go.  Whatever comes out of the clay, I accept.  

With a lump of clay in my hands, there are no distractions.   

Why, a little curious voice asks, do I keep forgetting this simple truth?  Maybe this is just part of my process of living.  So simply: next time I see the distraction detour coming, I need to pick up my clay and follow it instead.