Out of step with the trend

Last year I applied to a bucketload of exhibitions. It’s a thing you do when you are an artist. When you get well-known enough, you start to get invited to things, but when you are still “emerging”, you apply to juried shows so that you can get your work in front of people. I applied to a variety of things: exhibitions with themes, ones limited to specific media, ones showcasing “craft” instead of focused on fine art. I applied to two that were specifically about the crossroads of technology and art (which I think my art is a great example of). I applied to some that friends told me were “made for my work”. I never know quite where my work will fit, so I applied to a lot of different things.

I didn’t get in to a single one.

This isn’t terribly surprising. You get a lot of rejections in this business. I don’t take it too personally. But these applications take a lot of time and money. Each one has a form to fill out, a statement to write and images that always have to be edited to be a specific format (and no two are ever the same). It takes a couple of hours to apply, even if you are super prepared and have your resume and artist statement up to date. And they always have a cost. Each show has an associated fee of $25-$50 to apply. I have been on the administrative side of juried shows and I totally understand why they do this. There are costs involved to putting a show together and this is an easy way to offset it. But on the artist side, those fees add up, with no good way for me to recoup those costs. IF I get into the show, I might sell a piece and defray it somewhat, but one sale isn’t going to probably add up to $300 worth of application fees. And not every venue encourages sales.

So I decided before I applied to anything else, that maybe I would take a look at what WAS getting in to these shows and see if I could get a feel for what the trend is. So I went back and looked at some of the websites and announcements for some of the things I applied to. Several organizations that are considered to be leaders in the fiber art/craft field have also recently published posts about “10 exhibitions to not miss in 2018” and the like. So, I looked at the images that were being used to talk about these exhibitions too.

I absolutely see a trend.

I pixellated this image on purpose, so it’s not just a lousy internet connection making it blurry. I took screenshots of the images that were being used as the promo for a big variety of those “don’t miss” shows and things I had applied to. I pixellated them because I don’t want to call out or disrespect any specific artist, juror or show, because it isn’t about the specifics, but I think you can see the trend I am talking about.

There is a whole lot of neutral there.

If I were to also give you some adjectives to describe the common elements I see from this group of images, I would choose: eroded, aged, uncomfortable, sparse. At least two shows had pieces that were almost creepy with altered baby doll faces. Many objects were distressed, grungy, earthy feeling things. And I am not saying any of these adjectives are bad or negative, just that these were very common elements from show to show.

My work matches none of those adjectives. It is colorful, retro, graphic, quirky.

With one exception, I also didn’t see a single wearable garment as a featured image for any exhibition. There was a little bit of jewelry and some sculptural pieces that were garment-like. (The exception was a “don’t miss” show of Native American weavings from a museum of folk art.)

It’s actually difficult to find exhibitions that will even take wearable pieces. They are often ineligible, with no reason given. I expect it has something to do with not wanting to bother with dress forms.

So, it seems that I am out of step with the trend.

That leads me to wonder. If I took one of my garments and gave it the Cinderella-after-the-ball treatment, would it get a different response? Desaturate my colors and distress and deconstruct the piece. Would that make it more appealing to the trend? Does that make it more “art”? Do I want to do that? Is that even my work?

The answer is that I think I am not going to bother with juried shows for a while. Maybe they just think my work is terrible. Fair enough. You never get any feedback from this process, so it’s hard to tell what they are thinking. But juror after juror seem to be choosing the same kinds of other things, which are not what I do. So maybe that just means it’s time to take a break and put that time and money to different use.

I also wonder: Where exactly does my work fit? Maybe I am looking in the wrong places and I need to think about that some more too.

The “fiber art” people tell me that I am cheating because I use computers and technology in my work. (I have had other fiber artists tell me this to my face, so I know this is a real thing.). The “fine art” people don’t consider fibers a fine art form; they think I belong in craft. The “craft” people aren’t sure what to do with my focus on surface pattern; it’s too much like art. The “wearable art” people tend to favor more sculptural or conceptual. The “digital surface design” people are all about pattern and licensing and not about using your own patterns to make art. Again, I am not disrespecting or complaining about any of these groups, just looking at trends I’ve noticed and feedback I have gotten. I am not sure where I fit.

A friend of mine was recently passed over for an art-related opportunity and the feedback she got was she didn’t have enough “fine art” teaching experience, despite the fact that she is a skilled and much experienced teacher of fiber and paper arts. Let’s just say, neither of us agree with that particular piece of feedback. She’s struggling to find a fit as well.

