Category Archives: Words

Release the Dolls!

My previous Thursday Business Post dealt with the sales, or non-sales for the most part, of the Creative Experiment dolls. I’d decided to offer about a dozen for sale to see what kinds of responses I receive. Showing my work is always, always, always a white-knuckle-thrill-ride of insanely irrational emotions that are deeply entangled in my personal sense of self-worth not only as an artist, but as a human being. If you’ve followed me on Instagram, you know that I rarely if ever post photos of myself. I’m not comfortable taking selfies. I don’t like having my photo taken. It makes me cringe. I show my artwork. That’s the me that I want people to see and connect with. Weird. I know. Believe me, I know!

ANYWAY…

I decided that I needed to make an honest effort to sell some of the Creative Experiment dolls. There is no way that I will ever know if there are people who want to buy them unless I put a price on them and offer them for sale. I’ve chosen sixteen dolls to offer. I created a gallery with names, dimensions and descriptions of each of the dolls, as well as a FAQ about purchasing, shipping, etc. as well.

I know it doesn’t seem like much of an effort to create a gallery with some prices and put it on my website that frankly, at this point, does not have loads of traffic, but I have to start somewhere, right? I’m a one-horse business. I do everything myself, with occasional feedback and assistance with business and marketing from my husband and friends who work in entrepreneurial education. I don’t have a marketing budget. I need to take advantage of every no-cost and low-cost option available to me. Please don’t misunderstand me as whining, moaning and complaining about this. It’s simply how it is. I want to be honest with anyone who’s comes upon my website. And if you’ve read any posts of mine, you know, I’ll spill my guts at the blink of an eye!

I have no glorious expectations of fantastic sales and world-domination for these Creative Experiment dolls. It would be nice to see them go to people who really love them and appreciate the skill, knowledge and ability to create them. So, let’s see what happens, let’s roll the bones.

 

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.

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.

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

Sunday Photo 9 February 2020

Hmmm…I seemed to have missed my mark! I set this post to publish at 12 noon, and uh…forgot to put the photo on it. Not the most auspicious of beginnings, but here we are.

The photo above is of a seldom seen corner of my desk. I love having this new lamp, it makes my work space so much better lit. It makes it so much easier to work at night.

The Business End of Things

From the South Park episode “Gnomes”, the 17th episode of Season 2. Originally aired 16, December 1998

I’m the first to say that the business end of my present (and past) entrepreneurial endeavors are the parts that I personally struggle the most with. There are elements to it that I don’t feel as though a completely understand, no matter how many times I have them explained to me by my insanely patient marketing and business-degree-holding husband. I know that I’m smart enough to handle business and marketing matters.  There are specifically two elements that give me agita: discussion regarding money and having to place myself at the forefront of my ‘brand’, i.e., people will actually have to look at me and interact with me. The mention of these two elements makes my heart rate increase.

The bigger part of me just wants to make art and teach art and have someone else handle all of the business money and marketing. But, that’s not the route I’m currently taking. I want to do this as much as I can on my own, but with guidance (as needed) by people like my husband and by the people in groups like Työbileet. (Wow. I’m one of the first videos on the site. Yikes! BAD HAIR!)

That all being said, I’ve actually been trying really hard to pay attention to the business and marketing items in recent months. I’m trying to move at a speed that is comfortable for me. I tend to get overwhelmed with all of the things that need to be done in a business, and for my degree in graphic design, creating my own brand and logos, well, any ability I possess that might be of help with that just goes straight out the window.

I’m much more in my own element, swimming around in all that lovely, expansive, grey area, turning my formless ideas into solid, physical artwork. Those parts of my brain that make me good at creating and teaching art, aren’t always the same things that will help me get more organized and moving toward a business goal when it comes to the business and marketing aspects of my entrepreneurial path.

I have to remind myself that it’s okay that these things make me anxious. But at the same time, I need to figure out how to still do the business and marketing things that have to be done without sending myself into a mental and emotional meltdown. I need to find and then implement things that will acknowledge my fears, and to not allow them to hold me back. Along with the business and marketing, and the creating of the artwork and the designing of art workshops and lessons, I had to also come up with a way to make these things more mentally and emotionally comfortable for me.

