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Making The Bed

by Luann Udell on 5/19/2017 10:20:11 PM

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.



We get to choose to make things look better.


You can always tell when my husband makes the bed.


Half the pillows never make it there. If you’ve ever seen the British sit-com Coupling, you may recall the hilarious soliloquy on decorative pillows (referred to, by the character, as “fat clutter”, serving absolutely no purpose except to “look nice”). As a visually-conscious person, it drives me nuts to see uneven quilts, haphazard folding, and wrinkly pillowcases. And a spread that covers up the footboard means my brain doesn’t “see” the footboard, which is how I got the half-dozen bruises on my shins last month.


I end up remaking the bed almost every day. To save my sanity (and my shins!)




Because it looks better. Prettier.

And when it looks pretty, I feel better.


So, too, with our artwork, especially for artists who create realistic art in situ—landscapes, ocean scenes, and other true-to-life subjects. Many artists adjust the composition, making slight (or even major) adjustments to improve the layout, create balance (or dramatize it), adding or removing features that interfere with their goals.


I remember the first time I learned landscape artists do this. Lori Woodward was working on a new painting, and shared what adjustments she was making, and why. It’s common practice, she said, and actually, a skill, knowing what a view needs to make it really pop.


I was dumbfounded at the time. I thought the artist simply moved around until they found the “perfect view”.  My first thought, as a non-painter, was, “Isn’t that cheating?!”


Around the same time, I overheard a conversation in a booth next to me at a show. A couple had fallen in love with a print showing a local village church. They were sure it was a view from Village A, where they’d first lived after they married.


The artist was one of those I-tell-it-straight people. “No, that’s Village B.” And nothing more. The couple went on to tell about their early years in that village, how the print brought back so many wonderful memories. They desperately wanted that print to be Village A. “Yeah, it looks a lot like Village A,” said the artist, “but it’s not.”


Disappointed, the couple left soon after.

What does awkwardly-made beds, and extra (or fewer) trees, and the wrong village have to do with making art? (Hint: It’s not about cheating!)


It’s about the story we choose to tell, and how we make our art reflect that story.


Even if I lived alone and never ever had visitors, I would still make my bed look pretty. It tells a story about how I see my home: Attractive. Interesting. Layered. Full of stories.


The extra quilt I bought from a good friend’s yard sale after her divorce, folded at the end of the bed. We now live on opposite coasts, but I think of her every time I see it. The colors and patterns I’ve chosen, not matchy-matchy, but catchy and eclectic, echoed over and over in the artwork on the walls, the lamps, the rug, the curtains. Points of interest that keep your eye’s focus moving and landing, moving and landing. And I know my husband likes it, too. (He said he loves to sit in any given room in our house, marveling at the interplay and composition of colors, textures, artifacts, artwork, all mementos of our life together, and a reflection of the person I am. Thank goodness!!)


I'm glad my DH sees this as attractive rather than a dust-collecting collection!


So, too, with other artists. Each work of art we create reflects the beauty we see, and what—and how--we want to share that with others. If we are here simply to record the view in front of us, then painting would have disappeared with the advent of photography. Instead, we were freed from the restrictions of simply recording “what is”, and expanded our art into the territory of “what if...?” (A lively goal for photographers, actually, too.)


When people see this colored pencil portrait of my son by my good friend Nicole Caulfield, they commented, "Couldn't she have left the wrinkles out of his shirt?!" To which she wisely replied, "That's who he is--eager to look grown-up, but not too eager to iron his shirt." True dat, and I absolutely love this piece.


But we all know that some of our first-time customers and collectors may struggle with that. How do we walk them past the hurdle of “It doesn’t REALLY look like that, does it?” Or convince them that Village B can evoke the same powerful, glowing memories of Village A? Or that a badly-made bed may indeed be just as comfortable as a nicely-staged bed, but won’t lift our heart like the latter?


We can tell our story.

We can encourage our visitors to tell their story.

We can help them connect the two, to focus on the emotional power our work carries, rather than the actual reality.


If I were that print artist, I would have encouraged that couple to tell me more about their life in Village A. How did they end up there? What were their favorite memories? What is it in the scene that reminded them of their time Village A? If they had forced the issue—made it all about it having to be Village A—I would continue to connect the dots for them. Connecting their experience, and their memories, to my artwork that awakened them. Affirming their own initial, emotional connection to my work:


“I enjoy making these scenes of our New England villages! And I love to feature their churches, because these were the heart of the community in those early days. Many people buy these for their homes, because of exactly what you’re saying. I remind them of a time gone by, an important time in their lives, a life that’s changed and grown. And yet, those memories, like those village churches, never really fade away.”


“Yes, you’re right, this scene is slightly different than you remember. It may be the church in Village B rather than Village A. But there are a lot of similarities, don’t you think? I’m delighted you saw ‘Village A’ because it’s one of my favorite places to paint, too!”


So, too, with landscapes.  Rather than go down a dark road over whether a particular tree belongs there, or whether that grand tree in a grassy field is a scene in this county vs. “down that country road”, ask them about their thoughts when they saw the painting. Encourage them to tell the story about what brought them into your booth or studio (or your work in the show.) Talk about why a lone tree in a meadow inspired you to paint it.


