Monday, September 18, 2017

The Experiment Continues

I did it. And I'm still doing it. I've taken my PWYW social experiment all the way to my biggest-ever show -- the MN Renaissance Festival.

And I wasn't sure what to expect.... Last season when I shared my leaflings there and asked interested customers to simply make a blind transaction (put whatever they wanted into an envelope while I packaged up their leaf), I was amazed at the results. The whole thing was just so interesting -- the good, the bad, the generous, the occasional empty envelope (!), the stories, the interactions -- it was a learning experience for me, and it tapped into what I've wanted to do with my art since Day One: Use it as a way to make a magickal memory through an engaging interaction, one that hopefully allowed me financially to continue to do so again. And again....

At the beginning of this year I asked James if it'd be OK if at every show I did -- big or little -- I asked my customers to pay what they wish for my work. Just for a year. Just to see what would happen. And if I noticed right away that this was a bad idea, I promised to immediately go back to selling my work at price-tag value. He gave me the thumbs-up without hesitation.

Since then, every show has surprised me. I've surprised myself! Talking to strangers has become easier (since I don't feel pressured to groom them for a sale), and my spiel never fails to start a conversation, one that I'm obviously passionate about. As folks listen to the explanation of why it is I'm doing what I'm doing, I watch their expressions change. They come right up to me and pay attention. Some are delighted, some are confused, some are shocked. Some think it's noble of me, some think it's 'ballzy' and immediately make a joke. One woman last weekend said, "You're either clever or very, very stupid." And I understand. Some seem afraid for me, especially when they hear that I'm a full-time artist and that I rent a studio and own a house that isn't completely paid for.

When asked what prompted me to do this, I tell them that right now my faith in humanity needs a shot in the arm, and that usually gets me a nod and a smile (because seriously, whose doesn't, right??). One tipsy gentleman found my words hilarious and assured me that no matter what I do, humanity is going to disappoint me. And to apparently prove his point he reached into his pocket and put something into one of my envelopes, saying, "Tomorrow when you open your envelopes and say to yourself, 'who's the asshole that gave me just a buck??', you'll know that that was ME." And he handed it to me as though it was an insult or a joke or something. Like he was somehow proving to me that everyone's a jerk just waiting to take advantage of naive people like myself. And yet, he'd just given me money without purchasing anything.... He wasn't an asshole at all. He was generous and supportive without asking for anything in return.

See? So interesting....

What that man doesn't know is that his lonely dollar wasn't the smallest or most surprising thing I discovered.* And his dollar donation to my social experiment said way more about himself than it ever said about me or my work or my naivete. I've thought about him often since then. And I hope that someday he quits thinking of himself as an asshole....

Each Fest weekend so far has surprised me by being more profitable than I have any right to expect. I've compared totals to what I would've made had I priced and sold my work as usual, and I've so far been coming out ahead. (Knowing this still gives me a little shiver. Is this just a one-time thing? A novelty? Could this possibly -- *eyes closed, fingers crossed* -- be my business platform going forward?) Even the weekend that I was absent and had someone else behind the counter, someone who isn't Me the Artist, someone who had nothing to lose by exchanging my work for an anonymous envelope -- even that weekend's totals surprised me. Biggest shocker: although I apparently sold all sorts of things for 50 cents, there were no empty envelopes. And although someone took home close to $300 of my work for far less than what it was priced at (no envelope held more than 10% of that total), the end results were still positive.

I've been fascinated. And people have been receptive. And I've been lucky. And people have been GENEROUS.

Two more weekends remain of this Fest season. Weather permitting, they're crazy busy weekends, ones that usually bring in the bulk of my seasonal income. And I'm going to continue with this experiment all the way to the end. If the remaining weekends follow suit, this will be one of my most successful seasons. And it has been less about selling my work than it has been about meeting new and interesting people and getting to better know my customers.

I am having the time of my life.

...

*(To YOU: please know how brave you were to write that letter telling me how much my work means to you and how apologetic you are for not having anywhere near the kind of money you thought it was worth. You thought I was brave, but you are the brave one! I love that my drawing went home with you, my dear. Enjoy it! And expect a big hug when we meet again.)

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Ever-Turning Wheel of Doubt

I'm confused today. About being an 'artist.' This happens more often than I'd like....

