Friday, March 11, 2016

Pricing Your Work

Figuring out how to price one's work can be a daunting process because of the many, many things to consider. Feelings and philosophy often factor in for many people. For example, some artists feel that the money angle takes away from the artistic integrity of their work. Other artists feel like working unfettered from the trappings of any sort of business work helps their creativity remain free. These philosophies can take many guises: “I just want to make enough money so I can keep buying supplies;” “I could never charge what this is really worth, and expect that someone would buy it at that price;” “I'm just a hobbyist; I don't really need to make money;” “I do this for fun and relaxation, and if I worried about the business angle, all the fun would be sucked right out of it.” But how many times have I also heard someone say they wished they could make a living doing their art? Whenever I hear this statement, I feel a little sad for the person. Are they really doing what they were put on the earth to do? How powerful would we all be collectively if more of us lived our lives using the gifts the creator gave us to our very best ability? Would we treat each other a little nicer because we were happier? Would the cultural “affluenza” so prevalent, so damaging to the planet be alleviated? Would more people feeding their creativity be turned into creative problem solving for the world's increasingly (seemingly!) complex problems? Would the world be a better place, ultimately?

It's important to admit to one's self that if you are saying that the business of art doesn't apply to you because you're only in it for the joy of creating, then why are you selling it? Why not give it away -- that's the most joyful thing you can do! But if you are at any level and selling your work, the fact of the matter is that a pricing formula that works, i.e., that results in profit can be achieved – but this requires that the artist deal with the business of art, and that means figuring out how to set the price for your goods. Each artist decides for herself, but if one chooses to ignore the basics of pricing, it is doubtful that artist is breaking even, and is more likely losing money. I myself ignore a couple of things, and some leeway exists for putting my head in the sand on a couple of items, but it's at the “price” of something else, and I know it. Knowing is important because it allows for flexibility, balance, AND keeping your creative juices flowing in a business. And quite frankly, if you are selling your work at any level, you ARE in business, no matter how you define your position on the artistic spectrum between hobbyist and professional. You ignore the pricing issue at your own peril.

I am first and foremost an artist, and I think I can be most helpful in discussing pricing by doing it from that point-of-view. Entire college degrees in business and pricing exist. I have not had any of that category of formal education, and my pricing process comes from my own research and experience – nomenclature may suffer from this point on if your specialty is business! But if you're an artist, especially a glass bead artist, most of this will be somewhere on your radar.

So, I've heard that a lot of us have an hourly rate – I've heard anywhere from $1 per minute, or $60 per hour down to about $45 per hour. But pricing is a factor of TWO things: direct costs and indirect costs, and it can be difficult to corral those indirect costs and attach that to the price of of bead. Many glass bead artists sell spacers and their lower priced beads at a loss because of this, but then do they make that loss up when they sell other more complex beads? Probably not, because they only charge a flat hourly rate and unfortunately pricing is more complicated than that. Take the example of the lowly spacer bead – you can make sixty of them in an hour, right? If you sell them at $1 each, then you're making your hourly rate, right? Yeah, but you're not making a PROFIT, and we'll get to more on this in a bit. Regardless if you do them 5- or 6-up on a mandrel, you've still got a lot into a single spacer bead before and after you make it. And that is the same approximate amount or percentage whether you are making a spacer or a fancy focal. Every bead you make has a fixed cost attached to it BEFORE your hourly rate kicks in. The hourly rate AND the fixed costs must somehow be calculated and factored in to the price if you want to be “in the black.” And before I go much further I want to clarify what that means to me as a working artist who pays her bills and makes her living from her art.

How to figure out what belongs in the fixed costs category and what belongs in the hourly rate category, and why bother? Well, it's good to bother because it makes the difference between profitable and breaking even, or heaven forbid, operating in the red. And just to define what profitable means to me: it means I've made enough money to pay my salary that pays my personal bills such as the mortgage, the groceries, the maintenance on my car, the doctor bill, new glasses at the optometrist, etc. Profitable does not mean “in the black” by a few bucks – that's closer to “breaking even.” Profitable means you are in the black to the tune of making a living and paying your bills – business bills AND personal bills. Profitable means you have enough to live on. And it doesn't really matter if you are lampworking as a hobby or as a business. Profitable is profitable.

