FEAST OR FAMINE?
Being a maker is often feast or famine when it comes to the amount of shows you get booked, how high sales are, and how intense your bursts of productivity are, and often, opportunities arise right as you're dipping into a creative low.
So far, 2017 is all feast.
Like many of us, I was trained by my tiny, polite, southern community growing up to be quiet when things are going well (because sharing success is seen as bragging to those who are struggling), and, well, to be quiet when things aren't going well also. For most of my life, I got the first thing right. I didn't tell people when things were going well because I was afraid to alienate friends and family who seemed to view my successes and drive to reach for more as a direct reflection of what they weren't reaching for in their lives, and, you know, it is bragging when people don't want to hear it. I got good at keeping quiet about the little triumphs, but because of that, I had trouble finding the people who would support and celebrate with me.
In the meantime, I had surrounded myself by people who were ready to pick me up when I was down, but that's really the only time they were super excited about me/our friendship -- and the truth is, I'm a much better drinking buddy when things aren't going well and I'm not coming home after work to spending hours in the studio every night. I think they call this negative bonding. I got attention when things were not so good, and felt rejected more often when things were good, and I just learned to talk more and more about all the things that were going wrong -- a show where I made much less than I'd hoped, a store that wasn't responding to me about selling my work, a month where I didn't get any sales -- instead of seeking those who could help mentor me toward solutions.
It turns out that it really is true what all those motivational podcasters say (in a past life, I was a copywriter for a motivational podcast producer and wrote all their 'show notes.' I know, crazy, right? Did you know I'm also a beauty school dropout? We'll save that story for another time, but yeah, I've gotten some hair-brained ideas over the years) -- the narrative you write about yourself becomes true. And in my case, I lost confidence in myself FOR A WHILE and just stopped reaching out...until about two years ago.
And something changed. I stopped blaming people at craft shows for not buying enough. I stopped getting mad at shops for not carrying my work. And I also stopped getting disappointed when a month went by where nothing sold. And I was only able to shift my thinking by completely letting go. I applied to grad school (yet another story), started selling off my supplies, and told myself I just needed to completely start over. Get back to writing. Live in a new place. And I started making plans to quit my job and drive across the country to Mills where I'd gotten a fellowship to write about patriarchy in literature and do as much literary rabble-rousing as I could manage. But as much time as I spent trying to channel my favorite outspoken intellectuals, I couldn't stop thinking about making.
Even while re-reading Bell Hooks, my mind was filled with colors, and textures, and patterns.
By this time, I was working for those podcasts (I know, still weird), and I kept hearing over and over again that overnight success just truly takes years of consistent work.
And I realized that I had not allowed myself to consistently pursue anything long enough to actually experience the fruits of my labor. I only allowed myself to just get close enough to feel defeated and then move on to trying something else I wouldn't end up sticking to (hence, beauty school).
There was some family stuff going on and I didn't feel like I could move across the country right then, so I had to make some touch decisions. I rejected the fellowship, gave up my spot in the program, and started making again. And I started doing things differently. I slowed down and I paid attention.
If there was a boutique or gallery I respected and wanted to be a part of, I started thinking critically about what was missing from my work that other artists they carried had. I started to think about craft shows, too -- were people passing me by because my display wasn't professional enough? What I realized is that I had gotten so used to the grind of production, that I was getting all my dopamine hits from finishing things rather than from coming up with something new. In other words, my work lacked spirit. It lacked soul. I'd get an idea and produce 15 of it rather than spending time with a design and thinking critically about its intrinsic value outside of the value my ego had assigned to it.
So I took a step back. I continued to do the occasional show, but I stepped back from so much reaching out and started (get ready for the cheese factor) reaching in. I know, I just got a little sick myself. But seriously, I started spending more time with myself in the studio just trying new things.
I began teaching myself new skills like hand-cutting leather and new knotting and braiding techniques, and I started experimenting with new materials. I researched other people's work and noted the things that worked and the things that didn't, and let go of the way I had been doing things was key.
And the real shift happened when I realized that if people weren't buying, there was a reason, and I should pay attention to it.
