Category Archives: Upcomingclasses

“What if nobody shows up?”

Last year, I got a grant from the state arts board to make some new work. Part of the requirements of the grant was to have a part of the project that the public could participate in. This could be a performance to attend, art making, a video to watch. Something that they could interact with in some way.

I chose to do a series of mini-workshops where I showed participants how to do a tiny taste of my process making the art for the exhibition that was the culmination of the grant. The workshops were well attended and I had so much fun. A friend recently did a similar series of art making workshops for another grant. She posted about her nervousness and excitement about the events and one of the commenters on that post of hers really stood out for me. The comment was something like this:

“You are so brave. I could never do an event like that, I would be too scared that nobody would show up.”

I read that comment and I thought to myself, “Oh honey. Nobody always shows up. You can count on that.”

When I say “nobody” I don’t mean literally nobody. I mean that you never know exactly who is going to show up and it is never going to be who you think it is. I do a lot of art making events and residencies and pop-up kinds of things in many different venues because I love it, but the reality is that:

  • 80% of the time there are fewer people there than I would wish for
  • 5% of the time there are way more people than I am prepared for
  • 5% of the time there is just me and the crickets (or it’s cancelled altogether)
  • Which leaves about 10% of the time that the class is actually living up to what I pictured in my head

I often don’t know what category an event is going to fall into until I show up. About 25% of the classes I offered this year were cancelled due to low enrollment. At least one event that I had scheduled, the venue forgot I was even coming. I have had events this year that have sold out/filled up in just a few hours and ones that were teetering on the edge of being cancelled for weeks. Sometimes they snowball and a class gets cancelled on a weekend when I turned down other things, since I can’t be in two places at once. (And now I have no events instead of too many.)

The thing I had to learn is that the number of people that show up isn’t the most important part. Numbers don’t equal success. Numbers don’t equal value. Numbers don’t equal quality. And that’s hard to wrap your head around.

I worked at an art center for more than 11 years and I was in charge of scheduling classes and workshops and having to make the call when something would run or be cancelled. One of my “rules of thumb” was that pretty often, the first time you offered a new class it would not have enough students registered to be able to run but the second time it was offered, it would fill up. I can’t explain why with any certainty, but I have a feeling that it was some subtle psychology. There is a marketing theory, called the “Rule of Seven”, that says for an ad or message to be effective, you the consumer, have to see it 7 times before you will take action. I think that totally happened with these classes. By the time it was offered a second time, it seemed familiar and reminded that potential student that this was something that looked amazing the first time they read about it.

Think about it. The reasons for you to not do something (like sign up for a class) pretty much always outnumber the reasons to do it: you don’t have time right now, you shouldn’t spend the money right now, you don’t know the teacher and you aren’t sure you will like it, there’s so much else needing your attention….

And you know what? None of those reasons have anything to do with me, the artist who is offering this class or performance or art making event.

I did several art-making-in-the-gallery events when my exhibition was on display. I was there one afternoon for about 3 hours and I had four people show up for the activity. Four seems kind of depressing. But that group of four was delightful. We did the art project. No one was waiting, so we made another and everyone got to practice a second time. They took pictures, we posted to social media, we laughed and talked about all kinds of other creative ideas that they had while they were working. This was 6 months ago and I still think of that group and smile. There were several dozen other people who “said they were interested” in the event on Facebook or liked the post that I wrote about it. It went out in newsletters and postcards and word of mouth. Not everyone is going to be interested. Not everyone is even going to pay attention. But for those four people, the balance tipped the other way and the reasons to go do it outweighed the reasons not to and that, when you think about it, is something to celebrate.

When I say that 80% of the time there are fewer people there than I would wish for it’s not because the number is important by itself. It’s because I want to share that kind of experience with more people. That’s why I love teaching. It’s because there is something magic that happens when you have just the right size group to build some energy and spark conversation, where people feel like they can contribute without feeling self-conscious. A class of 3 people rarely hits that magic groove, but a class of 8 or 12 can be amazing. (A class of 50 rarely hits the magic groove either. It goes both ways.) Sometimes I wish for more students because the flat out financial logistics don’t work out if you don’t get enough. Then I am paying the venue more than I am making in order to use the space. That is difficult to sustain. Sometimes I wish for more because I want to build momentum. If more people took my beginning class, I would have the push and demand to develop the next more advanced one. And that’s fun for me and for my students too.

I feel like every day in my Facebook or Twitter feed there is a promo post from someone for how to grow your numbers. Number of followers or likes or shares or retweets. As if the number is going to magically make you successful and if you aren’t getting enough likes you are a failure. I think that blog commenter I mentioned at the beginning of this post had this same feeling: She couldn’t even do it, because if no one showed up then she would be a failure. I get it. If I looked at every cancelled class or low attendance as failure, I couldn’t do it either.