There really was a time when I thought I was All That -- it was a hundred years ago when I was a kid and didn't know any better. I can look back now at my younger self's creations and over-confidence and give myself nightmares. Who was that 19-year-old smart-ass with her little Playskool portfolio waltzing into a downtown business office to apply for a job as a frippin' art director? Seriously?? (Believe me, she had no idea what an art director was, but it had the word 'art' in it, so obviously it was something she'd be amazing at....)

That bitch thought she was an Artist with a capital 'A.' Was she just confused? If she'd had the right training -- gone to art school, been mentored or something -- would things have clicked into place? Would she have understood that THIS is where one begins, THIS is how one grows, THIS is how one makes her place in the Grand Scheme of Art Things? Who knows....

Renting my first-ever studio space has brought all of this to the forefront. I'm renting from artists. I meet teachers who are artists. I take classes with other artists. Some are confident teens (like I once was). Some are confident 60-year-olds (like I wish I was...). I pay attention to them all. And then I question myself.

In every group there's always that artist who is determined to stump or show-up the instructor, or bring the focus around to themselves and their work. When that happens, I find myself thinking, "That kind of behavior bugs me. If they're an Artist, then I don't want to be one...."

And there's always someone wearing what I call an artist 'costume.' When I see them, I find myself thinking, "If that's an Artist, and I just look like somebody's grandmother, then what am I?" (says the chick who has shaved her head, tattooed her body, and is currently gauging an ear.... Gah *grimace*.... Am I not just expressing myself? Have I succumbed to the pressure? Do I think that if I somehow make myself LOOK like an 'artist' that I'll believe I am one??)

This topic consumes me. I talk about it ALL. THE. TIME with James, who I'm sure is sick of it now. But he always listens patiently before marching out the same story for me, the one about his late father who once lived in Greenwich Village and went to art school and may or may not have hung out with Pablo Picasso. Albert was a fabulous artist (I know this because I have some of his works), and according to James he created art more than he talked about creating art, and looked like an old man more than an artist. James recalls him saying often (and I paraphrase): "If you feel like you have to wear a costume or proclaim yourself every time you walk out the door, you're expending more energy acting like an artist than you are in actually making art."

Wise words....

And, as always, thinking at the keyboard helps to clarify things for me. I just reread this post and thought: A person who bakes is a baker. A person who builds is a builder. I make art, so why not just call myself an artmaker? Let the rest of them be artists. It certainly takes the pressure off....

Or -- even better -- why not just be an artist who isn't an ass?

THAT I can do.
...

Friday, July 28, 2017

Leafpower

It's been one of those weeks.

You'd think it was due to the rapid approach of Fest, but MNRF is the furthest thing from my mind lately....

No, there's been other stuff, hospitals and health-related stuff (not for me, for someone I love), and some crazy shenanigans in the White House, and things that have raised my blood pressure and made me question whether or not I went to sleep one night and woke up in a Stephen King novel. The kind where otherwise intelligent and empathetic people suddenly go off the rails and begin wreaking havoc for no apparent reason. Nothing makes sense! It was REALLY not making sense about this time a year ago, but this is off the charts now....

Anyway....

After a couple days of back-and-forth hospital visits spent in a car full of memories, remembering the past and wondering about the future, studying the physical effects of the passage of Time, and being waaaaay far away in my head, I finally got myself in to the Studio. I opened the door there and saw leaves EVERYwhere -- some awaiting their frames, some spread out on my little table, some raked into a pile on the floor, some in various stages of completion, others sticking out of books and bags and boxes, others decorating the walls. Their mess was everywhere. Their scent was glorious.

Dr. Leo Buscaglia
Walking into the room reminded me of an anecdote once shared on PBS by the late Dr. Leo Buscaglia. He told his audience then of his great love of leaves and how one Autumn friends of his raked up a whole yardful, carried them into his house, and dumped the lot onto his livingroom rug. (The camera was focused on some older ladies in the audience when he said this, and the looks of alarm on their faces was priceless. I was reminded of my mother. In fact, when I recall this particular program now, I sense her in the background behind me, aghast, just like those women. But then he went on to say that all winter long, he and his friends hung out in that livingroom, sitting in piles of leaves. Everyone laughed. The audience ladies giggled uncomfortably, perhaps imagining all the eventual compost. I'll never forget the anecdote, and I can recall that feeling of recognizing a kindred spirit out there in Television Land....)

