Wednesday, March 16, 2011


We just finished a several day long process of helping my parents move out of their old home.  Their things will be stored on a van for a couple of days and then moved into their new place.  There is a part of me that always loves sorting through other peoples’ things.  It is very satisfying to organize, feel helpful, and satisfy my own inner archaeologist at the same time. 
            It makes me realize how many things that I have around the house and studio that are just asking to be reinvented into jewelry.  I hate to throw away anything that seems like it might be useful one day, but I also am aware that we have gathered quite a collection of “potentially useful things.”  Besides all of the rocks, sticks, feathers, etc. that I am planning on making into art, the kitchen junk drawer seems like it has a lot of potential. We have another three back to back art shows to get through before taking on any new projects, but I am looking forward to taking some time to be my own archeologist.  

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Turning off the inner critic

            I haven’t written anything for the last few days.  Part of it is that I have been really busy getting ready for art shows.  The other issue though is that I am afraid that whatever I write about will not be relevant or interested enough to publish as a blog post.  When I was writing daily entries as a journaling exercise, it was really easy to write.  As soon as I start thinking about other people reading them, though, my inner critic comes on and turns off the flow. 
            This is ironic because I tell students and people in my art show booth booth: CREATIVITY IS ABOUT BEING WILLING TO MAKE MISTAKES!  I firmly believe that developing a high level of skill and expression in any creative endeavor is about practice and being willing to accept that not every work will be a masterpiece right away.  When I am making jewelry, it is very similar.  When I am sitting down to “design a new style,” it is often very difficult.  I will keep working on a project, and it just doesn’t seem to unfold the way I want it to.  When I am “just playing at making jewelry,” very fun new designs often flow effortlessly into being.  I am also almost always happier with the results, when I am approaching art from a less driven perspective.
            It is not always easy to turn a natural and relaxed attitude on.  It is kind of like saying “just feel happy.”  Yes, it is possible to do this, but it is not always an automatic thing.  One thing that I find very helpful is to just try to let go of any expectation or intention and let the creative work unfold as it will.  I will start with a pile of jewelry materials and just start bending, forming, firing, and piecing them together in the way that seems like the best aesthetic and expressive fit in the moment.  Often, I will  surprise myself with a unique theme that I would not necessarily come up with through a more conscious design process.  This is similar to stream of consciousness writing.  Just write whatever comes to mind.  You can always edit later. 
            I think that part of it is that art in any form is like physical exercise.  It will generally improve with training.  These creative exercises not only help with the design process, but I find them helpful simply in terms of learning through trial and error.  In visual art, I also feel like I am literally training my hands to have the muscle memory to create the shapes that I want.  I can have a specific image in my mind, but getting my hands to be able to create it is often a matter of practice. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Creating a Routine