Speak from your heart, with integrity. Listen when others are speaking from their heart.


Let them understand that the power in a great novel is not whether the book is entirely factual, but whether the story is a powerful one, the life lessons poignant, the insights are enlightening.


Just so with our artwork.

It’s not always about what’s factual and true.

It’s always about what matters—to them, and to you.




Editor's Note:

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Related Posts:

Forget the Flowers and Hold the Wine

The Story You Tell and the Power of Your Tribe

Bring Out Yer Dead*

Does Storytelling Work?

Topics: advice for artists | art and psychology | art and society | Art Business | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell | sell art 

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James Adcock
Fantastic post. I needed that today. Thank you.

Susan L. Vignola
Luann, I love this post. I, too, have a husband who thinks making a bed consists of just pulling the top sheet up over the pillows. It matters not to him that it may be crooked, or there may be lumps/bumps underneath. Whereas, when I exercise and look across the room and notice the comforter is not perfectly even the length of the bed, I have to go and straighten it. Sometimes the bed skirt is mussed from the dog crawling under and out from under the bed. I stop and straighten that as well.

Susan L. Vignola
Whoops, the post left the gate before I was done. I am an artist who prefers her creature comforts. I like painting in my studio as opposed to en plein air. Given that good artists recompose the landscape to create a pleasing painting and the light changes and we are admonished not to chase the light, what you end up painting is the the scene you end up with before your eyes. I have to ask, "What is the big whoop about plein air painting?" When I read guidelines for plein air painting and see recommendations to pack bug spray, rescue whistles, guns, etc..., I am racing back to my studio. Renee Zellweger, "Jerry Maguirey," said "You had me at hello." Well, you lost me at bug spray, rescue whistles, gun. We don't have to lie or mislead our potential customers, but it is good to facilitate their recall of a remembrance.

I make the bed every morning to set my day off right. As for the painting of your son, I love the wrinkles in his shirt. And as for art, it has the power to connect all our stories! Great post.

Maureen Zannini
I have been reading your posts for a few months and I must say they are all informative. This one is especially good because it addresses the heart of the matter. What are we trying to capture, convey with our audience? Keep up the good work.

Jeanne Bridges
Louann, I enjoyed this ......I'm very glad I took the time to read it. You're a very good writer. About the bed making, I think that can probably be all men. I also have to do some remaking at times and then there are those days that I'm just glad to have it done! Good advice on how to answer if a painting is not the same location as the viewer would like it to be. I look forward to your next post. Jeanne

Mark Brockman
My wife is the bed maker, spread just right, enough pillows to hide the spread, me, like your husband Louann, just pull the spread up, done. Takes to much time to make the bed just right with all those pillows, when I could be painting.

I move, remove and add things to a painting, seldom ever is there a scene that is just right. By doing those things it helps me to express my feelings about the place. But often my sketch, be it drawing or painting, can be true to the scene as I need to know it, but not always. In the studio is where I can let my imagination go.

For me painting is like writing a historic novel, you need to know the facts before you write the fiction, but it is through the fiction that you create the emotion.

Mark Brockman
Love your comment Susan about Plein Air painting. Even though I spend half my time outside in the landscape doing small works in watercolors, pastels or drawings, I don't consider myself what we think of today as a Plein Air artist, but I love being outdoors working. In the studio I create my larger works.

But painting outdoors isn't so bad, really, all those things they recommend to have? Well I just have what I need, my sketchbooks and whatever medium I'm working in, and water to drink. Been doing it for over forty years with never an issue, except once. It was hot, I was painting alongside the road and a car went by throwing a beer can at me. It missed, it was empty. Boy I wished it had been full, it was hot and I was thirsty. The best part of working outdoors is experiencing nature in all its glory, bugs and all.

Working outdoors or indoors, doesn't matter. Whatever floats your boat.

Lorri Lee Glennon
I so appreciate this today. As I have been trying to share this knowledge with my husband about things of eclectic nature. Buying antique quilts Vintage linens for the next with wild flowers and ferns. Purples and greens. Things his bohemian woman loves.

But I do talk to my customers when I sell my art such as my ppocket shrines Which I make out of recycled fabrics fabrics and antique religious medals selling them fo 20$ because that is what my Grandmother Keck told me to do when she came to me I. A dream 10 years ago to start making the shrines and a few days after that people walked up and handed me bags of family medals saying I knew what to do with them

Well I tell people how I started making the shrines with this true tale. And how my grandmother raised me Catholic but I am not. But even people not Catholic buy them

Because it expresses love I use my verbalization of my soul with all of my art. What inspired me why I sew paint with fabric

So I agree. And iove your home creative spirits

Thank you

Luann Udell
James, I'm so glad! I love it when what's buzzing through MY brain helps quiet someone else's! And thank you for letting me know.