He loved leaves, too.
After hanging up my backpack and sitting down to work, I found that I didn't know how to begin, where to start. Should I clean the room? Would that make me feel better? Make a list? (Lists always soothe me....) Turn on Public Radio and let Capitol Hill wind me up some more? A class of kids was noisily and animatedly creating art outside my door, so there was no chance to stroll around the classroom and get my bearings. I didn't even feel comfortable using the microwave out there for my tea, in case I disturbed them.

Then I remembered headphones. And the audio book I'd bought at a sale -- 'The Dark is Rising' by Susan Cooper (read it years ago and loved it). And soon I was caught up in the tale, and before I knew it there were gilded leaves in front of me, old and crisp things that were suddenly beyond beautiful. Even the imperfect and overlooked ones were now soothing my soul.

Things weren't perfect by the time I left for the day, but they were definitely better. And I'll take that! I'll take that and run with it.
...


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Snapshot of My Afternoon



Tumbledown is in shadow.

A single light illuminates my stovetop where a dozen tiny eggs hardboil in an enamel pan.

Outside, the once busy run is deserted, its hens hunkered down in fresh mounds of straw while trembling leaves overhead give evidence of the gentle rainfall….

And I stand inside at the dark door and watch it as I sip fragrant tea in a favorite cup and enjoy the rumbly thunder.
...































Thursday, May 25, 2017

Shining Again!


A young mom with a stroller stopped at the end of my driveway today and took a picture of my chalk drawing from last Monday celebrating this week's very fickle sunshine. (It's still there; I'm surprised!)

Her toddler seemed unimpressed, but I suspect she was as cheered by today's in-again sun as I am. And that's saying something! (You heard it first: sometimes this Rainy Day girl just needs a little break.)

Here's wishing that today's happy sun is smiling down on you wherever you are. Enjoy.
...


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

My Head is Gonna Explode....

Thinking about you. Thinking about LIFE. Thinking about the planet. Thinking about EVERYthing.

So. Much. Thinking....

When the *boom* comes, it'll be epic....

When James came home early yesterday and found me staring into space, lost in some big-ass thoughts, he found me my shoes and my keys and my cap, pointed me in the direction of the studio, and sent me on my way. I'd been home for four straight days, trying to tidy up around here because there's just so much that needs doing. But even though I started out strong, I petered out fabulously and was pretty much just walking around in circles by that time, putting stuff in places where it didn't belong.

It doesn't help that there's the usual outdoorsy stuff now (garden tasks, chicken chores, etc.). In addition to the spring house- and yardwork, there's also the non-stop, stressful, Big News (every day's a new crisis!). Way too much to take in and process; my poor head's all over the map! So hiking to the studio yesterday was apparently just what I needed.

It was late in the day and the rush-hour traffic was loud, but I was able to ignore it as I walked slowly along the river in the shade of enormous cottonwoods, stopping to collect leaves and maple keys and to appreciate the spirea in bloom.... The art center was dark and silent when I arrived. I unlocked the door, breathed in the heady fragrance of paper and creativity, and sighed a big sigh. Of contentment, maybe. Relief.... In the few hours that I was there, I did nothing more than add to my sketchbook, really. (And it revealed to me some surprises, as always. Thank you, blank paper, for all that you do....)

And now today I'm ready. As soon as I press the 'publish' button on this entry, my shoes will be on their way again. North along the river walk, through the colorful tunnel, past the Four Silos and across the overpass, to the art center. To my Safe House, my sanctuary, my place where the world can't find me.

May I never ever run out of rent money. Ever.
...



Monday, April 10, 2017

And the Envelope Goes to....

Me and my Avery rocked the Crawl. (Thanks for your help, Avery!)
In my last post I wrote about my preparations for the North Artists Studio Crawl. And in this post I'll tell you how it went. (Spoiler: it was magickal.)

As prepared as I was for it, I got very little sleep the night before, as until nearly 5 a.m. the morning of the Crawl my head was a big old mess.

I'd decided earlier that day to try something unusual, something I first tried at Fest last season wherein I let people take Leaflings home with them for an exchange of whatever they personally thought was fair. Because I didn't want them to feel judged for their donation, I offered them a plain envelope at the time of the exchange and asked that they put in it whatever they wished and I wouldn't open the envelope until after the weekend. Also, I assured them that I wouldn't know which envelope they were responsible for because all the envelopes look the same and would get mixed together in my take-home bag so I wouldn't know whose was whose....