Things to consider when pricing your beads ...

Before you make a bead you have an area where you work, which I call my studio and that takes up the spare room in my house. In my studio, I have furniture dedicated to facilitating my work from tables and chairs, to bookshelves and drawers. I use a portion of my electric bill to run everything from the lights to the kiln to the oxycon to the T.V. Or radio. I pay business property tax on most of this stuff.

I also have the equipment I use to make the beads: torch, kiln and digital controller, oxycon, regulators, propane tanks, hoses, tools, mandrels. I also pay business property tax on this stuff.

I also have the raw materials from which I make the beads, and I have the tools and equipment and materials to finish the beads after I've made them. Business property tax is a factor on some of this.

I have stuff that helps me sell the beads I make and keep track of it all for myself and for the various government entities, such as a computer, digital camera, printer, office supplies, advertising supplies such as business cards, and even more furniture to keep all that stuff in. When I sell at a show I have display material and props, wear and tear on my car, time spent traveling to and from, setting up, tearing down, and selling for the hours the show is open. I have hotel, meals, booth and electric fees, and boarding my dog while I'm away. Business property tax is a factor on some of this.

Furniture, equipment, tools, cars all have a lifespan and need to be maintained and replaced from time-to-time. I need to be profitable enough to buy a new car when the time comes, or replace an out-dated computer that's crashed, or replace the relay in the kiln. On and on. If any one of these things breaks down I am out of business until the situation is rectified. It's also advantageous to be a good citizen – pay the taxes on your profits, like business property taxes, and income taxes, self-employment taxes and so on. Then you can get a car or house loan when you need one, your credit report looks good if you're trying to rent a space, and you contribute to your own social security.

Each studio is unique, but there is commonality: you must calculate your indirect (non-billable) operating costs and then factor those in ON TOP of your hourly studio rate. It's easy to ignore the many, many items within this category in part or in whole when pricing one's work. Too often pricing is based on what the person doing the pricing perceives as “what the market will bear” with the idea that the she will raise her prices once she gets business. My feeling is that you will get exactly what you aim for. People who purchase based on low prices only will NOT become loyal customers when you raise your prices; they will shop around for someone else with prices lower than yours. And if you are one of those folks presenting the argument that business stuff like coming up with prices sucks the life right out of your creative soul, try being unable to sell your work at rock bottom prices because that's the lowest common denominator of what “the market will bear” and see if that gives you a boost in your creativity. Creating is about balance, and in my opinion, if you want to be successful, one foot needs to remain in the real world.
So by now you're wondering why you can't just fold all this into one neat hourly rate, and I return to the lowly spacer as an example. The unbillable cost of making a spacer is exactly (or almost exactly) the same as making a fancy focal. It doesn't matter how many of 'em you can make in an hour if you are selling them for less than their fixed cost. You are then selling your spacers at a loss, which only works if you make ALOT of other fancier beads and sell them at a price that factors in the hundreds of spacers you are selling at a loss. I would point out that you still need to know how much you are losing on the spacers and lower end beads to figure out how much extra to charge on the higher end one. And what about all the other types of beads you make? If you don't factor in your fixed cost for them, your profit margin is thinner than you realize. Maybe another way to put it, and the way I think about it is that before I make any single bead, there is already a minimum price associated with making the bead, spacer or focal. If you want to be a successful, profitable artist, enthusiastic about your artform and your work for years to come, it behooves you to figure out your fixed costs/overhead, your hourly rate, and then price your work using this knowledge. No matter how economically you run your studio, no matter whether you consider your studio paid for (it's never completely paid for), no matter if you're doing it for fun, every bead “costs” you something to make it over and above your hourly rate. Here in the U.S. You cannot make a spacer that costs less than $1 to make and my assertion is that it's closer to $2 these days.

