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Dispatch from the Desktop

I’ve spent the past few days experimenting with the most recent tiny doll pattern I’ve created. It’s the same one that I used to create bunnies, bears and ducks. One of the great things about being a visual artist is that I can go from idea to physical object in a relatively short span of time. Revisions and streamlining of the art production process can sometimes take a bit longer. Sometimes, I have to simply put a piece aside so I can think about the problem for a while, and that takes time. At present, I’m still not sure about Stanley’s top hat. It’s merely pinned to the top of his head, instead of being permanently attached. This is because I want to be completely sure about something before committing to it totally. Nothing sucks quite as much as not listening to your creative gut instincts, rushing through a decision, and then having to come up with a way to fix the solution that you thought would work.

The bird and duck dolls contain the most individual pieces of each of the dolls I’ve been creating lately. It’s strange, because it doesn’t seem like a lot of parts to me. They seem to come together quite quickly. The additional hats, dresses and collars feel like they take a lot more time to me. The dress for the little ducky doll Edwina was actually made twice. That was about four hours of work, and I only used one of them.

I took some photos while creating a blue bird. I wanted to try out a new method of attaching the heads to the dolls that wouldn’t require them to be sewn on. I wanted to try this out, because if I ever created a pattern to sell for these dolls, I wanted an easier method than the one I’m employing. That’s not to say that how I sew the dolls heads to their bodies is insanely hard. It’s just tricky. A novice doll maker might become frustrated with the method. I think this is the ‘art teacher’ part of me at work. I want everyone to feel successful when creating art.

I’m still being lazy and not creating a pattern piece for the wings or the tail. It’s just so much easier to cut them out free-hand for me. Each of the pieces that are pinned are two-layers of felt. I used a medium and a dark blue felt to make it more interesting to look at. The yellow pieces, in the shape of U’s are the feet. The kind of longish pieces that’s tapered at each end are the beak pieces. I use a single strand of regular sewing thread, and a blanket stitch, to hand sew all of the pieces together to create the feet, wings, tail and beak.

The picture above shows what all the cut pieces look like once they’ve all been sewn together. I think the only piece I didn’t show was the little pink tongue. It’s about two and half millimeters long and about a millimeter wide. I only cut it out when I have the beak sewn onto the head of the doll and it’s ready to be glued in. For the more easier method of attaching the head to the body, the arms and legs are sewn onto the torso first, then the head is attached. When I sew the head on, it’s sewn to the torso first, then I add the arms and legs. All of the sewing on the head is completed before it’s attached to anything. It’s so much easier to hid knots inside the head on the underside.

I think I’m okay with the new way of attaching the head, but I still think it needs some work. I don’t like how there’s a visible bump between the top of the torso where it meets the head. It really bugs me. The head is securely fastened. I think I’ll crochet a collar to hid this, otherwise it will drive me nuts!

I also made a little pig, because I found a few tiny scraps of some wool felt and I wanted to see how it would work for such a tiny doll.

The felt was harder to work with. It’s a 40/60 acrylic and wool blend. It was a little thicker than 1mm as well. Honestly, I hated this doll when I got to the point of putting the snout on. I was so close to just scrapping it completely. Then I added the ears and the doll started to look ‘right’ to me. Any future piggies will be made with a lighter weight felt, and have a shorter snout I think.

I tried out making a little strawberry head doll next. She went well. I used a 1mm felt for her body and head, but don’t like how her body came out. I may have just been working too fast though. The second attempt at the strawberry head I think was much improved.

I like the dark green for the body better. I also added some stitches for the ‘seeds’ that should be on a strawberry. I like using yellow for this, making the strawberry more ‘cartoony’, but it didn’t look right. I changed to a slightly darker red and it looks much better I think. The new method of attaching the head worked out well for this doll. I think due in large part to the fact that I added a green ruff to look like leaves around the neck.

And what goes with strawberry? Banana! (I love strawberry and banana flavours together!) I like how this little guy turned out. What really kills me is that I had to stop and create a pattern for this little banana, but I can free-hand cut more complicated wings and have them come out almost identical. I suppose it’s because I’ve made thousands of wings over my lifetime of being an artist, and this is the first time I’ve ever made a banana!

The size of these dolls, between 6 and 6.5 cm or so, makes it fairly easy for me to change things around once I feel like I’m getting a bit bored. I always feel like a bit of a lout when I say that, but it’s true. I like solving the problem, and once it’s solved, I want to go on to the next problem. These problems always start with, “I wonder if I could do that?” or “Would this work?” Perhaps it’s not true boredom, but impatience. Or perhaps a combination of the two? I’m not sure. I’m just thankful that I don’t ever seem to run low on ideas for artwork that I want to create. Time is something that I never seem to have enough of though.

That’s what I’m working on this week. What are you working on?

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Candle Holder

St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order. There is a story about how he made a bothersome devil and/or demon monkey-ape ‘be still’ and hold his candle while he worked.

(I realized, last night that I had forgotten to post my regular Tuesday journal blog post on my website. It honestly slipped my mind. I had plans for Monday that got postponed until Tuesday, so I was doing some of the things on Tuesday that I had planned for Monday…so, I guess I felt like I had two Mondays? The weather here in Finland isn’t doing me any favors at the moment either, as it’s cold, damp and overcast, with the daily temperatures in the positives. This means it’s time for some barometric pressure headaches. They suck. Right now, it feels like someone is pinching and pulling the bridge of my nose, while simultaneously pounding nails into various points from my temples to the back of my head. My eyes hurt every time I move them. Bleh. Hopefully the ibuprofin will kick in soon. Anyway, on with the post!)

I’ve had competing urges over the years. One is to categorize myself and my artwork, and the second is to scrunch-up my face and declare that wish to remain outside of any type of categorization. The problem with this is that I already have self-categorized my artwork, and what the rest of the world (art world, craft world, people who are completely outside those worlds, etc.) thinks of my artwork is much more complicated. Where these two conflicting categorizations prove the most difficult for me is when it comes to the marketing of my artwork.