Some of the comfortable steps I’ve taken are built on Albert Bandura‘s work on self-efficacy. I’ve created some achievable goals relating to the business and marketing of myself as an artist and an art teacher, and through repeated successes of achieving those goals, I build my professional efficacy related to my business, art creation and teaching. One of the reasons that I’ve begun to post regularly on my website, is because it’s an achievable goal. I post every Tuesday and Thursday. My Tuesday post is a journal-like post, talking mostly about art making and how it makes me who I am as an artist and teacher. My Thursday posts are for talking about the business that I am creating. Posting every week makes me stop and think about what I need to be doing business and marketing-wise. Repeated exposure to these things, coupled with some successes, make business and marketing less anxiety ridden and give me a modicum of success to build future plans upon.

What is a ‘modicum of success’? The goal I set for myself is that I’m contributing more to the household budget, with a little left over for more art supplies for me. So far, I’m hitting that goal. Each time I can contribute for the regular household expenses, I reinforce my internal belief that I can have success at my business. All of these successes, and learning from the points in which I fail, because, lets face it, failure will happen, will help me get back up, dust myself off, and keep going.

I have more plans for things that I want to try in the new year. I have art workshops and classes that I would like to teach. I have new products that I would like to create and offer for sale. I’m excited to start these things, and smart enough to know that I need to take this all at my own pace.

To close out this post, I thought I’d add a little more humor, because why not?

Here is a little advice on success from the great Leslie Jones, one of the funniest people on the planet! Her comedy special Time Machine is hysterical!

And, of course, some B. Kliban:

I remember this image from I think a wall calendar, when I was a kid. I don’t think I was necessarily supposed to see it…and I certainly didn’t ‘get it’ as a kid!

Sticky Brains: Control Issues

I’ve always liked mice, however, I know that they sometimes are the carriers of nasty things like the plague. Such horrors carried in such a cute, tiny, furry, squeaky package.

We all have things that have been said about us, perhaps to us, that for whatever reason, stick to the inside of our minds like mice in a glue trap, and never, ever go away. Ever. These are the kinds of things that bubble-up when you find yourself asked to describe yourself. When cornered like this, whether in person, or while filling out a form, I inevitably, I describe myself exclusively in the most negative terms. Loud and obnoxious are my typical go-to’s, with ‘has control issues’ in rapid succession. These reactions are so natural, so unquestionable to me, that when friends ask me why I’m saying these things about myself, or inquire as to whether or not I’m being self deprecating, I have no answer other than, ‘but… I’m being truthful. These things describe who I really am‘.

But, am I being truthful?

I’ve been teasing apart the phrase, “Katie has control issues” for some time now. Recently, it’s surfaced by way of my most recent artwork.

My Thought Process:

Wanting to have a level of control over your own body and immediate surroundings is not something that is out of the ordinary for an individual. During your lifetime, you experience periods of control to a greater and lesser extent. Children have far less control than the adults who care for them. The elderly have less control as they age. Those who have mental and physical conditions that require differing levels of interventions, lack complete control over themselves. Society and culture exert a level of control upon the people within them as well. Religion can control the actions of the adherents. Good grief! Paying taxes is a form of governmental control. Humans spend a great deal of their lives being under the control, with various degrees of stress or anxiety attached to that control, for a large part of their lives. It’s no wonder that as an individual would want to exert as much personal control over their lives as possible, even if that control can be detrimental to the person exerting it.

When I started looking at the phrase “Katie has control issues“, I discovered that it can be interpreted in different ways, depending upon the context in which the phrase it uttered, and by whom it is uttered. I should note that this phrase was said to my face, by people in positions of authority over me, by way of familial relationship. When I was a young person (under 18), I interpreted this phrase to mean, “Katie has no self control” or “Katie is out of control“. This personal interpretation dove-tailed nicely with my inability to lose weight and be more like my female peers. I just thought, oh well. I cannot control my eating. There must be something wrong with me. I have no impulse control. Okay. I’ve got ‘control issues’.