The internet is a great place to find specific information that will help you out – start by searching “overhead vs. hourly costs” and that will get you started.

A final and maybe most important consideration in pricing and cost might fall under the category, “your money or your life.” By this I mean that our bodies, our lives are finite as well, and I'm not getting any younger for sure. For example, lampworkers, especially beadmakers are particularly vulnerable to several repetitive motion injuries, not limited to carpel tunnel. Do you really want to spend the commodity of your finite body and health underselling your beads at a loss because you don't want to deal with the realistic work of figuring out accurate pricing? What is the cost of that on your creative psyche? Do you want to race for the top or race for the bottom? Harder to race for the top, but fewer people there to compete with. Again I say, you get what you aim for. I hope to be beadmaking or making stuff for a couple more decades at least, but I can see that I'm not getting out of this alive so my goal is to be able to keep at it for as long as possible. Being paid fairly for my work, exchanging money for my life fairly goes a long way toward my longevity.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Empathy Update!

I'm so happy to learn that a Go Fund Me page has been set up for Dolores Westfall, who is the 79 year old woman living in her RV and traveling from job to job who was featured in the LA Times story, "Too Poor to Retire, Too Young to Die," that inspired me to write the post below entitled, "Empathy." Here is the link to the Go Fund Me page: It is so reassuring to me that kindness no matter how humble always seems to trump meanness and evil in geometric proportion. A good reminder to myself to try to remain optimistic in the human condition. Just read some of the comments and you'll see what I mean. :)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


So yesterday I read an article that a friend posted on Facebook published by the LA Times entitled, “Too Poor to Retire and Too Young to Die,” ( about aging nomads who through a series of unfortunate incidents and personal choices have wound up roaming the country in their motor homes, living on the cheap, and working at low-wage jobs as they are able. The whole situation sounds like an arduous slippery slope into abject poverty, but my initial reaction was that I was amazed by the tenacity these people were showing – they were not taking public assistance as far as I could tell from the article, and they seemed to be trying to get a leg up on their situations through their own efforts.

Of course, like being unable to look away from a car wreck on the highway, I started reading some of the comments below the post on Facebook. The lack of empathy expressed by some was not surprising really, although the angry hatred expressed by the unsympathetic stayed with me overnight. Of course I should not have looked, but I have been trying to get some understanding and perspective on the huge divide that I feel exists in our nation – in politics certainly, but also in how we treat each other, and in how we just talk to one another.

After the Paris attacks, I became absolutely intolerant of communication via meme. No matter which side of an issue you are on, memes are almost always snarky and inflammatory and therefore I'm convinced get in the way of actual intelligent constructive conversation between people. Additionally, memes often contain blatantly inaccurate information, such as attributing a quote to someone famous who didn't actually say this and that, or including statistics that are complete fabrications, or not crediting a primary source. Facebook of course fosters this, as does Twitter where people try to communicate in 140-character bursts. Social networking has also redefined the concept of “friend,” in my opinion.

But for sure I'd had it after Paris, and we are all indeed in charge of our social media and how we use it. So after Paris, I culled my “Friend” list on Facebook by one-third, limiting it to those people I know personally, interact with in real life, and yes, who I like in real life. I must say, my news feed improved immediately. I don't have a Twitter account, and so far, Pinterest doesn't seem to have these sorts of issues, although I control what I see there too. I suppose some could argue that I am cutting off hearing things I don't agree with, but I feel like I still hear plenty I don't agree with, but I hear it in a more constructive way, in a way that fosters conversation and actual constructive actionable ideas.