I am an artist. I identify myself first and foremost as an artist. This is something that has not changed much over the years, with the exception of adding ‘art teacher’ to it. I am an artist and art teacher. This is correct. I feels right. They are essential parts of who I am as a human being. Yadda, yadda, yadda, and so forth and so on, ad infinitum. You have heard all of this from me before. A lot.

I had a bit of an epiphany several days ago after some conversations with my husband (Berin Kinsman) regarding the problems I feel as though I am having in marketing myself as an artist (with artwork to sell) and an art teacher (with workshops to teach). Part of the reason for the conversations was a prompt from Meet the Maker, ‘Love to Make’ from day eight of the challenge. I had taken some pictures of pieces that I had created that were in many ways very different. They were all examples of the element of experimentation that is an integral component in my love of making the artwork that I create.

I love to experiment. My curiosity drives this love of experimentation. I think it also is a big part of why I’m such a magpie, using all kinds of different materials that I either pick out of the recycling or find at second hand shops. There are some tools, materials and supplies that I purchase ‘new’. I just bought some felt at Eurokangas earlier in the week, as well as some lovely decorated papers. The fact that I can do this does not prevent me from buying a shirt at a second shop and taking it apart for the fabric and buttons or saving the foil wrapping of chocolate bars and mailing circulars to use in my artwork.

Part of the difficulty of working with materials that are kind of finite. I can’t just go to the corner shop and pick up the lavender yarn that I found at a second hand shop a few weeks ago. Sometimes that materials, especially the fibers and threads, at second hand stores are from the stashes of people who purchased them twenty years ago or more. My chances of finding more of the insanely lovely yellow thread (on a wooden spool!) that was of Finnish manufacture, around the early 1960’s, is almost zero. Once these materials are used up. There simply is no more of it. Each of the dolls I create is made more one-of-a-kind because of the supplies that I use.

The other part, the mental one, is that I tend to create my work in groups. I get an idea. I start creating a pattern, and choose my colors. The materials are gathered. I sit down and start making. Before I know it, I’ve created dozens (or sometimes hundreds) of pieces working within a theme, and with some of those finite supplies described above. I usually have a a technique I want to try, or am trying to figure out how to make the materials and supplies I have do the thing I want them to do. Most of the time, the materials and supplies start asserting their own will, and compromises are struck between what I want to do and what they will do. I continue working. I refine ideas. I change around the sequence of construction. I add elements. I subtract elements. I note changes I want to make in subsequent pieces. I keep making the art over and over and over again until I feel as though I’ve exhausted the possibilities within the work itself.

In other words, I get bored. I make a thing until I get bored with it, and am seduced by a new idea or thought that I feel like I could form into something interesting. The ‘interesting’ should be construed as learning a new technique, or solving some kind of challenge in using a type of material I have and really want to use in some way. This means I will furiously make a thing until I don’t want to anymore. Then I’m done with it and am on to something else. It’s rather dog and butterfly of me. I’m completely focused and working on a series of pieces. Eyes and nose down. Ignoring everything else, until…I’m not. Once that new idea is seen, I’m off chasing it. And I’m done making the previous art work.

While Berin and I were talking, he pointed out that he, as a writer, works to create products expressly to sell. I create artwork because I have to. The thought of selling it, comes second. It’s not the reason for the creation. While this allows me a great deal of creative freedom, it makes successfully marketing my work to potential buyers much more difficult. As an art teacher, this ability to change the lessons, materials, ages taught, etc., work from a marketing standpoint, because what I am selling is my ability as a teacher of art first, and what the participant in the workshop will learn and make a very close second. Being flexible and well-versed in teaching methodologies as well as tools, technique and materials usage, is what a good art teacher should be.

As an artist, and an artist that is essentially a great big nobody from nowhere in the larger art world, my ever-changing series or groups of artwork, can be off-putting to a potential buyer. I cannot be depended upon to create a specific type or style of artwork for any set length of time.

I had been mulling over ways in which I thought perhaps I could alter the Little Ladies to make them sell better. Alterations that would make these tiny dolls more attractive to a wider-variety of potential customers. I found myself internally hesitating at each of these ideas. I felt that these alterations would make my artwork more derivative and less referential. I would be doing something that I felt had already been done, and done better by others as well. The purpose of these Little Ladies is tied so tightly to my own childhood and the toys I had and loved. Most importantly, as an adult, revisiting these things from my childhood, I am able to create what I wanted to be able to create when I was little. I wanted to alter those toys and dolls I had to better fit what I needed them to be within my tiny, little-kid Katie world that is decades past.

I feel as though it comes from a place of privilege that I can say, “Oh. I won’t compromise my artistic principles or my artistic vision!” I can honestly say, if I weren’t married, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss making alterations to my work that would make it more marketable to a greater number of people. Not everyone has the luxury of not selling the work that they create. Every piece created is a monetary investment in a future that hopefully sees its purchase. These are those artists and craftspeople who hustle. And I admire their abilities, because they’ve got things figured out that I am still stumbling through.

Now that I know that I’m kind of working at marketing my work is a rather challenging manner (the cart before the horse?) I need to be creative and figure out how to make it work for me. The artwork comes first, with no thought of who would buy it or how it can be used. And the marketing aspects coming second.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

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Apples and Oranges

Participating in Meet the Maker March is forcing me to think about some areas of my own entrepreneurial plans that aren’t as solid as I once thought they were. In the past, this type of realization might cause me to panic, but it’s not. In fact, there’s no panic at all, merely some annoyance at the fact that I have areas within my plan that have not completely gelled. Perhaps a little annoyance at the fact that I have to come up with some kind of answer or solution for them as well, but I kind of figure that is part and parcel of being a one-horse small art business!

During the past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I fit (I wrote a blog post about it) in an amongst other groups of artists, creators and makers. Where do I fit mentally? Creatively? Where does my artwork fit in the incredibly large, and ever-growing sea of artists, creators and makers who are trying to sell their art and/or craft? That last one, regarding where my artwork fits, from the standpoint of marketability, as a generator of that modicum of income I would like to be able to achieve…that is the point in which I don’t feel as though I have everything quite figured out yet. There are still areas that are more or less ‘un-gelled’.