I’m curious. What trends are you seeing in the shows you have attended, viewed, applied to or participated in? Do you love the trend? Tired of it? What do you wish you saw more of?

(Edited: also check out the comments at Facebook. some great discussion)

 

Goals are better than resolutions.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions. It always seems like they are looking backwards: here’s what I did wrong last year and how I am going to fix it. I think New Year’s Goals are more positive and productive. Here are the things that I want to do in 2018 and why.

Design more of my fabric.

I did basically no fabric designing just for me this last year. I did a lot of projects directed by other people, as partnerships or as samples for classes. They were some awesome designs that I am really proud of, don’t get me wrong, but they were constrained or influenced by people who weren’t me. I need a little more room to explore with me as the head of the expedition.

Sales of my designs on Spoonflower picked up this year and that’s really fun. For a number of years, I was working on designs for the Spoonflower book or other projects and so 90% of my designs were private for one reason or another. If you searched me out on Spoonflower there was almost nothing there to see. I added a few new things this year, like my Screaming Hairy Armadillos collection, and I would like to do more of that. With that in mind, my goal is to release one new public design every week this year. That’s pretty crazy ambitious, but it is something I know I procrastinate really easily because it’s something without a client or a deadline. So I think if I give myself an ambitious goal and state it right here publicly, I am more likely to make it happen.

Embrace the oboe.

No, I am not suddenly taking up a musical instrument. (I played clarinet and saxophone in high school and college and took organ lessons for several years as a kid. I have already checked that off my bucket list.) I designed this oboe fabric in 2009 to make some tool bags for my husband, who does play the oboe. It was the first “collection” I designed with three coordinating prints. “OboeBlues” has consistently been one of my most popular designs and I have always meant to go back and make it in more colors and add some more coordinating prints to it. I have learned a lot since 2009. It is time to stop procrastinating that.

I actually started working on this goal this morning and I wish I could smack my past-self upside the head. I didn’t save any of the original layered versions of these or the original vector drawings I made them from. So I am re-creating them properly in layers so that I can change the colors easily and pull out elements to make coordinating prints. I am hoping to send those off to proof by the end of this week with three new colorways.

I am starting with fabric, but the goal here is to actually open an Etsy shop that is all about oboe. I already have an Etsy shop that specializes in geeky puns and mashups with fiber art, and I realize, as I have been evaluating the parts of my business that I really enjoy, that I love designing these little things celebrating the stuff that people love.

When I looked at my best sellers for 2017, it wasn’t just generic knitting bags, it was overwhelmingly knitting or crochet mashed up with sci-fi. So that’s what I am going to do with the oboe. Celebrate the oboe geeks! Having been married to an oboist for 20+ years, I am always looking for oboe themed stocking stuffers and little gifts and they just aren’t out there (or they are designed by people who think the oboe is just another kind of clarinet).

I realize that the number of you that are interested in these designs just dropped to about <8% of my readers. This is not the shop that’s going to be profiled in the “Quit your Day Job” Etsy shop articles but that is 100% not the reason I am doing it. This is why:

…our cousin (senior in HS) won our symphony’s Young Musician Award and was featured in a symphony performance. If that wasn’t enough, he also won the oboe chair in the Youth Symphony Orchestra of the USA. He will be playing this summer at the Kennedy Center and touring to London, Moscow and St. Petersburg. I’m going to make him a quilt to commemorate his achievements; using embroidery to call out his awards. You offer the ONLY oboe print online – so glad I loved it!…

That’s just one of the notes I have gotten from people who have bought that original OboeBlues print. That joy is exactly why I am doing it. So it’s not going to be just fabric, but bags and stickers and all kinds if gifts for your oboist.

Do the drudge work and like it.

I launched two new online classes this fall and I have another really big one that I am working on. The tangible goal here is to get that third class done and launched, but the more intangible goal is to keep up the momentum. I have quite a few people registered in that first class (thank you!) and I have a few registered in the second one (I LOVE YOU GUYS!). The classes were monsterous, epic amounts of work to put together: learning the new platform, writing the content, editing the video, developing the curriculum, marketing and so on.

