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All Filled Up and Nowhere To Go

by Luann Udell on 12/8/2016 9:37:47 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art. She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...."  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.



Look for the little, hidden reasons you’re not feeling inspired.


Everything is good here in California. The weather is lovely, my public studio gets a small but steady stream of folks passing by and dropping in. My audience here is growing slowly but surely. I have enough lines of work to have different work in several area galleries. And my work is unique enough to be welcomed in many places.


And yet….


I haven’t been inspired to get any new fiber work made.



Fiber collage, fiber wall hangings, framed fiber pieces, with my handmade artifact embellishments, are where my art all started. Most of these pieces are pricier than my small sculptures and jewelry. I don’t sell as many. But when I do, my bank account gets healthy fast. And the smaller, more affordable fiber works are steady sellers, too.


So why do I keep putting off making more??


I’ve learned that sometimes, when we procrastinate endlessly, there can be very small obstacles holding us back.


Sometimes it’s as simple as figuring out that first next action step. Sometimes it’s a critical supply or tool we’re missing.


A missing tool…. Aha! A few months ago, I realized both of my industrial sewing machines weren’t working. Both got bumped and bruised in the shipping across the country, and both got overheated as they sat in storage while we searched for a place to live once we got here.


In the scurry of moving, unpacking, setting up, and life, I’d been putting off getting them fixed. So I found a local shop that repairs sewing machines, and took them in for service.


But months passed, and no word from the shop. This is where I learned I have to check my phone messages EVERY DAY. (Smart phones don’t have helpful blink red lights that alert me to a phone message.) A part was on order, and it would take more time.


But when six months had passed, and still no results, I finally stopped in to talk with the owner. It turns out he has no experience with this brand, though he did his best. (He loves my work, and wanted to be of service.) He reluctantly referred me down the road to someone who does service this brand. (They actually complement each other’s services, so no hard feelings.


The other shop did the repairs in two days, and now I have both sewing machines in working order.


And still I couldn’t make myself get down to work.


What was the next obstacle?


This one took me awhile to figure out. And when I did, I realized that, unlike the sewing machine issue, it might help YOU, too.


I already had too much finished work hanging (literally!) around.


Rather than store my work, I keep all of it on display in my public studio. The walls are filled with fiber pieces. I have a print bin that holds framed work, too, and it’s full.


Every day when I see them, I would unconsciously think, “Why spend time making more? I don’t even have a place to exhibit what I have!”


This tiny little unconscious thought was holding me back. And when a solution showed itself, I jumped at it.


A jewelry-making friend is now renting a space twice as large as mine, at another artist enclave, a converted warehouse just outside of town. It has many advantages my space doesn’t have: Cheaper rents. A gallery space. Even a part-time sales agent who can meet with prospective clients when the artists aren’t there. It sponsors a monthly meet-and-greet event. And local businesses are seeing it as a great place to purchase art for their buildings.



It’s farther way. It doesn’t have the serendipity of the drop-in customer, which makes my studio space so magical and satisfying. It doesn’t have a built-in local community: Neighbors, a coffee shop, and other flora and fauna that have become our home-away-from home.


It felt like an either/or situation. And as tempting as the new opportunity was, I’m not ready to make that choice.


Until my friend realized a) she needs a little bit more money to justify the rent, as reasonable as it is. And b) she has no need of the large wall space in the display area.


And so she made an offer I couldn’t refuse:


For a modest fee, she offered me the walls in her space for my work.


Within a month or two, I can hang my larger fiber pieces in her space, keeping a few to show my visitors the bigger work I can do. I can participate in the gallery there, too. I’ll have an extra monthly event to market my work.


And I can keep my current studio for myself, creating a sacred, healing, magical space for building those precious connections that are now almost famous for their synchronistic wonder.


Most important of all, I will have empty wall space to fill.


Rather than a constant reminder I am starting over here with my customer base, I will have that itch to fill up my space.  And once I get started, I will once again be in the habit of sewing regularly.


Win. Win. Win!!


Now I’d love to hear from YOU.


Does this happen to you, too? Does a backlog of work subtly but surely wear down your heart?


How have you dealt with it? And can you share your solutions with us?


And if this column gives you an idea, share that, too!


P.S. I just got a commission for a small fiber piece, and that is helping, too!






Editor's Note: 

When seeking out new opportunities for your art, it's always a wise choice to have a website that displays your talent. FASO Artist Websites are beautiful, very easy to maintain, and there is a Positively Remarkable Support Team to help along the way. It'll be a snap to put together! To sign up for a free, no obligation 60 day trial, click here.




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Topics: advice for artists | art appreciation | creativity | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell 

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Ruth Armitage
Congratulations on the new venue! I do think having too much inventory hampers my desire to be in the studio. Maybe that is my instinct seeking to balance the business side vs the creative side.

At times I just turn my focus to marketing and finding new venues. But somehow, the creative urge always pulls me back to the studio.