In the post that I wrote previously, I talked mostly about wanting/needing to fit in with creative people, to find that community in which I could feel as though I was creatively and emotionally supported. What I’m talking about here is how do I categorize myself and my artwork for in the entrepreneurial arena?

If you’ve not familiar with exactly how large this creator-maker-artistic sales arena is, it is huge, like, Godzilla-sized huge, and sometimes just as pants-sh!tingly terrifying to contemplate as an insignificant little one-horse shop, like I am. I stand in awe of the creators and makers out there who are busting their butts as they hustle and work hard every day just to keep up with the ebbs and flows of this market. I admire them, while at the same time, I know I cannot be like them.

I had an exchange with another maker recently regarding the element of time and how it’s used as a creator. Specifically, the amount of time that is spent creating the artwork that we each sell. This maker said that they had worked to cut down on the amount of time devoted to the creation of their work, so that they could create work at a price point low. When I really thought about it, I seem to create and sell in almost diametrical opposition.

All artists and creators, after a certain amount of experience, can gauge how long it will take them to accomplish a task required by their craft or art form. How long to rough cut the wood for a set of chairs. How long to prep the loom for a weaving. How long and what ingredients are required to bake and decorate a wedding cake. How many Berol Prismacolour pencils in peacock green will be needed to finish the background of that illustration. How long it will take to crochet a queen-size blanket. For me, how much felt to do I need and how long will it take me to knock together a 6 cm doll? What can I essentially ‘batch’? Like covering the bases or braiding the yarns that go around the edges. I’ve got a pretty good sense of time when it comes to these sorts of tasks and batching does make them go faster. But reducing the amount of time that I spend on the creation of a piece of art so that I may lower a potential selling price never enters my mind.

Time for me is an essential component of the price of the artwork. Yeah. There are parts that I can make go more quickly, but then there are other parts of creation that just take time. If you have seen my artwork, I do a lot of embroidery work in and on all of my pieces, even those that are papier maché. To reduce the amount of time spent on my artwork would require me to fundamentally alter the artwork in a manner that I do not find creatively satisfying in the least. I could make strictly papier maché dolls and completely forgo any surface decoration, either in pencil, paint or embroidery. I could make tiny dolls with clothing that has no embellishment. No embroidery. No crochet work. No bases for display. I could do that. But I don’t want to.

That last comment makes me sound like a petulant three-year-old! “I don’t wanna!” accompanying by little clenched fists and stampy little feet. Here’s the thing that I realized as it regards where my artwork fits in this sea of artists, creators and makers: I have my own visions of my own artwork and create using those visions and with the aid of the influences of my personal past and the larger world I was formed it (I’m a Gen X-er). I think part of my difficulty is that I’m trying to force my work into a category in which it does not belong. I am first and foremost, an artist. I love being an artist. I revel in wallowing and mucking-about in my own personal artwork creation on a daily basis. I strive to be uniquely myself in my actions and products as an artist. I have constructed my entire life around being able to create artwork. I have made specific decisions regarding this. I have had to forego some parts of what some might think of as a more normalized life, in favor of giving myself the ability to let art take precedence before anything else. It is one of my strongest internal driving forces.

I suppose what it all boils down to for all of those potential buyers of art an craft work is whether they would prefer an apple or an orange. It’s just a matter of preference. Sometimes the price point is a major factor in their choice, sometimes it isn’t. I know who I am, and I feel like this Meet the Maker challenge is helping me get those weird un-gelled areas figured out for myself and this can only be a good thing for me as an artist and as an entrepreneur.

This post got a little strange, so thank you for reading! Here are some links to things that have been rattling-around in my brain for the past week or so, each making their own contributions to the verbosity of the above post:

Todd Rundgren: ‘Day Job

Henri Tajfel: Social Identity Theory (Research Gate; Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology)

Santigold: L.E.S. Artistes

Pixies: Debaser (Which I cannot listen to at anything less than ear-splitting levels)

Henry Rollins: The One Decision that Changed My Life Forever

 

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Time

I make my own sketchbooks and notebooks. Rarely do I purchase them. I make them to my personal specifications and they serve my creative needs well.

I wrote yesterday about participating in this years Meet the Makers challenge on Instagram. Yesterdays prompt was ‘Time’. Time seems to be something I always feel in short supply of as an artist. I feel extremely fortunate to not suffer from artist block. Time for me is short, but I have more ideas than I can possibly create in my head and in my sketch and notebooks.

I mentioned in my Instagram post that I have been told “You have a lot of time on your hands!” in the past by some people looking at, or experiencing my artwork for the first time. I said that I kind of smile and shrug it off in my post, but it goes deeper than that. I smile and shrug it off to the face of the person or people who are saying this to me because I don’t think that they have any kind of ill intent towards me or my artwork. I don’t think they are trying to demean me in any way, as if by saying the aforementioned phrase, the true meaning is, “Wow. You have nothing real or worthwhile in your life. No husband. No kids. No real job. No house to take care of. No one and no thing that demands your immediate attention all of the time. Oh. And cats don’t count. They just make you sadder and more pathetic.” Yes. I know. I kind of go off on a bit of a tangent with the reading between the lines. There are reasons why I do this, even if it is just internally: I’m a woman and I’ve been ‘Queen Bee’d’ since I was a kid; I had a caregiver that is the absolute monarch of passive-aggressiveness, meaning, I learned from The Master of the craft from an early age, and I’m weirdly sensitive, even though I seem like I just smile and shrug it off, while at the same time I’m screaming like a banshee in my head.

That all being said, last year, I wondered how much time I was actually spending creating my artwork. How much time did it actually take to create one of the Creative Experiment dolls? I decided to gather some data and crunch some numbers and see what I could learn.

I recorded my start and end times during periods of work, as well as what exactly I was doing during that specific time. I conducted five separate tests; four with completely original doll designs, and one in which I duplicated a doll form, but created different appliqué and embroidery work on. Upon completion of each doll, I went through my recorded data and came up with how many hours it took me to complete the piece.