So back to this LA Times article and the hatred spewed in the comments. I could make an observation about the demographic spewing the arrogant crap, but that would get in the way of the points I want to make. One of the folks featured in the article is a 79 year old woman who travels from low-wage job to low-wage job. The roof on her motor home is leaking and she needs a new water pump. So to the haters, if she were your grandmother, or mom, or sister, would you help her? You, who have self-proclaimed your brilliance at navigating your own lives – so far – and saved from early childhood so that you don't have to try to make it on Social Security in your old age, would you help your grandmother? I mean, she's not taking public assistance, but through a series of decisions that you have no knowledge of, she's in a bit of a predicament. She hasn't asked for help, and she'd probably be embarrassed to do so. I mean, she's 79 and working some pretty arduous jobs. I would point out to the haters that they themselves are a series of decisions away from a similar fate.

Regarding Social Security, I can imagine us being on the same side of the argument: yes, Social Security was put in place to be a part of one's retirement, and yes it was not intended to be the sole source of retirement income, but don't you find it hypocritical that the ordinary citizens must pay into it, but Congress and the politicians do not? Don't you find it maddening that they borrow from it, and control it, and constantly do things to it that threaten its solvency? Don't you find it irritating that they can serve just one term, and they receive a pension for life? Can't you imagine how much of a relief it would be to have the health insurance policy that Congress has? It kind of makes me want that job, just for one term. Don't you think we should be talking about that? Politicians love to turn us against ourselves. They are masters of deflection. Maybe if they can get us arguing among ourselves about takers wanting handouts and redistribution of wealth, we'll get sidetracked from the issue of how they constantly mismanage Social Security, and how they have voted themselves comfy privileges and securities that most of us ordinary folk will never know.

So you've managed to navigate life. You're working, you're saving, you don't spend on what you consider to be unnecessary. Perhaps you were able to go to college and therefore get a better job – did you pay for your education all on your own? Did you have some help? Parents or scholarship? Perhaps you're healthy, strong, you've not had debilitating illness or accident, you've got a supportive family and network, you've never had a bad person pass through your life. One thing I know for sure, life is a marathon and all that, and you don't get through it alone, so your cold-hearted arrogance and hatred, and your lack of empathy will not go unanswered. How much of your life is due to your stunning life skills, and how much to just plain serendipity? Because it for sure is not because of your superior brain or big heart.  

Saturday, October 24, 2015

We Seem to be a Culture of Adults Afraid of the Dark ...

I moved to the country over a decade ago. I had never lived in the country, and I discovered that the country is really, really dark at night. As a dyed in the wool city girl to that point, I wasn't sure I'd be able to get used to that. But my electric co-op has placed yard lights on the property of many of the houses in their service area. For a monthly fee, a property owner can pay to have it turned on. I decided to opt out of that 15 years ago because by my estimation, the position of this light pole I figured would light up the bedroom like a football stadium at night, and that seemed impractical. I have never regretted my decision to leave the light off.
Turns out there's a whole organization dedicated to light pollution called the International Dark Sky Organization, and the picture above is from the Blue Ridge Observatory and Star Park, not far from where I live. The photo credit is theirs, not mine, and you can find more information here:

The night sky is absolutely incredible I discovered. The depth and breadth of the stars is truly awesome. I've sat out at night and watched meteor showers, and seen many, many moons. I can even spot a few of the more familiar constellations. I'm not an afficiando mind you, but I do enjoy what I see, and sometimes it's nice to just enjoy things without turning it into a project or hobby.
Turns out there's an organization for these guys too, and no surprise is that light pollution contributes to their decline as well. Again, the photo credit is theirs, not mine, and here's the link:

The fireflies in the summer make everything look magical. The geology disappears, and all you see are sparkles -- the slope disappears but a wall of little lights appears; the fields are full of sweeps of little lights, and one has no real sense of solid ground. It's magical.
I had to look these babies up on a website called What's that Bug, the photo credit is again theirs, and the link here: I had lived here for a decade-and-a-half before I became aware of these creatures. I had always attributed the glow to fireflies, but went out one night when it was way too late in the season for them, and the driveway was lit up like a magic pathway, and with a flashlight, saw that they were these worms. So cool!