It’s actually not drudge work at all, I really enjoy putting them together (more than I thought I would) but it takes a lot of time and it is easy to get super discouraged. I’ve been struggling with that. Logically, I know that I don’t have enough stuff ready yet. To really build momentum, I need more than 2 intro-level classes, I need a whole curriculum so that you have a reason to come back and take another class or ask a question. And I need to somehow make sure that you don’t forget about me in the meantime and forget to come back and take that next class. There is a lot of shiny out there demanding our attention. But it’s just going to take time to get there.

Embracing the theme.

As I was thinking about those three goals that I was going to publicly hold myself accountable to here, I realized that there was a bigger theme for all of the things I really wanted to do: bring more joy. 2017 was a bit overwhelming in many ways. The biggest thing I felt was dragging me down was all of the negativity I kept running into in all of my communities, both in person and online. Negativity, disrespect, apathy, competitiveness. By the end of the year, I had to pull myself away from a number of things and just focus on getting things done that mattered to me. So my goals for 2018 are going to be all about bringing more joy to my community.

Designing my fabrics brings me joy through expression and creativity. That artistic voice is really essential to who I am and I need to remember that I need to be my own director too.

Embracing the oboe is about bringing joy to others by celebrating the things they love. Those notes I get from oboe fabric fans or watching someone laugh and call a friend over to check out the “Extermi-knit” bag are moments of pure delight. We all need more of that.

Doing the drudge work is about empowering others to make their own joy. I am a teacher at heart and there is no greater reward for me than watching a student have that “ah-ha!” moment and figure something out. That’s why I teach classes, so that other people can have the joy in creating and sharing their creations. Paying it forward, one little step at a time.

The woven piece up above is a great representation of all of these things. I sent one of my small weaving looms to a friend with the “price” being that she had to weave something on it that I could show as a sample project. (I don’t love making samples, so I like to bribe friends.) She surprised me and sent me truly the most awesome sample I could ever have dreamed up: my logo woven on a loom I designed, handmade by a friend (of more than 30 years). 2018 needs to be more of that.


I want to know: Are you a resolutions person or a goals person? What are your creative goals for the coming year? Do you have a theme?

Where you can find me: Holiday 2017 Events

Minneapolis Craft’za

Sunday November 19 I will be at the 5th Annual Craft’za show at the Grainbelt Building in NE Minneapolis. This is my second time there, although I have done the sister show Craftstravaganza for a number of years. This year is the first time it will be 2 days and I will be there on SUNDAY. You can see a little sneak peek of my work on the local Fox9 station on Sunday morning. Four artists did a little demo & interview which will be airing on Sunday morning. (If you have found me here from Fox9, hello!) Find me at booth #58. November 19 • 10 – 4

Bakken Winter Market

On November 25 & 26, I will be at the Bakken Museum for their Winter Market. I have made some special Bakken inspired pieces from art I made with them back when they were a partner on my State Arts Board grant. Have Thanksgiving visitors? Come visit the museum and shop with local artists. Fun! November 25 & 26 • 10 – 3:30

Crafts at Canteen

A tiny little show with 10 awesome artists hosted in a coffee shop that specializes in toast. This quirky show is new for me and should be lots of fun. Just one evening. December 8 • 6 – 10 pm

The answer is miniatures.

A few posts back, you probably saw our annual Halloween photo. My husband and I started doing photos about 15 years ago. We felt like it was dumb to send out photos in Christmas cards, so one year we sent out a Halloween costume photo instead. It was so much fun that it became an annual thing.

We come up with the top secret theme around late summer and figure out how to stage the photo in October sometime. They are nearly always taken in our basement photo studio with much creative reuse of furniture, sawhorses and velvet drapes. I always say that they are about 80% costume and 20% Photoshop.

This year our storyline was Newt Scamander (author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, of the Harry Potter universe) interviewing a “fantastic beast” for his book. We hadn’t done a Harry Potter theme yet and it was fun to pick a less “main story” character. Newt has his own movie (which I like a lot) but I know that was not nearly as main stream as the HP series.

We thought about pixies or bowtruckles, but I decided that I wanted to be a mermaid. I didn’t want to make a mermaid tail that fit me, however. I thought about it and just decided that it would be 100% too much work. So we talked about it and decided that we would try to make the tail part of my costume as a miniature.

And there it is. The tail is about 10 inches tall and made from air drying paper clay, wire and some iridescent film. I googled and found a super detailed tutorial from a doll maker about how she made a mermaid tail from shrinking angelina film around a wire form and I pretty much followed her instructions. It worked pretty great and I loved the very organic texture of the slightly tattered holes in the webbing.