Man. I hope my math is correct. I feel like I’m letting everyone look at my homework for third period algebra class.

I then gave myself three separate hourly wages; $20, $10 and $7.25 per hour. As a public school art teacher, I was earning around $22.50 per hour. I chose $20 (17.98€) per hour as my top-end, because of the length of time I have been a practicing artist, as well as my possessing a bachelors degree in art. The $10 (8.99€) per hour, was a kind of middle of the road kind of hourly wage that I have been paid in past employment situations. $7.25 (6.52€) per hour is the US minimum wage. I also used an arbitrary set price for the given doll of $100 (89.90€), and then worked out how much I would be earning per hour, if the doll sold at that price.

I did not figure the price of materials and tools in the creative process. Nor did I include utility usage (water and electricity), or the square footage of my workspace within the residential apartment in which I live. The element of time was my sole concern for this experiment.

I knew that the $20 per hour wage would make my artwork completely unmarketable. No one would buy one of my dolls for $431.60 (21 hours, 58 minutes to complete doll).Perhaps if I were a better known artist, or had the stamp of approval from a gallery, museum or show space, there could be a possibility of selling my work for that price, but the gallery, museum or show space is going to take a chunk of that money. Many artists like myself have difficulty even getting a foot in the door for spaces like this, because we are (as one gallery owner told me years ago), “You are not a proven seller. I can’t risk the floor space on you.” I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing (that’s a topic for another blog post entirely!) but it’s the way that it is for many artists.

The $10 per hour wage was not an attainable price point either. That $431.60 doll, goes down to $251.80 (226.36€) at the aforementioned hourly wage. Still, much too high for many, many people to readily afford. There have been times in the past in which I have broken down the price of a doll into payments for a buyer who really wanted a piece, but that is few and far between. To be honest, I do that for people that are past customers or who I really trust, because I’ve gotten burned on propositions like this in the past. Really, really burned.

The $7.25 minimum wage in the US brings the price further down to $156.45 (140.64€). For a set few people, perhaps the types of people who regularly buy artwork from local or regional artists at galleries and shows could purchase them. But if they don’t like  style of my work, or are part of the ‘niche’ that gets my work, likes my work and wants to own my work, the chances of them putting money down for my work, even at this lowest price, is relatively slim.

When I set an arbitrary price of $100 on this piece, my hourly wage is $4.63 (4.16€) per hour. And remember, I’ve not even factored in the tools, materials, rent and utilities involved in creating the piece of artwork. There is also the personal and professional efficacy (knowledge, experience and ability) involved in the creation of the piece. Nor is there any accounting for the creativity and personal artistic expression accounted for in this calculation.

Now, all of this being said, I do not feel that the world owes me. That the world must buy my artwork. No. Not at all. Nothing is guaranteed like that in life. It would be super-nice if I could occasionally sell my artwork at prices that better reflect my personal investment of time, efficacy, energy, creativity and craftsmanship into the artwork itself. For those reading this, I would hope that the next time you look at the price tag of a piece of artwork in a gallery, or at an arts sale, that you stop and think before rolling your eyes at the high price. Know that there is a lot of furious, dedicated work going on prior to you setting eyes on it. When you buy that artwork, you are buying a part of a persons life. A specific length of time, a period in the evolution of their own unique creative vision, that has come and gone and left the artwork as a mile-marker. If you love the work and can afford it, buy it! If you can’t buy it, but still love it, please tell the artist how much you love it and appreciate their time and energy being spent in the pursuit of making the world more unique and beautiful. Please do not say, “Wow. You have a lot of time on your hands!

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Where do I fit?

I decided to join in this year for the Meet the Maker challenge on Instagram. One of the business/entrepreneurial areas I’ve been working on is trying to participate in challenges (or shows, etc.) with other creators. I know that this is an online challenge only, but I thought that it might help me to get over my fears regarding showing my artwork to people that I don’t know. I am on Instagram, and post there almost daily, so it sounds like my fears about finding other creators and showing them my work is something that I’ve already done. But it’s not.

I did a little looking around online to see what kinds of photos current and former participants in the challenge have posted. A great deal of the photos were incredibly awesome. They have great lighting. The work looks amazing. They are composed well. The makers in the photos look so young and pretty and happy. I had the instant, knee-jerk emotional reaction of, “Oh hell. I don’t belong here. These makers are way far out ahead of me with their businesses. I do not belong here.” I was having some severe flashbacks to high school and the cliques and the rigid hierarchy of who was at the top of the social structure, and who was on the bottom. Side note: I was at the bottom.

I still have decided to participate in the challenge, even with my personal insecurities pecking-away at my innards. I know that this month of daily photo challenges is going to be incredibly mentally and emotionally uncomfortable for me at times, but am choosing to do it, because I think that I have some things to learn about myself and how I want/need to interact with creative people other than myself.

Over the past week, I’ve been struck by a sense of longing for something, some kind of situation that I couldn’t readily put my finger on. The Meet the Maker challenge (and a walk with my husband) helped me put this undefined longing into words.

I have a few artists that I communicate with online. These are the artists that I feel as if we have ideas and ways of thinking and creating in common. Some, but not all, work with materials similar to mine. I am so thankful for these artists! They’re lovely people! Lately, I’ve wanted to replicate this kind of interaction, only live and in-person. I’ve looked for a group of doll makers that I could connect with, share ideas and techniques with, etc. I’ve been looking for groups online, in and outside of Finland, hoping that I can find my ‘tribe’ and have been disappointed that I haven’t found anywhere in which I felt as though I belonged. Many of the places are classes or workshops, and I just don’t have 300€ to spend on this kind of activity right now. It began to look pretty bleak and rather depressing for me and any hopes of finding creative people to meet, talk and work with.

My husband pointed out that I seemed to only be looking for people who make dolls, or are doll-adjacent in the their creative endeavors. He was right. I was. I’ve tried joining more traditional doll clubs and societies in the past (United States), but it never seemed to work out. Many of the clubs members wanted to make their dolls using other artists patterns, and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to make my own dolls. I always felt like the odd person out. So, why was I trying to re-create a situation like this again? It makes no sense.