Luann Udell
Susan, someday we will have robotic beds that make themselves and....
Oh, heck, that wouldn't be nearly as much fun! I'm just glad to know I'm not the only one driven crazy by a lopsided blanket! :^D

Luann Udell
LOL, Susan, I responded to you before I saw your p.s. post! I'm with you on the bug spray, etc. One of my greatest joys in CA is--no black flies!! No mosquitoes!! (Well. We saw three this week, and we are very disappointed!!) :^D

Luann Udell
Thank you for your comments, John-the-story-teller-par-excellence! Nicole is such a vibrant, happy woman, with deep wisdom bubbling through. She really captured my son, including the not-completely-hidden annoyed look on his face for having to pose for this painting. He's still a POK (pissed-off kid) but we love him, and hated moving so far away from him. I still have hope we can lure him to CA some day!

Luann Udell
Welcome to Luann's crazy world, Maureen, there's so much more where that came from. :^)
I'm glad you "get" the connection thing. Sometimes we get caught up in the not-so-joyful details of being an artist: Paying the bills, fretting about sales, shows every weekend, etc. I have to remind myself constantly that this is what I have to say in the world. And anyone who wants to hear what I have to say, is a gift.

Luann Udell
Jeanne, re: men and bed-making, all men except John W, perhaps...!! I'm glad you took the time to read, too, and thank you for letting me know.

Luann Udell
Mark, the comparison you made between painting and writing historical fiction is a keeper--spot on! And thank you for sharing the beer can story, you are really good at seeing the bright side! I would hope the next one thrown at you is full, but then I'd have to worry about it making contact. Be careful out there!

Luann Udell
Lorri, your dream vision is a powerful story, and I'm delighted you share it with your audience. So many times, we imitate those long, confusing, stuffy artist statements and believe that's how our story should read, too. But you zeroed in on the why, and followed your heart. Good on you! And keep making those wonderful little shrines, we all need something we can believe in.

Susan L. Vignola
Effective analogy, Mark, comparing painting to writing a historic novel: a composite of nonfiction and fiction. Sorry the beer can was thrown at you; good it was empty, sorry it was empty.

Laura Valenzuela
I do enjoy your blog posts, Luann. Always a reminder of how personal our art is. I laughed out loud about the part about "cheating." My son was horrified when he first saw me painting from a photograph. He said real artists just pull it from their own heads. And then my husband, who is always telling me, "You forgot that bush (or rock, or weed, etc). Back then, I would re-work the painting. Now, I just forge ahead and follow my bliss!

Luann Udell
Laura, your family just nailed the typical responses! There are so many myths about artists, and these are probably the most common. I'm glad you've met them and moved on. (From the myths, not your family!)

Ernie Kleven
Thanks Luann. I always enjoy your posts even if I am one who cares less about how the bed is made. I had enough of that in the Marine Corps. Your point about a potential customer thinking the view painted belongs somewhere else is a common one. Your solution is about as good as I've read.
Creating a dialogue with the customer is always a good beginning and who knows where it might take you....even to closing a sale.

Luann Udell
Ernie, I'm glad you found my post useful. Although I'm not a painter, I own a lot of them, some originals by people I know, some found here and there in my travels. My first consideration is, what does it spark in me? I have landscapes that remind me of my home state (Michigan), the place we raised our family (New Hampshire), and our new home here in California. They could really be paintings of a thousand different places. But it's what I see in them, not what place the artist indicates. I think it's because there is a connection with a memory, a vacation, a special time, a happy time, and for me, that's all that matters.
Some customers are more literal, of course, and 'need to know.' But I think if we walk them down a gentle path, full of those memories and feelings, it will help them set aside their literal-ness and open them to what it was that attracted them to that work in the first place.
Over and over again, people have been attracted to a specific item in my booth/studio/exhibit. It could be a wall hanging, a sculpture, a piece of jewelry. They'll always say, "But I just happened to see it!" or if they touch it, "It just happened to be in front of me!" I tell them there are a thousand items in my display, and the one they saw, noticed, were attracted to, was that specific item. And almost everyone is pulled in by something different than what anyone else "saw".
To me, it is the power of our subconscious/unconscious (I get them mixed up), recognizing something that appeals, sparks a memory, attracts. It's a powerful yet subtle thing, but it is what brings that person into our space, the thing that calls to them. I love to (gently) find out what that is.
And that is always where the conversation gets deeper, when they realize that.

Marilyn Wendling
You do such a great job! I love your writing and content. It always speaks to me. I wish you were still living in NH as I moved to New London a year ago. Blessings to you.

Ernie Kleven
Luann. Thank you, thank you, thank you. This expanded explanation turned on the light bulb in my brain. I get it.

Luann Udell
Hi Marilyn, sorry I missed you! Where did you move to NH from?? And thank you so much for the kind words! I always tell people, if you love what I write, let my editors know! :^D (hint, hint)

Ernie, YAY!!!! Let me know how it works for you, I'd love to hear!

Bobbie Powell
Thanks Luann, another excellent story about letting our own artful personalities sell our art. I never thought of it in this way.

Kevin Doberstein
Thank you Luann for another excellent post. It is interesting when a people notice something in one of our art pieces that rekindles pleasant memories.


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