            When I first left my day job five years ago, I was thrilled that nobody could tell me how I need to manage my day.  I knew there was a lot to do, but I could structure it the way I choose.  Usually, I would start the day with a general list of what needed to be done, and just flow with it until I was ready to quit.
            When my husband left his job the following year, he had the same experience of elation.  The only catch was that we were suddenly under pressure to pay all of our household bills with our jewelry.  When you start to think about it, it takes a lot of pairs of handcrafted earrings to pay a mortgage every month.  We had a lot on our plates, but we were overjoyed to be working for ourselves, and would often pull all nighters to meet deadlines.  We were living the American dream and we were determined to make it work.
Now, in 2011, we still love working for ourselves.  However over the last few years though, the all nighters and unpredictable schedule have gotten old.  This spring, we made the resolution to start to get on a somewhat more structured routine.  We still work a lot, but I feel like our hours are more effective, and it brings a lot of peace of mind to have much more clear time objectives. 
For us, perfectly on-schedule work day starts at 9 a.m. with 2 hours of emailing, phone calling, and promoting our business .  At 11, I have an hour of bookkeeping scheduled. At 12, there is one more hour of office work, and then we have lunch and make jewelry all afternoon and many evenings, with one hour of pure creative playtime.
I am still adjusting to this new level of structure.  Few days go perfectly as planned, but most days are much more predictable than they used to be.  Occasionally, something comes up and throws a big monkey wrench in our plans.  In general though, I feel like we are getting much more done, and have a lot less stress in our work because we have a clear plan for accomplishing our goals. 
We are also making sure that we dedicate time to the things we need to do to evolve in a good way.  We give more time to design work so that we can grow as artists.  We also spend a bit more time focusing on improving our business model.  Another aspect of routine that we recently added is breaking down our pre-art show production goals by expected sales and most popular jewelry styles.  It brings a lot of peace of mind to feel like we are working toward a set of attainable goals, rather than tackling a never ending mountain of work.
My advice to new artists or anyone with a new venture is to start out on the right foot, and make a plan!  Even if your schedule turns out to be unattainable and you need to revise, you have learned something valuable that will help you manage your days in the best way.  In a sense, being on a schedule is power.  You can sit down the morning or night before your workday and decide what your priorities are.  You will have a clear sense of what you want to accomplish and a plan to make it happen. 
I love the freedom of nobody else telling me what my schedule is going to be.  However, when I step into the role of being my own boss and being intentional about my schedule, this seems like the ultimate level of freedom.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011


 In my experience, our business/ life model is one that is very prone to burnout.  If you walk around an art show, you will always find lots of people who are tired, overworked, undercompensated, and questioning the wisdom in their life decisions to try to make a business as an artist.  This does not apply to everyone in the art show world, but it must be a higher percentage of our group than the general population.
            Over the last six years, Mark and I have been in and out of many burnout cycles.  It is amazing how quickly we can go from enthusiastic and inspired to a space where the only thing that keeps us going is that we have to pay the bills and are not sure how else to make that happen in the short term.  Often, these burnout cycles, have lead to a depression that colors our entire life outlook.  The worst part is that it is hard to make anything really better from a depressed space.
            Like most things, this life style is a double edged sword.  Many artists will tell you that they are so sick of all of the hard work with very little payoff.  Other artists will tell you that their work is so intrinsically rewarding that it doesn’t even feel like work, and they love what they do.  Most of us cycle between the two more often than not.  Here are a few things that I have found helpful for staying on the “I love what I do” side of the equation.
            Surround yourself with loving supportive people!  When I get isolated, I get depressed.  When I feel connected to loving supportive people, I am much better at keeping things in perspective.  It is not always easy, because the more work I have to do, the harder it is to find time for friends and nurturing healthy connections.  I often feel guilty for spending time taking care of myself and connecting with friends, when I feel like I “should be working.”  The reality though, is that I know I am not very effective when I am feeling alone and depressed.  Laughter and connection are essential and powerful for staying human, alive and well.
            Also, make sure you are doing things you love other than your art.  For me, it could be dancing, cooking, hiking, writing, reading, or any number of things.  While I really enjoy making jewelry, it is so connected to the drama of trying to make a living at it, that it is not always a reliable source of playtime.  When I define my whole experience by something that I perceive to not be working very well, it makes all of life look very hard and frustrating.  When I take time to do the thinks that make me smile, life has a lot more meaning beyond the current challenges I am facing.
            Finally, make sure you are taking time to be an artist!  It is easy to fall into the production trap as a studio professional.  Many artists and artisans, myself included, find it very helpful to have a collection of designs or themes that we repeat.  While this is a very valid strategy for making a living through our artwork, it is usually not as creatively stimulating as being in the design space.  If you consistently allow yourself a little bit of time to work with new styles, you will find your work to be much more fun, exciting, and intrinsically rewarding.
            I could go on all day about positive mental health strategies as an artist, but these are the three that I have found most helpful.  If you have any others, please share them! 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Creative Reinvention