I tried to remember a time in my past where I felt as though I was part of a larger creative, arts-oriented group of people, and that was when I was teaching elementary art in a fine arts program with almost one-hundred other visual and performing arts teachers. Within that large group, I had close friends and colleagues, each who created a different kind of artwork utilizing a wide variety of art mediums. We each made different types of art, while at the same time taught elementary art. I didn’t need make the same kind of art with them to benefit from their personal art creation. I could learn from each and every one of them, new and interesting ways of seeing the world and creating my personal artwork — and this, all in addition to learning new methods and techniques for teaching art in the classroom as well. I realized that this was the longing that I had; just being around other artists. The medium isn’t the important thing for me, it’s the creativity of thought and the sharing of methods and techniques I missed.

This brings me to the Meet the Maker March 2020. I have no preconceived expectations of ‘finding my tribe’ of creators and artists with whom I can form friendships with. I don’t expect to be published on the Meet the Maker March 2020 website either. Why? Because, realistically, I’m still not sure that I belong in this group, HOWEVER, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? There are things I can learn from the makers in this challenge. Many things. And who knows? Maybe there are some participants who feel like I do? Maybe they will read this and know that it’s okay not to fit everywhere, and that sometimes, it takes time to find your tribe.

So, I will keep on, keepin’ on with this challenge and learn all I can from it.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

 

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Screaming into the Void

I recently re-posted this meme to my Instagram account. It’s true for many artists. I know this is funny, but it’s that deep, cutting kind of humor, in that it’s deeply rooted in the emotional pain an artist can feel regarding their work, their efficacy as an artist and their abilities to make a living at being a practicing artist. This type of humor can also be even more emotionally devastating when, like me, the artist creates artwork as a form of therapy, which I know is not unique at all, it simply complicates my relationship to the artwork I create, my personal sense of self-worth and how each of those relate to making money with art.

At various times in my past, I’ve been confronted by someone who didn’t understand why I would make art, a lot of art, and not sell it. The implication being, that if I was putting so much time, thought at energy into creating art, that I most certainly would be selling it. What other reason could there be to spend so much time creating art? I feel like this is a very American, culture of consumption manner of thinking. Everything is transactional, and amassing the greatest amount of money is the only end goal of any expenditure of time, thought and energy.

Yes. I have created artwork for myself alone, in the past, with no intentions of ever attempting to make money. That was not the reason the artwork was created. I was creating the art to get through the day, or the week, or the month. The creating of the artwork was what was keeping me mentally and emotionally intact. The art is my anchor to keep me from disintegrating into everything and everyone around me.

Do some people think that because I’ve already been ‘paid‘ for the artwork with my own sanity, that I should give my artwork away or at a cost so low that I cannot make a decent living at it?

It’s an odd situation to contemplate. It’s weird and complicated. The artwork created keeps me mentally and emotionally intact. The created artwork accumulates, and accumulates. The artwork is now physically getting in the way. The artwork is now staring at me and I’m staring at it (quite literally. I make dolls). I need to do something with it, so, the artwork is offered for sale.

Now, here’s where it all gets even weirder. All of the artwork I created for myself, to help keep me sane, doesn’t sell. When it doesn’t sell, it’s mentally and emotionally painful, not devastatingly painful, more of the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ kind of painful. Remember, my artwork is who and what I am on the inside. My thoughts and emotions, how I see and understand the world around me, etc., etc., and so forth. I came to art because I’ve never felt accepted. I was too weird, too loud, too obnoxious, etc., etc., yadda, yadda. So for me, when my artwork doesn’t sell, my knee-jerk reaction is to think, “Oh. I’m being excluded again. I’m being rejected again. My insides and my outsides are hideous. Lack of sales proves that. I’m worthless.” Then, off to make more art!

This is so messed-up.

I know this.

The meme is right. I do stare at my work until I hate it, but I’m not just hating my artwork. I’m hating myself.

I don’t know if there is any way of necessarily fixing any of this. I know that my artwork isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, especially the Creative Experiment doll series. I know that what I create and offer for sale is very niche and that the niche I’m in isn’t populated with an over-abundance  of people with lots and lots of extra cash on hand to buy artwork with. I’m not boo-hooing and belly-aching about it. It’s just how things are for right now. For me, it’s more important to know where my feelings are coming from and how they affect my current and future actions.

Situations are always fluid and change is a constant. The way that I feel today will change, and I will adapt to whatever new circumstances I encounter in the future. Remember, art keeps me sane.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next week.

Henri Rollins has helped to keep me grounded and not feel so alone as an artist for many, many years. L.A. Money Train is one of my favorite cuts off of Get Some, Go Again.

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My Own Path

I recently read a blog post by an artist named Salley Mavor regarding how she feels about creating patterns and instructions for people other than her self to purchase and use. You can read the post ‘To Teach or Not to Teach’ here. It was interesting to read about how an artist, who works in the same realm as I do, hand sewing, embroidery, doll creation, thinks about their own original art creation and the creation of patterns and instructions of their original work for sale to others.

Before I go any further, I should note that I have owned a copy of her book Wee Felt Folk in the past. I think it’s a lovely book with clear, easy to follow patterns and instructions for creating incredibly sweet, tiny dolls. I made a few dolls from the book and while they were a lot of fun to make, I found myself more interested in creating my own original artwork and art dolls.

One of the many reasons that I found Mavor’s post so interesting is that I have been working on a project that would at least partially encompass patterns and instructions for doll creation that I may offer for sale. Some of the points that Mavor makes struck a chord within me and made me think that maybe I didn’t want to make and sell patterns and instructions for doll making. This made me feel as though perhaps I had wasted the time that I had already spent planning, writing and creating patterns for my project.

There were three points that Mavor asserts that she feels negatively affect her feelings towards creating patterns and instructions for sale.

Salley Mavor, in addition to being an artist, is also an accomplished illustrator. She creates intricate embroidered illustrations using a variety of different embroidery techniques as well as her own original compositions that are just brimming with amazing details. Her work is enchanting, sweet and elegant all at the same time. The longer you look at them, the more little surprises you find within them, which makes them all the more fabulous!