And glow worms are a real thing! They light the pathways, and again the effect is pure magic.The gravel driveway turns into a pathway of tiny lights illuminating a way to some delightful place. It's better than any man-made thing I have ever seen; better than fireworks, better than Disneyland, better, better, better.

If I leave for out of town, as a safety precaution I turn off every tiny light in the house, thinking that if burglars want in, they'll have to bring their own lighting. That seems safe to me. It's a real turn around in attitude and thinking. Instinctually, as a city girl, I initially thought I should leave lights on, but I've come to realize that the absolute darkness can be safe, too.

So I am quite bummed to discover that new people who live in a house above mine have opted to have their yard light turned on, and that it's so poorly positioned that it lights up my entire property like a football stadium at night. Yeah, I know, I'm exaggerating. Kind of. But gone is the incredible deepness of the night sky that I've enjoyed for a decade-and-a-half. Sometimes I would be outside to call the dog in, and all I could do is stop for a while and gaze upward in amazement. I'm not sure how it will affect the firefly and glow worm gazing. And I've been too depressed about it to determine whether there is any place left on my property where I can still star gaze. I'm afraid there's not.

But it leads me to the real issue of the absurdity of how we try to light the dark so that it's as bright as the day. The night has its own beauty and value, and so much is missed out on by minimizing its effect. I don't think I would have thought about it until living here because these days it's considered "normal" to light the dark. Now I can see such efforts as absurd, wasteful, and entirely abnormal. A waste of resources to be sure, but I can't help but think we're losing out on appreciating the beauty of the night, which is over half of our lives. We've somehow characterized the night as "bad," as something to be alleviated. And it seems that I read about the cost and difficulty in generating enough affordable electricity in every newsletter I receive from the electric co-op. Hey! Electric co-op! A little light goes a long way around here. It is not necessary to so overdo it! We squander our resources. We make it more and more difficult for the earth's creatures to survive. Light pollution contributes to the declining population of fireflies all over the world.

We try to teach the children to not be afraid of the dark, and yet we set an example the opposite of this in every possible way. We have become a culture of people afraid of the dark. We've become so afraid of the dark that a flashlight, or a candle, or an ordinary light bulb is not enough for those times we need to make our way in darkness, and rather we attempt to make the night as bright as day using absurdly powerful and harsh lighting. The first night this light was turned on, I stepped out of the house before going to bed because I thought I was missing out on viewing one of the big moons. My disappointment could not be more total. It was a devastating discovery.

People come and go in the houses above me, so maybe that will happen and they will go, or perhaps the vegetation will overtake the light pole, as it sometimes does in that area and I can get back to enjoying the night, but I'm afraid that the encroachment, the absolute pollution and all its consequences are here to stay, and I don't like it. Not at all.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Six Days Out...