My experience has been a little different. I think of my inventory as a supermarket instead of a corner minimart. Sure, a customer can get the essentials of milk, coffee, sugar, a small jar of mustard from the corner store. But if a customer wants to see more brands, more choices, more variety - they head for the supermarket. I enjoy looking for new subjects to paint because I know "if you paint it, they will come." I keep a list of subjects that people often write and ask me for. "Have you ever painted (name of place)???" So when I am finished all my commissioned projects, or I'm not painting for juried shows, or painting outdoors, I happily turn to that "to do" list and paint on.

Trudi Gilliam
When I lose the motivation to make art due to an overload of stock, I make a conscious effort to do something completely out of my comfort zone. I take risks, experiment, and usually it triggers something in my psyche that leads me into another direction. When that happens, I am back in business! I love it when I have a whole new direction to take; it gets me motivated and productive!

I couldn't find many of your fiber pieces online. Is there a link to more images?

Your blogs are always great reads- thanks. If you're interested, there's an art fair in my area that I highly recommend (from a customer viewpoint!)

Luann M. Udell
Ruth, you are spot on with your suggestion. Lately, two new opportunities arose, and suddenly, I'm having a little anxiety about not having ENOUGH work! And suddenly I'm bursting with a few new ideas to try out.
Thank you for sharing!

Luann M. Udell
Karen, how wonderful that you have a "waitiing list" for your work, and your inspiration!

Sometimes I hate commissions. When someone picks a finished piece, it's because they love it. When I have to make something FOR them, I worry they won't. (It only takes one or two ultra-picky/micro-managed special orders to kill my soul...)

OTOH, sometimes those special orders kick me out of my comfort zone, and start a whole new body of work.

And keeping a list of ideas is a great idea! I do that, too. But then I can never find the list. :^D

Luann M. Udell
Trudi, that's a powerful way to jumpstart your day! It's so easy to fall into a rut of doing the 'sure thing'. Good on you for constantly challenging yourself!

Joanne Benson
Hi Luann,
I always enjoy your posts and I can truly relate to this one! My studio is overflowing. I seriously slowed down my painting production because I was tired of framing things for shows and then having to store them somewhere. I also went back to doing mostly watercolors because I can just slide them into a portfolio and not worry about them taking up lots of room. I would really like to do more pastel work but they are more difficult to store and so I haven't bothered in a while. I am mostly a hobbyist but do sell a few pieces here and there and so haven't been motivated to get more space although a few opportunities have presented themselves. I guess I just need to follow up! I retired from my part time job this year and hope to have more painting time. However, that isn't happening either!!!! Thanks for the inspirational post! Perhaps I'll get moving! I didn't list my website/blog because it hasn't been updated since 2011......I need to look into FAV websites too! Joanne

Luann M. Udell
Kerry, most of my fiber work now is presented in shadowbox frames. My obstacle is photographing them--the glass always creates a reflection that's off-putting.

And my memory being what it is, I always complete the framing BEFORE I remember to photograph the finished piece!

Sounds like I need a great big Post-It note in garish colors for a reminder. :^D

Luann M. Udell
Kerry, forgot: Google "Luann Udell wall hanging" and you'll see some of my pieces from before The Big Move.

Mark Brockman
Maybe because I'm passive about painting, after spending time with family, it's all I want to do, no motivation problem here. As to inventory, oh boy, just before our move from PA to CO I threw out hundreds of oil paintings, pastel paintings, watercolors and drawings of all sorts, and it felt liberating. Having a ton of inventory can't stop me as I got to paint. But it wasn't always this way.

Some years ago I realized what often stopped me from painting was failure, the fear of failing. If it fails I have wasted time and materials, only that's not true. If a work fails, it was practice, you got to practice. Right?

Now if I hesitate I know why, fear of failing, so I just jump in and damn the failure. I'd rather fail a hundred times for just one success then create dull work because I was afraid to fail.


I use an application called "Things" from a company called Cultured Code. They have a desktop version (for mac) as well as an iOS version. So whether I'm in my studio or out, I can keep my to do list up to date. It's a very good project/to do list manager.
I stopped keeping lists on paper long ago - I'd lose them, too. But this digital solution works for me. The app called Evernote is good, too, but I like the "check off" box feature in Things.

Re: commissions - generally I love them. Some customers are more flexible than others, but it all evens out, and it's great knowing that a painting already has a loving home waiting when I'm working on it.

Joanne - one way that I keep volume down is that I constantly frame and reframe for shows. I don't frame paintings and then have to store them all framed. I have a large frame inventory in a variety of sizes, so I can pick an appropriate frame for a show or for display to a client. But mostly, I store my paintings unframed, so that takes less space.

Luann M. Udell
Mark, first of all, it takes courage to even admit we fear failure. So good on you for not only tackling this head-on, but also for SHARING IT with others.

Good thoughts, and a great attitude!