These beliefs were internalized, along with being loud and obnoxious and that was simply that. I could file that away, and pull it out when the situation required the information. I know who I am. I am loud, obnoxious and lacking in any sort of control.

It wasn’t until fairly recently (the past five years or so) that my interpretation has been called into question by people around me. I mentioned in one conversation with the friend, “Oh, I’ve always been told I have control issues…so, yeah…you know…I can’t control myself…” or something to that effect. My friend was a bit incredulous. She said she didn’t think I had control issues. She said I had issues with being controlled by others. Those who stated I had issues, simply did not like the fact that I resisted their attempts to control me.

What?

What my friend pointed out, is that I simply did not like having anyone, even someone within my family attempting to control me. No one likes being told what to do, when to do it, how to do it, all of the time. I’m sure you’ve had a job where this came into play, and how did it make you feel? I began to get rubbed raw as an art teacher in the public school when I felt as if my action and agency were being squashed by administrators who felt as though with no experience in the arts or as an art teacher, they knew how to teach visual arts to children better than I did. For me personally, the levels of personal and professional control I felt was being unreasonably exerted upon me were crushing, and I had to leave. I needed space. I needed a change. I needed to find a place in which I was much more in control that I felt I had been in the past.

Prior to moving to Finland, the place in which I felt the most centered, the most myself, the most in control, was within my own artwork. It served as my therapy and helped me from completely shattering into a billions of gooey bits. I could reign in those erroneous beliefs about myself. I could bring them to heel and have some control over them when I was making art. It should be noted that I still feel this way when creating art while living in Finland.

Teaching art, the act of teaching to children and adults is where I feel the most myself while I’m interacting with people. Making art myself is where I am deliriously, completely and totally myself while I’m alone. Both of these activities have varying levels of control embedded within them. Regarding teaching art, it’s more like a controlled chaos, which I find invigorating from a creative standpoint, as I like seeing what happens when ‘this’ smushes up against ‘that’ and something completely new is made. It’s a little chaotic and messy, but beautiful. And as strange as it may seem, I feel a greater level of control within it.

My most recent artwork, the creation of an extended series of tiny felt dolls that I call, Little Ladies has brought to the surface the ideas and beliefs about control that I have as an adult, and where they came from during my childhood. As a child, I found so much happiness within dollhouses and miniatures. I don’t remember a time in which I wasn’t fascinated by miniature things, especially dolls. I could create perfect little displays within these dollhouses. I could make it anything that I wanted it to be. Looking back as an adult, I see what I was doing and why.

I know that I will struggle with the glue trapped mice of external control mechanisms placed in my head for the rest of my life. Some days, they win, some days they don’t. The difference is that I know what they are and why they are there, and for me, that helps to give me back the control I need.

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

As a Generation X’er, I thought adding Janet Jackson’s Control (1986) was appropriate.

Size and Relative Dimension

This is where I make my art.

Over the past few months, I’ve been seeing pictures in magazines and posting on different internet platforms that show an artists studio. This studio could be a room in their home, an out-building, or a rented commercial space in which they create their artwork. There are times in which I find myself both green with jealousy and completely baffled at the exact same time regarding these spaces of artists and creators. Jealous when I see such lovely spaces, totally dedicated to the pursuit of creating art. Studios with big steel sinks, kilns, banks of windows, racks on which to dry prints, paintings or fabric, big, long tables with vises where large three-dimensional pieces can be constructed, as well as sections where multiple sewing machines can be set up, with adequate space to lay out, cut and store fabric and sewing supplies. Shelves upon shelves for storage of everything a given artist could possibly need or want to create their own unique pieces of art.

This all makes me green. Very, very green with envy.

Some of the photos look impossibly perfect to me though. Some look tremendously styled, with items placed here and there, ‘just so’. It makes me wonder how art can be made in such a place. Then I remind myself that photos are styled to look good, so that people will actually want to look at them and go ‘Oooooh! Ahhhhh!’ and dream about their own creative spaces where things can be ‘just so’ for them as well. Those photos are an idealised vision of what a studio could be, can be. The photographer is an artist after all, telling a story with their art.