Joey passed away on Saturday last, March 8, 2014. My only relief from grief and missing him seems to come during the relative oblivion of sleep, but as soon as I begin to awake, Joey is my first thought. He had the most exuberant way of greeting the day. Today I was particularly thinking about that – how Joey greeted the day. It would start as soon as I stirred; he’d jump onto the bed (all 85+ pounds of him) and put his nose into my face to see how far along I was into actually getting up. I usually didn't fall back to sleep after that, although the code words could be used: “Joey, you gotta stay,” and then he would settle down (usually) to wait, oftentimes trapping me beneath the covers with his weight and bulk, big lovely head resting on me somewhere cutting off my circulation and making a limb fall asleep.
When finally I got up, he was so excited he would jump (hence the name, ”Joey,” as in baby kangaroo) all the way to the door with a smile for me and those bright eyes looking at me to make double triple super sure he was reading the situation correctly, tongue hanging out and tail wagging, literally all four paws leaving the ground. I always enjoyed the infectious exuberance of this daily occurrence, while being careful that we didn't crack foreheads as his was harder than mine for sure.
So this morning I was dreading getting out of bed and having to face the deafening silence and absence of all that “routine” on this sixth day of his passing, and I began to think about what exactly might have been going through Joey’s mind every single morning that so enthused him, and more importantly, could I muster the same seeming enthusiasm, not just under the circumstances, but in spite of them? I cannot help feeling that all this will be so much worse if I fail to honor and respect and learn this lesson that Joey (and perhaps all dogs) seem to know intrinsically.
I've heard or read that dogs live in the moment, but in a way I think they live in the very short-term. They quickly lose any remembrance of past wrongs – those done by them and those done to them. And if they’re lucky enough to have an (good) owner, they anticipate certain events, some brought on by habit, such as meal time, and some brought on by obvious clues, like when I would pick up Joey’s leash and the car keys, and say the phrase, “Road trip!” Oh my goodness, as he got older, I had to be careful he was not on the kitchen floor, but rather on carpeting when I said those words so that he wouldn't slip and hurt himself in his unbridled joy.
So this morning, as I was struggling to come up with a good reason to get out of bed and begin another day filled with the effort of coming to terms with the pain and grief of missing Joey, and the effort of trying to fight off the guilt of, “could I have done something better/different/more on that last horrible day?,” I started really trying to figure out Joey’s approach, and what he so obviously knew about the proper way to start any day. I mean, he couldn't have been feeling perfectly well every single day between the epilepsy and the aging, and yet that never seemed to dampen his taste for the potential of the day. I enjoyed him enjoying what became such a ritual for us. And I was aware of his many gifts like this to me, but now I have to do it without him, and I’m not exactly sure how to transfer whatever his “it” to become my “it”.
Generally, I sleep well and have regular hours, so I get up rested; I am not one of those chronic sleep-deprived people you hear so much about these days. But I get up because I have these mundane things to do before I can do what I want, what my soul wants or commands me to do, things like balancing my checkbook, paying a bill, getting something ready to go in the mail, doing inventory so I can start my taxes, picking up something at the grocery store. And I probably got up many days these past 11 years because Joey needed to go out, be fed, be given his epilepsy medicine on time. But even though Joey had these basic needs, every morning, he seemed to have other more important reasons for getting up that he expressed with a joyful attitude.
So for now, what I’m going to try to ask and maybe someday be able to answer is, “What makes me feel like Joey did when he got up?” It for sure is not the prospect of balancing a checkbook. What is my equivalent to his apparent joy in checking out the new smells in the yard for the 2000th or 4000th day? What wonderful thing was he so happy about Every. Single. Morning? I mean, Joey always seemed beyond happy and downright exuberant. Do I have something like that in my life? What on earth could be so compelling? Every. Single. Morning.
I’m afraid I don’t know exactly, but I do know a few of the things it is not, and so I start the process there. I might try changing my morning routine to something else – anything else. Perhaps it’s as simple and unthoughtout as getting up and walking around the yard to see what cool new things happened overnight while I was sleeping. No planning; just observation. All I can do is promise to start there. Perhaps then I can start answering the larger question of what exactly makes me feel that amped up level of joy and exuberance as Joey so obviously did.
Making stuff for sure has from time to time made me feel peace and well-being and nirvana – not making the stuff I sometimes feel like I have to make, but rather making the stuff I cannot help making. That inexplicable out-of-body experience that happens as I am creating where I am nothing more than a vessel through which I can feel an energy or force or being much greater than myself charging my every move, my every creative decision, when I know without a doubt that I am doing that for which I am on the planet is a feeling that seems as intense as Joey’s exuberance. What if I could foster an attitude that allowed that in every day; more than once in a while? Would I feel like Joey? He did “it” every single day (the ol’ Nike tagline, best tagline of the 20th century, “Just Do It”), with no worries about something turning out or not, or worry that time would be wasted on an idea that could possibly go no where, no planning, no concern about all the other pesky stuff that takes time away from what is important. So an adjustment or realignment is in order that would foster a more focused faithfulness to the path given, and in honor of Joey's lifelong example.