Mavor speaks about how there have been people wanting to know if she would ever create patterns for some of her illustrations. Which on the face of it sounds like a huge compliment, but is in fact more complicated than that. Mavor states that she feels creating patterns for some of her larger illustrations and pieces of art would stifle her own artistic creativity, because she would constantly be thinking about how to create instructions for other people, instead of being within the moment of creation, actually making the art.

What makes this complicated is that would people ever ask a painter or a sculptor for instructions on how to re-create their original artistic creation? Did anyone ask Picasso for instructions on how to re-create Guernica? Was Rodin asked for instructions about how to re-create The Kiss? This is a weird double standard that artists who work with textile and fiber arts, and something that within a consumer economy, where everything is for sale, customers think that they should be able to get that pattern and those instructions, because, you know, it’s just sewing and embroidery, right? It’s not like…you know, Art of anything. It’s just craft…right? (Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox of sarcasm now.)

Another point that Mavor makes is that she wants to keep some of her own creative secrets for herself. She has her methods of construction and creation that she has honed over decades of artistic practice. Why give that away? In addition, what she does and how she does it may not be something that can necessarily be ‘taught’ via a set of instructions and a few pattern pieces.

I know that I have ways of holding the pieces of felt that I’m sewing together that work for me. Doing it the way that I do it has simply evolved over my own decades of artistic practice. At this point, I don’t need to always create a pattern either. Sometimes I just sit down and start cutting. That’s efficacy and it’s earned by years of dedicated work within an artistic medium(s). That cannot be conveyed through a set of patterns and instructions, unless the purchaser is someone who already has a fair amount of knowledge, skill and ability under their own belt. So, I get that point. I like the idea of keeping some of my magic for myself as well.

Salley Mavor has published a book of patterns and instructions, Wee Felt Folk. She took one of the simpler elements (the dolls) within her own artwork and broke down the construction into easy to replicate steps, complete with patterns. She hoped that people who purchase the book would put their own creative spin on the dolls — alter them so that they are more an expression of the person who is utilizing the patterns and instructions, rather than just an attempt to copy exactly what Mavor creates herself as an artist. As stated previously, I’ve worked with her patterns. I chose to create my own dolls instead, because…I’m an artist too. I want to make my own create visions, not the visions of someone else.

Mavor speaks about being a bit of an outsider within the greater world of Art (with that capitol A). She’s expressed that she doesn’t even really fit with current trends within sewing and embroidery movements, which are much more modern than her personal style of needlework. There is also the resurgence of needleworkers who create patterns and kits for people who want to follow someone else’s creative vision, instead of creating their own unique pieces of work. And that’s fine, but it should be noted that when you create something using someone else’s pattern and instructions, without making any type of creative alterations yourself, you are creating a craft, not a piece of original artwork.

The weird space that I feel as though I tread is not considered Art and not considered craft, simply because I utilize tools, materials and techniques that are not considered by the wider world as a form of Art — with that capitol A — and is somehow less than a painting or sculpture. I’m not bemoaning this; it just seems to be the way that people other than those who work within the same creative realm think when they look at my work.

I can see my own thoughts regarding my artwork reflected in what Mavor writes. There are two big differences between the two of us though. 1) I’m a very, very, very small art creator by comparison and 2) I’m an art teacher.

I truly enjoy teaching people how to create artwork, especially their own artwork. This may mean that they begin their work by utilizing a pattern or technique that I have demonstrated or supplied, but their end product should be, will be, their own. Mavor stated that teaching people how to create using her techniques is not something that she is interested in. And she totally has the right to say that. She doesn’t owe anyone anything, period.

As an art teacher, I have learned how to give the student enough information to get them started, to allow them to get comfortable with the entire creative process, so that when it comes to the point within the creative process in which the student needs to take that leap and put themselves into their artwork, they are brave enough to be unique and add themselves into their artwork. Teaching art is not something everyone can do or wants to do. I love being there when the art begins to happen. When the confidence is built. When the students tries out an idea, and another idea and another idea. I love the planning, creation and implementation of art lessons. I think the biggest part of why I love it so much, is that I want to share with my students this amazing thing that makes me so incredibly happy and I want them to be able to experience it as well.

So, I am going to continue working on my plans for patterns and instructions…and the other things I want to go along with it as well.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday.

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My Mistakes

I spent the greater part of two years working on something I called the Creative Experiment. The experiment was a success. I learned a lot about why and how I create artwork. I pushed myself to let go of some of the creative processes that were no longer proving themselves useful to me. And most importantly, I became much more comfortable within the active creative process without knowing for sure exactly what the end product would look like. I feel as though I built a great deal of personal creative efficacy over the time I spent creating the dolls in the experiment.

Over the past month or so, I couldn’t help but compare the differences in the how the Creative Experiment dolls and the Little Ladies dolls have been received. More to the point, why was there interest in purchasing the Little Lady dolls, but almost none in the Creative Experiment dolls? What mistakes had I made in with the Creative Experiment dolls that I haven’t been making with the Little Lady dolls?

The reason that I want to sort this out is for business reasons. These bodies of work have their similarities and some very distinct differences. The Little Ladies are selling. The Creative Experiment dolls are packed into boxes, to the greater extent, unsold. I need to understand the why and how of this, so that I can identify and fix future mistakes quicker than I have in the past.

There are three main reasons that I think the Creative Experiment dolls did not sell well.

1. No Advertising:

I made absolutely no attempt to market the Creative Experiment dolls. I was at the very beginning of an entrepreneurial course and did not think that I wanted to be in the ‘physical product business’ and chose to focus on developing art seminars and workshops to teach. I didn’t use my website or Instagram to market the Creative Experiment dolls. I think I felt as though if anyone saw photos of these dolls, that they would make an attempt to contact me to inquire about purchasing my work. I think I sporadically added a “contact me if your interesting in purchasing any of my work” to the end of my Instagram posts, but that was so lazy.