Luann M. Udell
Karen, I'll check out "Things" asap--could be a mind-saver! Thank you!!!!

And your tip about frames and framing is useful, too. Also thrifty, not having to frame EVERYTHING all the time.


Yes it does help save $. I have to spend a fair amount to keep a range of frames in different styles and sizes, but that's a good thing when I client comes over - I can offer them a choice of different styles. I would never want to lose a sale because the client had an all-white house in which a dark wood frame would stick out.

How do I keep track of all my frames, one might ask? I use Google sheets (an online spreadsheet) and keep an up to date inventory list. So I know what I have on hand, and their pricing, so I can give a client a quick answer.

Mark Brockman
Ha, I said 'I'm passive about painting', wrong, that was supposed to be obsessive, I dislike auto-correct.

Luann, thanks.

Susan simon
Luann, my many thanks for your inspiring comments over
The years...I have been motivated more than not!
I am curious though, to know where you get those primitive
Horse shapes in your work. My daughter wants to make a
Necklace with a bunch...
Many thanks!

Luann M. Udell
Susan, I MAKE them. I make a lot of my beads and buttons, too.

Teresa Tromp
Your polymer clay is amazing. I read your bio and understand where your inspiration comes from - You went WAY back into art history, and found inspiration.

I don't like a lot of STUFF within my field of vision when I work, so when there's a bit too much, I sell it on eBay, marking the price pretty low and free shipping.
I also, at that time, started painting very small paintings and they went fast, and were very inexpensive to ship.
For me, it's very inspirational when work sells.

Next, I stopped painting, and started an entirely new medium, and ideas are so many, I have a notebook to jot down thoughts. Painting only preliminary work now.
This new work has not sold, however, I'm still inspired to create it,
which probably does not sound too inspirational. Somehow, I never lose interest in it.
Best Regards,

I love your posts and your artwork Luann. I am trying to find a market for my work that can accommodate my living arrangements. The work is framed mixed media narratives, oil and encaustic paintings. I live 5 months in Fl and the remainder of the time in 2 different locations in Maine. My work is all at one location in Maine. I had thought about marketing online but the shipping when I'm not in Maine seems impossible. I'm sure there must be a solution but I'm currently stuck. Any ideas? Thanks for any advice.

Luann M. Udell
Theresa, thank you for sharing your inventory process! Very helpful.

Re: Your new work not selling, sometimes our new work has to develop its own audience. That's hard when we're on fire with new ideas and energy. I've seen this with people who switch media, or subject matter, especially if they've had a strong following over time for the older work.

Your current audience may need time to "catch up" to the new work, OR you may need to develop a new audience, which takes time.

I've experienced this myself, and it can be discouraging. But if YOU love it, and can afford to take the time to "let it grow", you'll be okay.

Fortunately, with the digital age, it's much easier to find an audience that's farther afield.

Good luck, and let us know how it all works out, okay?

Luann M. Udell
Hmmmmm....that IS a poser! But I'm sure there are some FASO/FAV artists who also work from two locations who can help!

Are MOST of your sales online, and involve shipping? You could try closing your offererings/shop while you're in Florida. Most online sites have a "vacation mode" setting. (I don't know if FASO does, but if they don't, it would be an excellent feature. Suggest it to them?

Let your buyers and collectors know they can reserve a piece, and you'll resume shipping when you are in Maine. Or, if you also create work while you're in Florida, only post THOSE works when you are there.

Anyone else have ideas?

My better late than never comment . . .

Some people have a knack for opening up and sharing their thoughts - Luann, you have this in abundance, and from the looks of the responses (including myself) there is a lot of thankful people! - And rightfully so, we are one big 'Artist Community', collectively and we should share, contribute and help each other out!
Keeping past Art 'pieces' is sometimes good - for our personal liking ( remember pricing a piece up because we really love it and we don't want it to leave ?), Also for review, and maybe visual notes regarding techniques used, but as we know we can't keep it on the display wall too long - prospective buyers think were not selling.
Also, I've noticed serious art buyers/collectors love to scavenge in places like your 'back' room which has its pluses and minus.
About Mark Brockman's comment - failure, strangely enough is sometimes good , one you learn a lesson, you note that, it makes you wiser and stronger - besides, what's the saying - successful people fail 7/10 times before achieving their goal - also, 'you have to crawl before you can walk' (but only if my knees were not so sore HaHa) or - 'a person can fail many times, but isn't a failure until they give up'

thanks again, for the great post, Luann!

Luann M. Udell
RSVPalmer, so glad you made it! The doors are just closing.... (Just kidding.)

Re: holding on to a painting because we're not ready to sell it... Actually someone (Lori Woodward??) shared thoughts on this with me years ago. There's often a good reason we hang on to a piece--it's the best we've done, it's opened a door into a new technique, etc. Some people simply list these as Not For Sale, while others put a really high price on it until they're ready to let go. Then, if someone buys it, you know it's time to raise your prices!


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