            Over the last couple of months, Mark and I have been working on a totally new collection of jewelry.  I love the silver spirals that we have been working with over the last few years, but after making several thousand similar pieces, it feels fantastic to transition into a completely different body of work.
            We both view the Earth as sacred and our primary inspiration, so this new collection of organic nature inspired pieces is a source of tremendous expressive satisfaction.  The reason that we got involved in art to begin with is for joy, independence and expression.  Over last year especially, we found ourselves feeling more stressed out and weighed down by our business than anything.
            2011 feels like a powerful renewal year in a lot of ways, and the new collection of jewelry really punctuates the positive transition that we have been going through.
            I really enjoy creating patinas on copper with a torch. When I heat up a piece of metal, it goes through an entire rainbow of colors over the course of a few seconds.  I am still learning the subtleties of timing and temperature, but it is very exciting to start with a solid color piece of metal and end up with such a diversity of colors and designs.  The copper has a much more organic feel than other metals that I have worked with in the past.  All metal comes from the Earth, but there is something about copper that really brings that to front and center.
            Many of the new pieces center around animals and landscapes.  Nature is the greatest teacher available, and seeing a bird fly overhead or a beautiful sunset communicates a tremendous amount of wisdom and awe at how good it is to be alive.  It is my goal to translate some of the magic from those instances into a piece of jewelry that you can keep with you all the time as a reminder of your joy, and the lessons you are going through in your life. 
            The feeling of joy and fullness that comes from growth throughout my life is one of the primary things that gets me excited about waking up every morning.  This new collection of jewelry has been a great way to connect with that joy and hopefully reach out to people who are in a similar space. 
            Often, I feel that it is unprofessional to be too human, emotional, or vulnerable while talking with customers at an art show.  I think that that fear is one thing that has really held me back from building real connections.  A lot of these pieces are inspired from that authentic human space, so it is going to be next to impossible to avoid “going there” and hopefully will be a real gift for building authenticity and connection.

Art, Intention, and Chaos

            Being a full time artist puts me in the unique position of having no separation between work and the rest of life.  My studio and office are in the house.  My business partner is my husband, and naturally, there is a lot of blurring between the work day, household conversation, and creative playtime.
            I feel a lot of gratitude for the ability to make my profession a creative expression of where I am in life and subjects that are meaningful in the moment.  Our most recent project has been a series of copper pendants centered around animal medicine and sacred symbols.  I love the organic feel of the copper and really enjoy creating jewelry as an outlet for sharing expression of meaningful ideas with people.  There are few things more fun than connecting with a person at an art show who relates to the spirals or shapes in our work and celebrates the sacred symbols in them for her own life.
            I also feel very grateful to be able to work with my husband, Mark.  We both are very compatible in our values and vision for life, so it is fun to collaborate on different projects.  We also both really want to see each other succeed, so the studio definitely feels like a very supportive work environment.
            The down side to our lifestyle is that we are always at work.  Because we have no official schedule, any time that is not set aside for other things usually gets absorbed by jewelry, business, and remodeling.  I miss the days when I got off work and didn’t have any guilt about the things that I think I should be accomplishing.  Because Mark and I are a couple as well as business partners, if one of us is working, the other one has a hard time relaxing because neither one of us wants to be a freeloader.
             One of my goals for 2011 is to become more intentional with how I live and work.  Mark has done a great job of setting up some specific space for work so that we do not have reminders of things that need to be done all over the house, and that has been wonderful.  We are also working with a friend/ mentor who is helping us organize our space time and dreams. 
            Generally, I have found that the most important part of accomplishing any dream is starting to take the time to act on it and then just following up.  Managing time is a lot like healthy eating.  Most people already know how to do it, but the magic happens when it becomes habitual rather than an external thing that we have to think about. 
Right now, I am in the “starting” phase of it.  Hopefully, this will be an intention that becomes ingrained into habit rather than falling off the wagon with all of those other good intentions.  I often limit myself because I fear failure, but making time to stay on top of life, work, and art seems so vital for a sane joyful and productive existence. 
Today, I am resolving to stay strong, calm, and focused on the goal and the milestones on the way.