I didn’t want to deal with baking such a big thing in polymer clay, so I used paper clay for mine. It is an air dry clay and although I read a bunch of reviews that warned about it cracking and shrinking, I had neither problem. I let it dry slowly for about 4 days before I painted it. The texture of the scales I made with a drinking straw. I cut a snip off of the end so I had a half circle and carefully carved scales the whole length of the tail.

I painted it with acrylic paints. Golden Acrylics makes a series of interference colors that you can mix in with other opaque paint, so I blended my own mix of turquoise with interference gold and blue to make a beautiful iridescent.

We photographed the tail by itself against a piece of pale blue paper. Originally we photographed it against white, but we realized that the iridescent quality of the tail fin film was showing up very dirty gold against white paper. We spent some time being really frustrated trying to color correct that, but when we switched to blue and reshot it was so much better.

When we talked about creating a “set” for this scene, I wanted to be leaning on a sea wall with my tail flipped up and Newt could be sitting nearby to do the interview. We didn’t have a set piece, among the chairs and sawhorses that we often use, that was going to make a realistic looking wall, so we decided to make that as a miniature too. It is made from the same air dry clay and a bag of aquarium gravel. It was about 12 inches long and 2 1/2 inches high.

We built it on a cardboard base and decided to make an “L” shaped wall so we could adjust the angles to match our scene. The clay was white, so after this had dried, I gave it a wash of muddy grey paint to tint the “grout” between the stones. I tore off little bits of some sphagnum moss to glue on for some weeds and painted on some lichens with green paint.

We borrowed the wooden decking from a photo we took in St Augustine, FL. I think our ocean comes from a kayaking photo from Lake Superior.

The photos of us were taken one at a time with pretty low-effort costumes. I had an awesome turquoisy-green wig, a few sequin scales glued to my face with honey, and some seashells on bobby pins in my hair. The honey sounds crazy, but latex makes me itch and many costume adhesives have latex. Honey worked perfectly for both the scales and to stick on some long false eyelashes. Andy’s costume was a lucky clearance sale find for the coat and bits and pieces of his own clothes. We recycled his vest from this year and toned down the color a little in Photoshop. I made the bowtruckle in his pocket from a piece of felt and a couple of pipecleaners. For the shots, I leaned on an apple crate and Andy sat on it, so we were at the same height and easy to assemble into one photo.

I already know what next year’s theme is going to be and it is going to have some fun bits and pieces to assemble too. It takes most of a day to shoot and assemble the photo, but it is one of my favorite annual projects.

Giving doesn’t always = $.

I originally posted this in June 2013 and then again in 2015 and then I thought of it again today after a frustrating week of too many fundraising discussions and I thought it was a great time to revisit it. I have worked basically my entire life for non-profit orgs. My very first job was at a summer theater funded entirely by donations and I made a donation pitch in the form of a stupid song and dance routine at three shows a day.

It is fundraising season (I just got my first fundraising email on Halloween day.) and that means that you will definitely be asked to donate to more organizations than you can afford to. And that’s totally ok. Me too. Here are some ideas.


I have worked for and volunteered for and advocated for a number of non-profits throughout my entire life and all of them have been pretty amazing creatures that do pretty amazing things.  So, I have had a couple of conversations lately with a number of different people about “I love this organization, but I can’t afford to donate anything and I feel bad about that and so I don’t know what else I can do.” and I wanted to say that there are TONS of things that you can do that don’t cost you anything, but can be enormously valuable to a non-profit.  So here’s my list of 8 simple things you can do that will cost you very little and can add up to a lot.

Participate.

A lot of grants that non-profits write to help support their free concerts, exhibitions, and make-and-take programs are all about the number of people served.  There are whole sections of grant applications that require the organization to talk very specifically about the audience and who will be participating.  So, everybody who shows up gets counted and the more people that attend a concert or sign their name in the guest book, the bigger the impact the organization can show.  So just by showing up and seeing the art in the gallery and then signing your name in the guestbook, you are saying to that funder or sponsor “I think this is valuable” and that makes a big impact.  Opening the email, clicking the link, or showing up at the event are all ways for you to be counted. And do you know what makes it even better? Make it a date and bring a friend with you.

Comment.