I have not sold a single Creative Experiment doll through any internet platform. The few that I’ve sold were to people who knew me personally. I think that my reluctance to advertise or market myself and my work is due in large part to: I don’t want to be perceived as ‘pushy’, and I don’t want to attract attention to myself. Because when you get attention, you don’t always get just positive attention.

I didn’t advertise. I didn’t sell any work. It was my completely my fault. Lesson learned.

2. People Didn’t Like Them:

Okay. On this one, I could simply me making assumptions. I know that the Creative Experiment dolls were not to everyones personal taste. They were a radical change in the direction of the types of dolls that I have made in the past. They were smaller, lacked human like faces (all the parts of the face in the correct places), and were not always humanoid. I gave them holes in their abdomens with screw-top lids (recycled from milk cartons) and buttons in lieu of faces. I can see where some people would find them weird, and off-putting. I can also see where some people would really like them. The people that I think would like them are a fairly small segment of the potential doll-buying community, and very targeted marketing on my part could have helped me get my artwork in front of people who might have been interested in buying it.

I feel as though I let my Dada flag fly when creating the dolls in the Creative Experiment. I worked on instinct. Picking and choosing whatever colors of felt, fibers and threads that I wanted to in that instant and not asking myself why. As the experiment continued, the embroidery and the appliqué work took on a like of it’s own and I just went with it, creatively speaking. I had no real idea of how I would ever sell any of these pieces, even if I wanted to.

I’m sure that there were people who looked at the Creative Experiment dolls and found them creepy as well. There are people who find regular dolls creepy, so I can only imagine what they might have thought of the Creative Experiment dolls.

3. They Aren’t Traditional Dolls:

I suppose what I mean by this, is that they weren’t really like the types of dolls that people were used to seeing. They were called dolls, but perhaps my work didn’t fit into what their idea of a doll is, or their belief in what a dolls primary use is: a toy for children.

I’ve always wanted to ask people about this. Children always seem attracted to my work, no matter what kind of dolls I make. The Creative Experiment dolls were abstracted, colorful and small. It makes perfect sense that children would be attracted to them. Children’s ideas or beliefs about what things are and aren’t supposed to be are not carved in stone. Adults, while they have the ability to think more abstractly, sometimes have beliefs can become more fixed and rigid over time.

There is also the fact that even if a child really liked one of my Creative Experiment dolls, 40€ or more for a tiny, handmade doll may seem tremendously expensive, especially knowing how hard children can be on toys. And…my dolls are not necessarily toys to begin with anyway.

So…now what?

I’ve made the comparisons and feel as though I have discovered some valid reasons for why I sold so very few of the Creative Experiment dolls. The fact that I didn’t actively try to sell them was the main reason I feel as though they didn’t sell. I will be putting some of them up on my website for sale over the next few weeks. I need to do choose a dozen or so out of the almost two-hundred that I made, shoot some photos and decide on some prices, and then I can see how it all goes. If they still don’t sell, then I guess they just aren’t marketable and I will have to live with that.

Pricing for these dolls is difficult. And if I’m honest, pricing my work is always, always, always difficult for me. Is the price too high? Is the price too small? What will the shipping cost? How do I adequately convey the amount of time, energy and thought it takes to create the doll I am asking 75€ for? I had a few people, years ago, contact me and express interest in a doll, but when I quoted them a price — I think it was 75€, including shipping, I never heard from them again.

I’ll figure it out, I will need to, because I want this business to be a success.

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Forks and Spoons

I’ve received criticisms about the artwork I make. When I say ‘criticisms’, I mean to speak about the good, the bad and the not-so-great things about a specific piece of artwork that I’ve created. I majored in Visual Communications (Graphic Design) in art school and learned a lot about how to critique another person’s artwork. Within my studio, we could get into some fairly gory depth and detail during our critiques. I never took the negative comments personally. It just meant that what I was trying to do wasn’t working and that I needed to try something else. I also felt that these sorts of critiques would prepare me for the much rougher world of graphic design that I would eventually enter once I graduated.

What this early training in art criticism did not prepare me for was the world of non-commercial art. (Regular art? Fine art? Gallery art?) To be more specifically, it didn’t prepare me for the things people who are not makers of art will say to me about my artwork, techniques, materials, craft and presentation.

The how and why of some of the things that people have communicated to me leave me confused and sometimes annoyed. I’ve talked to another artist who work in the same vein as me and they have too have had some similar feelings and experiences. I talked at length about these weird, confusing and annoying comments, in an effort to try and figure out why a person might say these things, and what the root causes might be.

1. The Customer is Always Right:

I almost feel as though this concept is baked into the DNA of most of the people in the US. I take a great deal of joy when I see that my artwork makes people happy. I take even greater joy when a person thinks my artwork is good enough that they decide to open their wallet and purchase it. I know that my artwork is more or less a luxury item, serving no other purpose than to make the customer happy to know they own it. I mean, it’s not like one of my paper maché play-set dolls is going to complete their taxes for them, or perform useful household tasks like dusting and laundry.

What will stick in my craw wrong, is when the customer will offer a completely unsolicited opinion on how I should make my artwork, as well as the types of artwork they think I should be making, you know, so I can make lots more money. Because you know, money is the only possible reason I would spend as much time as I do making artwork, right? Getting lots and lots of money is my end goal, right?

You should make Minecraft and Duck Dynasty dolls. People would buy those!” This comment by far is one of the stranger ones. I also got a “You should make dolls like Ugly Dolls! People love those!” comment once. I would think that the people offering this advice know very little about copyright law.

I think this is part and parcel of a consumer society like the US. There are some people who feel as though the conveniences of buying just about anything they can imagine at any time of the day or night, translates into this being their ‘right’ as a member of that society. And when they do not get what they want, when they want, how they want, they will tell you, either to your face, or through a negative review online.

2. Dolls are Not Always Toys:

My artwork is incredibly personal. To some, it doesn’t appear that way. To some, all they see is a doll. Sometimes that doll is cute and sometimes that doll does not conform to the persons preconceived ideas of what a doll is and isn’t. To many people, a doll is a plaything for children and is therefore something that is almost a disposable item, both physically and mentally speaking. Toys are part of childhood. Period.