Joey was unafraid, unapologetic, did what he felt needed doing without delay as it presented itself, sometimes learned from a mistake, but did not let a bad experience quash any future experimentation. But foreseeing potential for trouble was not his forte. He was not conservative but rather lived quite flat out, and while perhaps part of my service to him was making sure he didn't get in too far over his head, his service to me is ongoing -- making me see that I have some work to do in diving into life more deeply, where the joy, exuberance, and spectacular potential is a natural side effect to wake up every morning with such excitement that all 4 paws leave the ground for a time.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Parable of Talents

“And remember the parable of the talents, will you now. Do you mean to stand before God, come the Last Day, and tell Him you spurned the gifts He gave you?” The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon

I was reading this morning before I felt I had to get up and start my day -- another day of not feeling like I was ready to get back into the studio and work -- when I came across this passage. I did have a Christian upbringing, complete with Sunday School, and Confirmation classes, and regular church attendance, so the reference niggled at my brain, mainly because of the word, “parable”, but I didn’t quite remember it, so I took to Google, and quickly came up with a reference in the Bible: Matthew 25: 14-30. While I do consider myself a spiritual person, I have had struggles with organized religion from almost the moment I got out from under parental control. I do find a bit of humor in this particular struggle since my upbringing and related education also leaves me with that unique form of Christian guilt, which lately has been about how I approach my work.

Everything about living as an artist is a self-directed balancing act, and I have always found this the most challenging aspect of the whole enchilada. Work vs. downtime; making stuff that you know will sell vs. making stuff that feeds your soul; the work involved with the making and the work involved with the making a living (given a choice, I would make stuff and give it away if only I could); and what seems like a million other pairs of diametric opposites sitting across from each other on the see-saw. I know some would argue that you’re only supposed to be making stuff that feeds the soul, but I think as an artist, I try, but only partially succeed in this. You’ve got to throw a lot of chocolate at the wall before some starts to stick. The stuff that doesn’t stick is not completely unworthy, and in fact plays a major role in getting to the yummy stuff stuck to the wall. It’s chocolate, not crap!

Needless to say, I hadn’t cracked open the Bible in quite a while. Lately, I’ve been revisiting my form of spiritualism, and making some attempts at beefing things up in that department a bit. This is hard for me in that I am not a particularly nostalgic person, nor do I like to waste time trying to answer the big unanswerable questions, like “Why am I here?” or “What happens when we die?” Ironically, the only folks that can answer that question are dead. I also continue to struggle with what to make and why I’m making it. The answers change over time I think. When I first started this particular leg of my life journey in 1998, the answers in the beginning were quite simple -- in hindsight. I was just starting out, so I could get away with answers that were easily satisfying and quite black and white. For example, I was honing my skills, both with my art, as well as learning to live as self-directed person – as an artist and micro business woman. Then, in the more recent past, I used to think I shouldn’t think too much. That what I make “in the zone” automatically has that mystical quality built in. I am merely a vessel for a much larger planetary force. Just do it (the best tagline of the 20th century, in my opinion). The work will speak for itself. The more you work, the more you want to work. That all worked for quite a while.

But, I really have to come out and admit that this is no longer enough for me, nor has it been for quite some time, and more and more I have been thinking I need to start answering some tougher questions and creating in a more mindful spiritual environment. Don’t confuse spiritual with religious. Whether my spirituality translates in some way into religion remains to be discovered. Another gem I recently ran into comes from Twelve by Twelve by William Powers, “…faithfulness to the path given.” That needs to be on a T-shirt. Or embroidered on a pillow. That you sleep on. So I’ve been asking myself a lot lately, “Am I being faithful to the path given me?” The rub is that I think there’s room for improvement, but the how is eluding me.