Good or bad, take the time to write a comment or complete an evaluation:  “I really loved seeing this work in person because it was so amazing to be able to see the detail up close.  I will come back again for your next exhibition.” or “My kids and I attended the concert in the park and they spent the rest of the afternoon pretending to play violins and conducting their own imaginary orchestra.  What a great afternoon!”  One of my very favorite REAL quotes from a teacher that brought a field trip to my art center:  “The second grade says weaving is better than recess!”  (We named our annual youth programs exhibit after this quote.)  Quotes are also a valuable way for non-profits to communicate with sponsors and funders as a way to say “We know this project is successful because we have this feedback from people who participated.”  Evaluations are required by many program funders and feedback good (or not so good) is all really important.

Like it or tweet it.  

Every non-profit would like to reach more people.  If you see something on your favorite organization’s website and you hit the “like” button, you become part of the magic algorithm that networks like Google and Facebook use to rank search results.  Very simply put, the more people “like” something, the more the search engine thinks that it must be “important” or “relevant” to whatever it is looking for.  So something as simple as clicking “Like” on a post about an upcoming class about shibori silk scarves can mean that more people will discover that art center you think is really cool when they are searching around on Google. Even better is to share it and hashtag it. That means it is even easier for the organization to track how the word is spreading.

Link it.

Have a Facebook page or a website or a blog?  Post a link to your favorite non-profit’s website.  Links to organizations work the same way as likes and tweets.  The more connections to the site, the more important the search engines think it is and the bigger the potential reach for your favorite organization.

Spread the word.

The next time you are at your art center or a concert in the park, take an extra postcard or flyer about an upcoming event and stick it up on the bulletin board at work.  Or at your favorite coffee shop.  Or at your church.  Let me tell you from experience that getting those beautiful postcards out into the world is one of the hardest jobs ever.  There is just never enough time in the day (or postage money in the budget) to get everywhere you would like to get them.  If you get an email about an event, pass it on to a friend or post it on your Facebook page.  (Or print it out and put it on the bulletin board).  Even just talking about it is great!  Word of mouth is a really powerful tool, especially if you tell your story and why you think that organization or event is cool.

Donate stuff, but ask first.  

Speaking for my several non-profits I have worked for in the past, they were delighted to get donations of stuff, but have about zero square feet of storage space to put it in.  So although I would LOVE to have your yarn, I might have to store it on my desk until I can make room to put it. Which isn’t really ideal.  But there are really goofy things that I need (that you might not even think of) that I could put to good use right now.  Like a gallon or two of vinegar or a salad spinner or ziploc bags. Many organizations have a “wish list” that might contain something you have collecting dust at your house. I just found a new home for a microphone sound system that someone gave me years ago. If in doubt, send an email and ask. Because I know we arts people are connected. If I can’t use your thing, I bet I know someone who can.

Give time.

Do you have an hour?  Would you be willing to hand out programs at a concert?  Or stuff envelopes for a mailing?  Or weed the garden around our building? Or help clean up after an event?  Volunteering seems like an obvious one, but sometimes the hardest jobs to fill are the ones that sound boring.  Everyone wants to attend the XYZ Event for free in exchange for some volunteer hours, but maybe you would be just as content to listen to the radio in your car and deliver these concert flyers to all the public library branches in Minneapolis.  Or maybe you would be happy to look up the address and contact info for all of the afterschool programs in the metro area and address some envelopes for me so I could send out some field trip applications?  Also if you have special skills, tell someone.  Are you a master gardener and want to help put our gardens to bed for the winter? Do you have beautiful handwriting and want to write some thank you notes? Let us know what you are good at.

Take photos.

Do you love to take photos? As staff at an event, I am lucky to have a minute to snap a few pictures because I am busy making the event happen and although I would love to hire a photographer for every event, that is just not in the budget.  But I would LOVE to have your photos if you are willing to share them.  Photos are another great tool for spreading the word and showing the impact of a program or event.  They are a handy way for us to document who was there and what happened so we can refer to it next year when we start to plan the next one. They don’t have to be fancy or professional photos, just ones that you give permission for us to use.


I hope this inspires you and maybe gives you a few ideas as this “annual fund” season rolls around.

This week I participated in a focus group, reviewed grant applications for the regional arts council, rounded up some resources for board of directors discussion, handed out some postcards for a friend’s gallery exhibition, and liked some things on Facebook. Last month, I bet I did everything on this list.

Donating dollars is hugely important to these organizations too, but I hope these are ways you can maybe make the $ you are able to donate add up to a whole lot more.

Happy Halloween!

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