Over the past few years, I’ve carved out what my husband affectionately calls “The Midden” My work space is at one end of our flat, with a fairly large desk, facing out onto the lake just a few hundred meters away. My tools, materials and supplies are tucked-away in boxes, bags and stashed here and there in baskets and cupboards. I have a small set of drawers to use as well. All in all, it measures a few square meters at the most. All of the artwork that I have created in the past few years has been created in this very small space. Papier maché, clay, painting, drawing, sewing, bookbinding, weaving, sewing, embroidery, appliqué, etc., has been done sitting at a small desk looking out on a lake.

When compared to the photos that I’ve been looking at, my studio space seems small and rather shabby by comparison. I mentally berate myself, telling myself that a ‘real artist’ would have a better workspace, a ‘real’ studio, something rented in an old building, where lots of other artists worked. My work would be taken more seriously then, right?

I don’t think that’s true. The idea just runs roughshod through my head, especially when I’m feeling a tinge of ‘green’ coming on. To be truthful, my physical surroundings, when it comes to the creation of my artwork is important. I need to be able to do the things I want to do, to create the types of artwork that I want to create. I’m not wealthy and my childhood taught me important lessons about ‘making do’, and my internal creative drive has made me fairly adaptable to a variety of creative workspaces and conditions.

What it all comes down to for me is that the vast majority of my creating takes place is within my own mind, and that doesn’t take up much space, so the relative smallness of my physical workspace doesn’t seem to matter in comparison.

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

Breakdown the Pretence

Marcel Duchamp New York, Bicycle Wheel 1951 (third version, after lost original 1913) MoMA

What is the problem you are solving for?

I’ve been thinking about this question for quite some time as it relates to the artwork that I create. I’ve been pulling at strings to see where they go. I’ve found myself surprised at what parts of my thinking and feeling that these strings have become attached to. There are times in which I become impatient and pull a little too hard on that string, from a little too far away. Then I find myself knee-deep in an emotional mess that will take me days or weeks to mentally clean up. Curse my never-ending curiosity! Curse my never ending impatience! (insert angry fist shaking at the sky)

The aforementioned question is related to what I think is simple envy. Envy of artists and creators that have found a level of acceptance and/or acclaim by I guess what you could call, the ‘larger professional art world’ as well their levels of financial success. As the mortal sins go, envy is one that I do not like seeing within myself. It can get ugly unbelievably quickly. I spreads and begins poisoning all thought and emotion. This the thread that I have been tugging on.

I have recently had some small successes in selling some of my own artwork. It’s been nice to have some extra money coming in. I’d like to be able to make that continue. Small sales successes are super-nice and I am insanely grateful to those people who have purchased my artwork. Maybe doing that would keep envy at bay for me?

No. I don’t think so, because I’ve been looking at the question all wrong and being far too simplistic in my answer to myself.

The artists and craftspeople who are successful are working their collective asses off. They hustle hard. Then they go and hustle some more. They are dedicated and keep plugging away, making pieces of artwork to sell. Packing it up and taking it to art and craft shows. Putting it all up. Tearing it all down. Turning around and doing it again, and again, and again. The whole while, they’re making more artwork to sell. (Insert the sound of a needle being ripped from an LP)

Wait a minute, what was the problem I was solving for again? Oh yeah. I make my artwork for me. In the words of Colin Moulding (XTC), “I am the audience.” I make the artwork that I want to make, when I want to make it. I do not make artwork for an imagined customer. It’s great when people do purchase my artwork. They’ve seen something that they like and they like it enough to give me money for it. I don’t know what people in the ‘greater art world’ think of what I make. I never seem to get far enough along in the process of showing my work in well established galleries to find out what they think. (shoulder shrug inserted here)

There have been times in my past where I have made artwork expressly for sale, but I never quite got the knack of it. It never felt ‘right’ in the sense that I don’t feel like I was being true to myself and my own need for free creative expression.

My question is answered. Envy has been abated.

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

PS: Here is a Santigold song, L.E.S. Artistes that I’ve had as accompaniment in my head for the past week.