I started asking questions about what people liked, what they didn't, and why. Many artists say that it's more important to make what you want than what people will buy, but for me, I do the work I do in order to connect. In order to put beautiful pieces into the world that people enjoy. So for me, making itself is what I want, and the more I sell, the more I can justify doing the thing I love. Because let's be real, I really don't want a house filled with jewelry that nobody (including myself) wants to wear.
I stopped operating in a vacuum, began reaching out to other artists, and started developing a more self-critical eye so I could catch designs that weren't quite right before I made ten of them.
But most importantly, through this process of letting go, beginning again, and humbling myself enough to hear the words other people were saying, I began allowing myself to really connect with the people I admired rather than stay away for fear of rejection. But it wasn't only the work I did internally that that got me to this place of now having more shows and collaborations than I can keep up with, and the biggest December in the history of Smart & Becker. There were also a few key people who kept encouraging me. Who kept telling me this work was worth pursuing, and that I had something to give, and just generally saying, "Go get 'em."
So here I am. It's the beginning of 2017 and it feels like the whole world has opened up, but I wouldn't be here without the help of all the people who said yes, and no, to me along the way. So, in the spirit of practicing thanks and remembering how the hell I got here, here's a little about those people...
Jordana Thompson, co-owner of Elementality -- we have worked together, confided in each other, and spent many a long, late night in the studio, working side by side while watching horror movies and crime dramas -- anything to stay awake just a little longer and get more done. Jordana is the epitome of consistency, understands forgiveness better than anyone, and knowing her has taught me what it truly means to stay the course, both in friendship and in pursuit of creative satisfaction.
Daniel Amoni -- friend, cyclist, woodworker, builder, fermentation fetishist, food lover, whiskey sour maker, music lover, writer...and the list goes on. We've worked on a lot of projects together, and he's the kind of friend you just end up doing things with. Even clearing trees from the front yard after a storm feels creative with this guy. AND, he's a feminist.
There is one thing he's not good at, though, and it's match-making. You might not want to let him set you up on a blind date. There's a reason there's no Daniel Dating app.
Liz Maier -- one of the most talented artists and most advenurous people I've ever met. I met Liz when she was making mirrors and designing moulding for her shop, Frame and Mirror, in Asheville, and she has remained my truest and most supportive friend for years. People like her are almost impossible to come by and I'm sure I'll never meet another one like her.
Catlin Hettel, owner of Moshi Moshi Means Hello -- confidante, fashion role model, and former boss. Her son started calling me a Moshi Girl even before I worked for Catlin and she started telling me like it was, even when I didn't want to hear it. But she believed in me. She invested in my professional development within the business, and encouraged my creative pursuits like none other. AND, her fearless style continues to influence the direction my work has taken.
Maria Lopez-Ibanez, owner of Maria Lopez Ibanez Design Studio -- wouldn't you know, I met her at Moshi Moshi. She came up to me at the front desk, complimented my jewelry, told me I reminded her of her daughter, and then said we have to be friends. And her style was so classy and precise that, after meeting her, I started asking myself whenever I began creating a new design, "What would Maria Wear?" She became a friend, confidante, and an overall champion of my jewelry, and it was the sort of motivation that carried me when I was feeling low.
Lauren, owner of Quercus Studio -- I met Lauren after admiring her work for some time. Her tiny, wonderful, magical storefront studio was just the place for my work...I thought. What Lauren did for me was tell me no. She's the only person I've ever met who can say no in a way that feels good and sounds like yes, and although she chose not to carry my work, she continued to encourage my process, make suggestions about other places I may be a good fit for, and represent a source of general positivity.
Calvin Presnell, responsible for C. Distinctive Eyewear & Oscar Oglethorpe -- this man. We met over a year ago, and let's just say, I've never been more creative or productive through any other relationship. I have learned so much about mentorship, support, and patience observing the way he runs his businesses, and have improved in so many ways generally, and artistically, through the experiences we've shared.
He's the one I barge in on in my pajamas, with jewelry hanging from every limb and ask, "Which is your favorite?" And he always tells me the truth.
And if you ever need eyeglasses, he's the one. I mean, he traveled to France to learn hand-crafting frames from the masters.