The dolls that I make are not play things for children. They are art. As an artist, I’m constantly exploring why the doll is a constant theme of my artwork. It never goes away, which means, I still have things I need to ‘figure out’ about the doll and why it is so important to me. Each individual piece is a creative exploration of who I am as a person.

Dolls have never been ‘just toys’. They have been used to teach children about religion and societal roles, and to train young through creative play as to what is expected of them within their culture as well. For me, the dolls that I create have become a fusion of many different roles that dolls have played for humans over the millennia.

I just don’t know what I would do with a doll. You know, I’m a forty-year-old-woman! I don’t play with doll!.” Said to me at a craft show, while her sticky-fingered daughter touched every single one of the highly embroidered and appliquéd faces of some of the dolls I had for sale.

At the time, I was a forty-year-old woman who was making dolls. Lots of dolls.

3. Handmade Things are Not as Good as Store-Bought Things:

My younger brother once told me that he didn’t want me to give him handmade gifts, because he’d just rather have a gift card or money. At the time, I thought it was better that he was honest with me, but it really hit me like a brick in the face. I’ve never made him another gift.

For some people who may want to purchase my work, they get a little ‘sticker shock’ when I give them a price for a specific piece of artwork. Sometimes, they will try and get me to lower my price, with weird back-handed compliments. When those don’t work, then they start to comment on what they perceive as the shabby parts of my work, thinking, I guess, that I will believe them and say, “Oh! You are so right! 300€ is way too much for this piece! It’s really tremendously crappy construction and made of cardboard and newspaper that I got for free, and you know, the 100+ hours that I have spent working on it don’t really mean anything. I was already ‘paid’ in the emotional sense, so I’ll let you have it for 20€, no, no 10€!”

I once took a doll to work to show my supervisor. He was curious about what I was making and I valued his criticisms and advice regarding placing it in an upcoming art show. A woman in our department saw what I was showing my supervisor and offered me $20 for the doll. It was a large and complicated doll (Cactus Mama, an opuntia cactus with multiple faces and smaller babies) and I declined her offer. She walked away and then came back a few minutes later and hung into the doorway and kind of rolled her eyes and said, “Wellll….I GUESS I could give you $40…” Again, I declined her offer, stating how many hours I had worked on the piece. I put the piece in a show and won a ribbon.

4. People Who Have No Knowledge of Art Creation of Craftsmanship:

I make the artwork that I make, with the materials and techniques that I use, because it suits me to do so. In my personal experience, that’s kind of how creating my own art works. I’ve spent more than thirty years making art with anything that I could get my hands on. I’ve been an art teacher, and continue to teach art workshops here in Finland. I have been fascinated with my hands since I stuck my own right thumb into my mouth while still in utero. I started drawing as soon as I could hold a crayon and have never stopped. So it always surprises me when someone who does not make art, or do any kind of craft or activity with their hands, attempts to tell me what they feel I’m doing ‘wrong’ in my artwork, and how I might fix those things, so I can be more successful as an artist. Their only credentials seem to be that of ‘personal opinion’, and that their personal opinion of my work is something that I should change my own personal artwork because of. (Fnck my drag, am I right?)

I spend an insane amount of time inside my own head. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, planning and physically creating my artwork. As I’ve stated previously in this post, my work is extremely personal in nature, but I do reference other artists (of the older, more dead variety, as well as of the more alive, breathing, and contemporary kind), art movements, music, literature, nature as well as vintage toys (GAH! The toys of my childhood are now ‘vintage’!) and contemporary toys. I am mining my own life experiences and how I interact with the world around me while creating my artwork. My life. My experience. My thoughts. My art.

A few weeks ago, my husband came over to look at some of the tiny dolls I was working on. He said, “You know these kind of look like Lego Minifigs, right?” Yup. Totally. I was aiming for something in between a Lego Minifig and a Playmobil figure visually speaking, so his observation told me I was more or less, on the mark with my artistic intensions. These are toys from my childhood. Take those toys and smash them up with my fascination with miniatures and dollhouses, and my creating these tiny dolls makes sense.

I suppose that this section paints me in a rather snobby light. The insinuation being, that if a person doesn’t have the experience of what it’s like to make or do something with their own hands, that encapsulates their own unique visions, emotions, thoughts, and dreams, while using a variety of materials, supplies and techniques, as well as having a depth and breadth of knowledge and practice about the subject of art (or gardening, or writing, or cooking, or modern dance, or film, or carpentry, or playing a musical instrument, or sewing clothing, or crocheting items, take your pick of all the creative fields!) then deciding that without any of the aforementioned credentials, that they can tell an artist how to make their work better, or more sellable, does not hold a whole lot of water with me. Making art is when I feel the most ‘myself’ and I’m fairly sure that there is no one out there who can tell me how to ‘be me’.

My husband and I talk about ‘forks’ and ‘spoons’ a lot. When I was teaching art in the elementary school, I would have lessons in which I would give the students a lot of three dimensional recycled and up-cycled items and we’d create sculptures. I remember on exercise in which I was holding up some of the materials they would get to use to create these sculptures and as a group, we would brainstorm about all the things that the object could become. I held up a plastic fork first and the whole class said, “It’s a fork!” I asked them again, but what could it be, use your imaginations! “It’s a fork for a person!” Okay. Okay. I will re-frame the question for them. Imagine you’ve never seen anything like this before, and you find it while you are walking in a forest, what do you think it could be? I got a lot of silent stares, until…someone yelled, “I’d use it to eat food with!

I was about down to my last spoon with that last answer.

Some people see my artwork for what it is and accept it. There are others who don’t find it attractive, or interesting, and simply move on without saying anything about it. Then there are others who think my work should be a fork and they tell me why it should be a fork. Hopefully, I will have enough spoons to deal with it internally.

And occasionally through a blog post.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday.

 

A little additional reading, if you are so inclined:

The Customer is Always Right

Spoon Theory

I’m good at thrashing around inside this concept: The Dunning-Kruger Effect