 

Mental Bonfire Making

I have an incredibly distorted view of how I’m seen and understood by the people around me. My assumption is that people do not like me. Whatever situation I find myself going into, I actually think to myself, “Now remember, people don’t like you. You are loud and obnoxious. People will hate that. Oh yeah, and you’re fat too. People hate that as well.” I tell myself that I need to compensate for these deformed bits of my personality and physicality, as well as preparing myself mentally and emotionally for ‘Personal Interaction Scenarios A thru ZZZ’. I seriously hear the flipping of a rolodex in my head when thinking about my mental and emotional ‘contingency plans’.

I’m constantly surprised that I have friends who actually willing to spend time with me. As a write this, I’ve got plans this afternoon to meet up with some friends for our annual Christmas cookie exchange. And even thought I’ve known these lovely people for more than four years, I’m still surprised that get invited to do things like this.

Until meeting, dating and marrying my husband, I had an incredibly ‘transactional’ understanding of the concept of love. Romantic love, fraternal love, all kinds of love and friendship, etc., it had become hard-wired into my mind that if I wanted someone to love me, or simply want to be my friend, I needed to give them things (gifts) to make them love me or at least tolerate my company. The more things I gave them, or did for them, the more likely it would be for them to love me and accept me for the loud, obnoxious, lumpy creature that I am.

What does this have to do with anything other than explaining how incredibly messed-up I am? This malformed part of my emotional functioning is one of the foundations upon which stands career as an artist. That is to say, my hesitation and difficulties in creating a more stable artistic career for myself.

As I’ve written previously, my artwork is personal and comes from weird mental and emotional head-spaces of my current and past life experiences. Having this as inspiration for art work creation is well and good, but when money is added to the equation, my mind and heart race and panic begins to set in. (As I type this, I can feel my heart-rate increase.)

Uhh…what are you talking about?

Money makes me panic. Having too much money. Having too little money. Having exactly the right amount of money. It just makes me panic. I don’t like thinking about it. I certainly don’t like worrying about it. For me, money is panic and panic is not good. I like being in control of my mind and body and panic takes that control away from me, until I can wrestle it into a modicum of control.

Anyway, back to how adding money to the equation that includes quantities like my artwork. (Man. For a self-proclaimed ‘non-mathematical person’, I sure do use a lot of mathematical functions to explain myself.)

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I create a lot of artwork. I post a lot of pictures of my artistic process and how my work comes together in the physical sense. My most recent work has not been offered for sale, mostly because I don’t think anyone would want to buy it. I spend weeks working on individual dolls, and I feel as though the prices that I would ask would put off prospective buyers, with most thinking that my prices were too high for an unknown artist. Even calculating a price for one of these pieces sent me into a panic-spiral.

There are times in which I create art that I think might be something that an individual might want to purchase. I do at those times, offer my dolls, my artwork, for sale. When those pieces don’t sell, then enters my malformed internal ‘transactional love’ mechanism.

Allow me to explain via a scenario: I make a piece of artwork. It gets a lot of likes. People tell me that I should be selling this artwork. I feel love and acceptance, because people I have never met tell me they like my artwork enough to buy it. I post the artwork for sale. No one buys the artwork. Love and acceptance fading. Malformed internal ‘transactional love’ mechanism reinforced. Money = Panic bond reinforced.

Let me be the first to say, I KNOW THIS IS REALLY, REALLY, STUPID AND NOT AT ALL THE WAY THAT ANY OF THIS HAPPENS OUTSIDE OF MY OWN, TINY, INSULAR HEAD. NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE. I’m not so mentally and emotionally unaware that I do not know that this is incredibly, horrifically, insanely messed-up, and that all that ‘messed-up’ is totally on me. I grew up with this weird understanding of love as being something transactional. I know that the world owes me exactly nothing. I am free to make all the artwork I want to, but there is no law that says anyone has to like it and/or buy it. I know this. I know this. I know this. But this is the logical part of my brain, the emotional part of my brain is still madly scribbling complex mathematical equations on a chalkboard, sobbing uncontrollably and contemplating creating a bonfire of my artwork.

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