I’ve also discovered that the less you work, the less you want to work, unless you have a really good reason to work, which isn’t about money in this case, although it may come to that. So this is where I currently am at on my artistic path. I do still believe in that mystical thing that happens once in a while when you are creating – where you really can feel yourself being used by a force greater than yourself for something good. In fact, I think I still believe in all the mantras of the middle phase. I just need all that and something more.

Once I (re)read the “Parable of Talents” I remembered it from my childhood. I’m more impressed now than I was then, which is another truism I’ve discovered – sometimes you’re just not ready to hear or appreciate the message. “Talents” in this case are pieces of money. But in the way of parables, I think you could also use talents to mean the gifts you have, what you are good at, which for me is creating stuff. That part I have never doubted. I’m convinced I was put on the earth to make stuff.

But it’s the what to make and why make that, that is the bigger deal these days. If I can answer these questions more meaningfully, I’m convinced my talents will multiply. As I wrestle through trying to find the way to go and the answers that will satisfy me now and going forward, I cannot help but wonder if I am completely living up to my potential. Have I been doing the work that will multiply my talents? Lately, I think I could do better. So the timing of running into the Parable of Talents could not be better for me and it does make me wonder if there isn’t “someone” looking out for me. I don’t really believe in coincidences. It certainly is easier to bury your talents in order to go the safe route. But if you want them to multiply, you have to use them wisely and prodigiously and courageously. I’ve got ideas; I just have to go into the studio and make stuff. “Just Do It” still does apply. But it should also encompass answering the tough question of “Why?” I’m hopeful I’ll always be able to define and bring to fruition a worthy idea, and that these will always eventually overpower any natural inclination I have for safety.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Inspired by Reading Book Club and "Paris to the Moon"

I recently joined a book club named, "Inspired by Reading," the brain child of Andrew Thornton whose blog can be found at
The book club has a Facebook page, which can be found at
and of course we have a Pinterest Board, which can be found here:
The basic idea is that we create artwork inspired by the book we are reading.

Our first book, Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnik turned out to be a disappointing read for me. I was excited to begin reading a book about Paris because it's a place I have not been and I hope to visit there someday. However, the author could not have been more dull in his descriptions. I could conjur almost no visual images solely from reading the book, and I found his stories to be largely uninteresting and narcissistic. My guess is that if the author didn't already have a foothold in the publishing industry he would have had a hard time finding someone to publish such a dull tome. It has been a long time since I have been unable to finish a book, as I am an avid and stubborn reader. I wish I could recommend this book, but alas, unless you are having a bout of insomnia for which this book is the perfect cure, any other book with Paris as its theme would probably be better. Having said all this, I did make a couple of things that were inspired by Paris from other sources, such as other reading I have done and from our group's Pinterest Board. It bothered me greatly that I could not be inspired solely from the book. Or more accurately, I was not inspired at all by the book.

Despite what I felt was a disappointing book, I do hope to find time to develop the ideas that are here in their infancy. I was intrigued by a more earthy palette, and the sort of elegance and beauty that only comes with extreme age -- the colors of the past before so many synthetic and modern chemicals. I was also trying to combine these ideas of color with some of the unique attitude of fun, joie de vive, and humor of the French people. This aspect is more challenging and will require more reading and development because the concept is more abstract, but I am looking forward to continuing with the challenge. 

This is why these sorts of self-directed projects are so valuable. They stretch you uncomfortably, and sometimes with much complaint and grumpiness in new directions. Here are a couple more shots of my first attempts:
If you look closely at the top heart pendant, you will see some cracking. Perhaps some of the glass is incompatible, or perhaps I had heat control issues while trying to juggle the new ideas in the torch. The bottom heart pendant turned out fine in that respect, although I will be honing my color scheme in subsequent attempts and tightening up shape and patterning. I like the idea of the plain stainless bails and might try darkening them with some sort of patina. Or coloring them with metal coloring techniques. So off to the next book! Wish me luck. If anything, this club will get me to post in my blog approximately once a month or so...