Instead, I try to think of it this way: Getting 100 “likes” is like getting a round of applause. It’s fun and very satisfying but it’s over in 23 seconds and everyone has moved on. But I would trade those 100 likes for another mini class with the four ladies from the gallery. Every time.

There’s a quote (with an original source which is highly debated) that says “It’s not the years in your life that matters; it’s the life in your years”. I am pretty sure that applies: It’s not the numbers in your class that matters, it’s the class with those students.

New Online classes are now LIVE!

Visit my brand new Online Classes page to learn more and sign up. Take the intro class for free and then dig in to designing all kinds of projects that don’t need a repeat. I am so excited to have these new classes to share with all of you. There are two classes that are live now and much more to come.

Spoonflower Fall Masterclass – Class is full.

Registration opened today for the fall 2017 Spoonflower Master Class and it filled up in just 4 hours. I can’t believe it. You can still add yourself to the waiting list in case of a cancellation or make sure you are on the list to get an announcement before the next class happens.

Pop Up Class: Intro to Embroidery

Don’t wait to sign up! I have added a class for this summer and you are invited. I am partnering up with Knit & Bolt (formerly Crafty Planet) in NE Minneapolis to do a pop-up class. In three sessions, you will learn all you need to know about beginning hand embroidery. We will cover the basics of tools, threads, needles, and to hoop or not hoop. Each session we will focus on a group of related stitches, like variations on a theme. We will talk about how to stitch a pre-traced pattern as well as free-form embroidery, which is my favorite. I broke the class up so you will have time to practice between sessions and come back with questions. We will work in the awesome new classroom space at Knit & Bolt and you can get all of your materials there at the shop. (I will post the supply list here very soon and email it to you after you register.)

Intro to Embroidery
Tuesdays June 20, 27 and July 11 • 10:00 – 11:30 am
at Knit & Bolt

Open to ages 10 and up. No embroidery or hand sewing experience necessary.

THIS CLASS IS FULL. If you are interested in learning about future classes, please sign up for my email newsletter.


Supply list

All of these items are available at Knit & Bolt. You can pick them up ahead of time, or we can take a little time right at the beginning of class to get everyone set with supplies.

  • 1/4 – 1/2 yd of plain colored woven cotton fabric. I recommend RJR solids or Kona cotton. Choose any color.
  • 3-5 colors of six-stranded embroidery floss (thread). Choose any colors.
  • Embroidery needles. I recommend John James, assorted sizes 5/10.
  • One 9×12” rectangle of craft felt or wool felt. Choose any color.
  • One 5-7” embroidery hoop. Wooden or plastic is fine.

Bring a pair of scissors with you. You might want a pen and paper to take notes. You are welcome to take photos/video with your camera/phone as I demonstrate stitches.

A note about colors. If you don’t know what colors to choose, here are some suggestions.

  • Contrast is great. Choose white/charcoal/black as a fabric color and three bright colors like red, turquoise and green for your threads.
  • Think of a theme like “ice cream”. That doesn’t mean you are going to make a picture of ice cream, but it gives you a hint about colors.
    • Ice Cream: Vanilla background fabric, brown, pink and pale green threads.
    • Ocean: Pale blue background fabric, tan, turquoise, yellow threads.
    • Paris: Pale grey fabric, blue, red and pink threads.

Download this supply list.

I’ve been told it’s a little bit mesmerizing…

Make art with me: March 2

Thursday March 2 • 6-8 pm • free admission
Hennepin History Museum

I will be in the gallery talking about my work, answering questions and teaching YOU how to make awesome origami dresses like these from the exhibition. It is really fun to do and I have printed patterned wrapping paper so that every one can be different.

I was talking to someone recently about origami as a theme in my work. I never start out saying I am going to have something that’s origami, but it always shows up. Origami is a Japanese art form of folding paper. The designs are made without cutting or tearing the paper and almost always start off as a perfect square. When I was a kid, my dad had an origami book. It has been his since *he* was a little kid; a gift from a very favorite great uncle. Uncle Lester was a magician who specialized in paper tricks. I have written about him before. We were only allowed to look at the origami book with supervision, but my dad would sit with us for hours and help us figure out animals and flowers. There is one design from the book that I have had memorized since I was a kid. I remember folding it in elementary school from pieces of lined paper; it’s an unusual one that starts with a rectangle. My original engagement ring was an origami butterfly ring. I found the book it came from and tracked down an out-of-print copy for my husband for our 20th anniversary. I think origami was one of the first art forms I really connected with and said “I love this”. (In contrast, I hate painting. I really don’t enjoy it at all. It took a long time for me to embrace that. It’s ok to be an artist and hate painting.) So I hope you can come and learn to fold something. Maybe it will click with you too.

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