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.  


Marcia (123 blog) said...

Love your lists! And true, the quickest way to get unhappy about business stuff is to focus TOO much on the numbers and other metrics and not enough on your purpose/ passion.

I do want to hear more about you and the authenticity - keep it coming.

Happy New Year to you and Rico.

Qiana said...

I'm so sorry this year took so much out of you, girl! I almost sent you a link to a new planner that I found- only to read how you've downsized!

I wholeheartedly understand what you mean about feeling unable to be honest or vulnerable when presenting the business "persona" (which is why I didn't post a single blog this entire year!). I think that's honestly one of the most reprehensible pressures laid on small business owners. Seeing your honestly bolsters my spirit, my friend.

Isn't it strange that we can get so seduced by the need to make "sellable" work, that we forget that what makes our work appealing to the people that love it is just the opposite- when we make things that come directly from us with very little filter. This year I spent too much time thinking "people in LA/Sausalito/SF will like this" and adjusting my work accordingly, only to realize that not only did THEY not like it, but in the end I wasn't very proud of that work, either. Better to stick to the things that excite me, even if they seem strange and unaccessible. The right people will understand.

I hope you're feeling rested and rejuvenated. I'm thinking back to that goals sheet Curtis gave us in senior year. It feels like a good time to reevaluate what I need in my life and practice, and to cut out the things I was doing for the wrong reasons. After all, I wanted to be an artist so I could let my creative drive take me places, not to I could be told where to go and what to do by theoretical "customers."


Ali la Loca said...

~Marcia - Stay tuned for authentic work and words. Year one was all about fake it till you make it, but now that I'm established and proved to myself that I did, in fact, make it's time to do the work that is from the heart/soul. Even if that work doesn't seem easily digested or sellable. It's a leap I have to take. Worst case scenario, I make no money. But at least I'll feel creatively fulfilled!

~Qiana - Thank you so much for this. It is so majorly comforting and awesome to know I'm not alone in this bumpy ass ride.

Safiya Outlines said...

I still think it's amazing how far you've come, it is incredibly impressive to me and many others, I'm sure, so please don't be too hard on yourself. xxxxx

Ali la Loca said...

~Safiya - Thank you my dear. I appreciate the outside perspective and want you to know that while I am definitely holding myself to high standards and lofty goals, I'm also able to recognize how far I've come. I am very proud. It's just a hard road to travel sometimes, this business of being a creative micro entrepreneur. I am grateful for my blog as an outlet for what I'm feeling at any given time, and for you reading this after so very many years. Hugs to you and your family, my dear. xx