Monday, January 26, 2015

Photoshoot with my Mom

I will be doing a photoshoot tomorrow (taking pictures of the crown I made, as worn by my client) and I needed to figure out what the light will be doing at 3:30pm. Yesterday my mom and I went for a walk as I scouted locations here in our neighborhood. She posed as my model so I could test the light and be sure the camera was working properly, and in the process I got some amazing photos of her. Here are a few of my favorites:

Every time I do a photoshoot I'm always so excited to see the results. I love taking portraits of people, and even more so if it involves them wearing my jewelry (my mom has on earrings I made using Mozambican blackwood and slices of dried acrylic paint...the necklace is from New Mexico).

Here's hoping tomorrow's shoot with the crown yields equally great results. Thanks for the help, mama!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Paradox of the Positive Front

Year one of my creative business was all about projecting a successful image. Call it "fake it 'till you make it", call it the Secret principle...the basic idea is the same: having an optimistic perspective while you bridge the gap between where you start and where you want to end up will lead to a positive outcome. Present yourself as successful, the world sees you as successful, treats you as successful...and hopefully one day your own perception follows suit as a new reality unfolds.

Over the past year I have been asked countless times:

- So, how's it going?
- Have you been busy?
- Are you getting lots of foot traffic?
- How are sales?
- Did you get a lot of people buying for the holidays?

Usually these questions have come from well-intentioned, curious people wanting to be supportive. Regardless of how things were actually going, or how I felt on any given day, the answer would always be the same:

- It's been going really well, thank you. (accompanied by a humble smile)

Sometimes this response felt totally accurate, other times it felt like the ultimate false front. But no matter. I would always answer with the same optimistic vibe of success.

I truly believe that projecting a positive image in year one was critical. Because here's the thing: MANY PEOPLE EXPECTED ME TO ANSWER THAT THINGS WERE NOT GOING WELL. Because it's hard as hell to make it as an artist. Especially when you take on a brick-and-mortar location. In a place with practically no foot traffic. And are only open three days a week. And your pieces are expensive and you are based in a community that's perceived as unable to support nice things. People don't expect you to succeed.

I could see it in their faces. People were ready for me to say that things were not going well. That nobody was coming in my doors. That I wasn't selling anything. That I wasn't enjoying success. That I wouldn't make it through the first year. It was almost funny to observe the surprise in their faces. "Oh really? Ummm, that's great!" And then this strange, subtle transformation as their perception of my business shifted from "just another struggling artist" to "wow, she's making it happen. I want to be part of this."

After a solid year of fake-it-'till-you-make-it, here I am. I had a good first year. I had sales. My guest artists had sales. My business has been a success.

I believe that my positive responses had a direct influence on creating all this. If I'd responded that things were slow, that I wasn't sure how I'd cover my expenses, that I felt discouraged and uncertain, that this was a tough occupation and a tough town to be in...people would have perceived me to be a sinking ship. And who wants to support some debbie downer business that is destined to fail?

But here's the thing: fake-it-'till-you-make-it creates an image of success that leads to actual success...but it can also work behind the scenes to cultivate a rotten sense of fraudulence, insecurity, and insatisfaction within the person faking it. At least that's how it's been for me. Not just here with the jewelry/art stuff, back in Mozambique it was the same thing with our consulting work.

There comes a point when you have to stop fronting and get real. Acknowledge your insecurities and weaknesses and frustrations. Voice your doubts. Truly evaluate how things are going, what is working, what isn't. Start being a little more authentic. If not with everyone who asks you how it's going, at least with yourself. The relentless positivity can quickly become denial if you don't let it fade away at some point.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Creative Business: What Makes Me (Un)Happy

Lately I've been feeling very unhappy about being a jeweler and having the gallery. These growing pains are part of the ride, but it's time for a major adjustment when the thing I love becomes the thing I most want to avoid. Because, you know, I already burned out on one career (see: the archives of this blog between 2006 and 2009) and I'd prefer that not happen again.

The things that make me unhappy are pretty easy to identify:

- Allowing my business side to take over at the expense of my artist side. Focusing too much on numbers and sales and foot traffic, and very especially measuring my success by those metrics.

- Acting like a retail jewelry store. This is not what I want to do, but it is the easiest model to follow and the one that people most readily understand. And the desire to have a flourishing business where others understand what I'm doing, support it, approve of it...I won't lie. It's there.

- Making jewelry that I think will sell, not the pieces my gut/soul/whatever leads me to create. Production work is a tempting mistress. Again, it's what others most easily "get". It's safe and expected/accepted. It's the most lucrative strategy, at least in the short term. But it is the wrong path for me, and that I do know in my gut. Focusing on production work (think wearable, fashionable jewelry collections that are made in multiples) is the fast track to my business mind taking over.

- Living too much in the future. Planning excessively. Scheduling every free moment. Maxing out my productivity.

- Creating a public persona where I don't allow myself to be real, vulnerable, messy, or uncertain. Feeling like I always have to front positivity and be "on" in order to be successful. Here I feel free to tell it like it is. On my blog and newsletter and in the gallery, I don't. There is a major filter in place. I recognize the importance of privacy, of keeping some semblance of separation between business and personal life...but it bothers me that I don't feel okay sharing my authentic self in the spaces where I share my work.

- Feeling overly obligated to others. Man this is a big one. I want to share my opportunities with my fellow artists, and I want to contribute to my community...but there needs to be balance so I'm not consumed up in the process.

So there's the unhappy list, in a nutshell. Now for what makes me happy (it's a much less philosophical list):

- Doing the painting exercise I invented where I color mix for 5 minutes, then apply paint to the canvas for 5 minutes, let dry, and repeat. These loose, colorful, free paintings are my favorite thing right now in terms of studio work.

- Taking photos of textures, patterns, and architecture. Taking portraits.

- Creating compositions with objects. Finding edges that match and angles that meet. Finding balance within asymmetry.

- Playing with color. Putting together unexpected palettes. Organize things according to gradients.

- Doing processes that involve the unknown. Like enameling, where you have no idea what the colors will look like before you apply heat. Or using my jeweler's saw to slice into those dried acrylic paint balls I like so much, revealing a hidden interior.

- Rendering (drawing) jewelry. I think I like it because it's so damn hard and the results are so gratifying. Nothing like a challenge.

- Being a stylist: putting together a great outfit, nailing proportion, mixing patterns, accessorizing.

- Creating something for another person that is incredibly meaningful to them.

- Doing nothing. Hanging out with cats. Being in the sun. Dancing.

- Getting away. Traveling. Exploring. Wandering.

I am going to pin this to my studio wall and make it a priority to look at it, reflect on it, allow myself to say YES to things on the happy list and STOP doing the things on the unhappy list without guilt or anxiety or insecurity. I'm not sure what the result will look like, in terms of what I'll create or where it will lead. And that's part of the exercise.