As you can imagine, the Fest 'experiment' was eye-opening. The Leaflings folks could choose from at that time weren't framed or anything; they were loose leaves that I'd individually embellished and carefully protected with a sealant. Each weekend after Fest I'd go home with about a dozen envelopes, and James would open them for me, mostly because of my rule to not personally take money for magick, but also because I was afraid to be disappointed.

Many of the envelopes contained single dollar bills. And many contained much more. As promised, I didn't know who was responsible for which particular envelope, except for the time a well-dressed woman chose four Leaflings and paid me in pocket change, and I only know that because I could hear it jingle as the coins were dropped in the envelope. At least two others refused to follow my rules and instead forced me to take their money (which happened to be a significant amount). And the only reason I could think of was that they didn't want their generous donation to be anonymous; they wanted me to know exactly who was responsible....

These delightful folks made my socks go up and down!
At the end of the Fest season, I was surprised at the amount my Leaflings brought in. What would have been just another ordinary year for me was significantly up for a change, and it was all due to the Leaflings and their magick.

It was then that I began to wonder what a whole year of similar exchanges would be like. Which is how I decided to make this year The Year of the Experiment.

The Art Crawl would be my first opportunity to try it out. But with only a few hours before the Crawl began, my head was all over the place about it. I wondered: what if no one 'got' what I was doing and why I was doing it?, what if I try to describe to people why it is that I make my Leaflings and my words don't make sense?, what if the Crawl goes by and no one takes a Leafling home?, or what if they're popular and afterward I discover that all the envelopes are empty??....

Friends visited. (Love you, Sue and Aina!)
I knew what I needed to make monetarily from that Art Crawl to break even, and I was confident that the Universe did, too. That morning as I hung the framed Leaflings on their display grid and fanned the individual ones out in their antique display case before the Crawl began, I made eye contact with each one. We had an understanding. And they had jobs to do. I trusted that each would make a connection with THE person meant to take it home, and in so doing that person would make a fair exchange.

I wasn't sure what to expect from an Art Crawl as I've never been part of one before.... I assumed a Crawl was meant to be more of a 'meet-and-greet-the-artist' and less of an opportunity to make a sale. Yet sales were made. A number of people understood how much my Leaflings meant to me and why I was creating them. And by the end of the day I had a dozen envelopes and some very rewarding memories of some very magickal interactions....

And more friends. (Love you, Suzanne!)
The next day was the same. Once again, friends visited to help me celebrate my first ever Art Crawl. I confused them with the whole envelope thing, but in most cases they obliged and indulged me.... My eldest grandbug, Avery, was there to help me that day and I was more focused on entertaining her than I was on selling my work. Still, at the end of the day I was surprised to discover that there were as many (or more) envelopes in my bag as there'd been the day before.

I crashed on Monday, as usual. And it wasn't until sometime that afternoon that I felt human enough to begin sorting through things from the weekend. And there was the stack of plain brown envelopes, waiting to be opened....

Just like after Fest, I planned to have James do the dirty work when he arrived home that evening. But then it occurred to me that I was separating myself from a very important step in my experiment, the part where I personally accept the exchange. If this was something I was going to do in future, I'd have to learn to carry the whole thing out from start to finish.

This classy lady made my day! (And this sassy kid did, too.)
So I poured myself another cup of coffee and sat down to that stack and prayed aloud over it. I promised the Universe that I'd be grateful for whatever came out of those envelopes. And the first envelope I opened made me cry. Not because it was so bad, but because it was so generous.

Opening the envelopes was humbling. There were a LOT of tears. And, not surprisingly, there was the Empty Envelope. I seem to recall an Empty Envelope last season at Fest, too. It was like a physical reminder to me to accept the bad and the good without judgment.

When I'd opened them all and tallied everything, it took my breath away. I was stunned. And so dang grateful that I cried. Because of those leaves and the effect they had on my visitors, I did more than just break even.

I also learned a LOT. And I was filled with hope.

Now as I look back on my experience, I can't help but read the signs and determine that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be right now, and doing exactly what I'm supposed to do. I couldn't have imagined this a year ago.

And it stuns me to think that this all began with one leaf.

And one wish.

...