Wendy, owner of Indio -- Wendy left advertising to pursue her dream of running her own shop and began supporting my projects when we first met about a year ago when I was in the process of co-founding an environmental sustainability blog. It already feels like a lifetime ago, but over the past year she has began carrying my work, giving me honest feedback about what works and what doesn't, and has encouraged my process in a huge way.
Cindy Spuria, owner of Light: Art + Design & Sarah Blaine, Gallery Manager. Collectively, these two (and everybody at the gallery, really) have had a HUGE impact. I have wandered in and out of this gallery longingly for years. When it came to pursuing getting my work into the space, I thought, I could never. But then Cindy came to a local craft show right after I had begun doing things differently with my work, and bought Christmas presents. And then she told me to come by someday to talk about my work. And then every time I came in, Sarah pushed me to push her to set a meeting to talk about my work. And now it's there. And it's not just there, but they actively participate in my process by, like Wendy, talking to me about what works and what doesn't, making design suggestions, and offering continued and increasing support. Bev, another member of the light team has offered constant encouragement as well, and Taylor, who has moved on to different things in her life, was the one who really began the relationship over two years ago when she asked to feature my jewelry in a bridal photoshoot. Talk about a confidence boost! And I definitely can't forget Walker. Walker Brown, Cindy's business partner at the gallery, is the most stylish man I've ever met and if he likes something, I can't help but give myself a little pat on the back.
Molly, owner of Kleur -- Just when I thought there might not be a 'place' for me in Winston-Salem, I met this unstoppable creative force and she immediately took me into her space and began carrying my work. Additionally, she encouraged me to teach workshops, participate in events, and really be a part of the community. If you're ever in W-S, you should definitely stop in to meet this dynamic actress / artist / maker / musician / curator and to see all the beautiful work she carries.
Justin and Brandy of The Big Crafty -- OK, these two. Damn. What can I say? They have said yes to me for years, even when they probably shouldn't have. Ok, no shouldn't, but they could have easily chosen somebody else for my spot back when I was hardly even figuring things out. The Big Crafty, has been an incredibly important incubator and I'm sure I wouldn't be where I am now without them. Talk about in-the-moment market research. My first show I think I walked away with less than $200 (almost 10 years ago!) and that was only about double the booth fee. Let's just say things are totally different now. More things than just the fact that I was 21 then and rounding the corner on 30 now. God, so much has changed! They even have a shop now, and it's great.
Sarah, manager of WINK -- GIRL, you gave me a place to show my work when I was just on the edge of beginning to figure out what my aesthetic would eventually become, even when it was a long way off. Your unwavering enthusiasm and willingness to try it out was really meaningful. I felt so cool telling people to go to Wink to see my work. And your personal style? So chic.
Just...everybody at The Dry Goods Shop -- Several people came in and out while I was a part of this bustling makerspace, and all of them have played an important part in developing my process. Only here could you go from helping a customer one minute, to helping a studio made fulfill orders for her waxed canvas lunch bags that Martha Stewart suddenly decided were cool, by learning how to sew them on an industrial sewing machine, the next. Things happened fast, and slow, there and it's where I got my start teaching workshops. And the ladies of The Dry Goods Shop were supportive through many of my artistic ups-and-downs and maker identity crises. Thanks for making this place happen, Leigh Anne.
Gabriel Shaffer, owner of Red Truck Gallery -- what can I say? I was his studio assistant for a while, assisted on a large scale mural, and generally soaked up a lot of creative energy from him at Spiderbush Manor alongside Andy Herod, another artist friend of mine who's doing amazing things in the artist community in Asheville. Gabe is now in New Orleans running his own space, so check him out next time you're there. Andy can be found in The Wedge in Asheville's River Arts District.
I know it's hard to tell, but the mermaid is Andy...
OK, so there are a lot more people. A lot, lot. I didn't even realize how many and I'm starting to feel gooshy about it, AND I'm running out of time cuz I have a lot to get ready for, so I'm going to list from here...
And there are so many more. If I didn't mention you, please know that I appreciate you but my eyes are getting so tired.
With love and gratitude,