Dancing with Red

January 12, 2010

Today was certainly an out of the ordinary kind of day.  I spent the day with a friend and collegue trying to coax a redtailed hawk named Red out of a very tall spruce tree.  It’s not really something that either of us really wanted to be doing.  Cindy, my friend and the Director of Avian Care with the Bird Treatment and Learning Center, has the usual small mountian of tasks and duties awaiting her, back at the clinic.  I myself should be chained to my work table getting back into a regular work schedule.   Cindy, has other birds to exam and treat and a board meeting to prepare for, I have a small show in a few rapidly approaching weeks.  Still, it is part of Cindy’s job to get Red, an escaped hawk back into her safe care.

So what the heck am I doing here?  Well, nothing was happening for me at the work table anyway, so why not give a helping hand (or at least lend moral support) where it may do some good.  In the studio, I find myself just sitting there. I pick up clay, put it back down.  I push it and poke it..even actually made a few things… but nothing really is engaging me.  Nothing feels very satisfying.  My muse, like Red, decided to make a break for it. 

I never really thought about having a “muse”… (a rather capricious spirit that bestows creative inspiration to artists)    It seems like an archaic, even fanciful concept, but I don’t know what else to really call it.  Ideas or inspiratons can hit you out of the blue and can just as suddenly desert you.  It is a very fleeting and fickle thing.  I’ve been feeling very annoyed and frustrated.  2009 was a bustling year for me, I enjoyed a long holiday break and now, it is time to get busy…..and  I need to get busy NOW!

 It’s just past sunrise, looking up at the big hawk, we are both delighted to have found him.  He had been leading volunteers on a hide and seek chase for 3 days.   Being an 11yr old, retired , falconry training bird, Red is wise in the ways of toying with his human keepers.  Cindy swings and tosses a dead mouse  up in the air to get Red’s attention.  She has it.  The hungry hawk jumps out of the spruce tree and swoops over her head for a closer look.  As he circles back around, it seems like every raven in the area descends on the small neighborhood cul de sac.   They mob the big predator and drive him back into the safety of the spruce.  A waiting game begins.  While the ravens circle and scold, the hawk and humans wait for them to grow bored and go elsewhere.  The temperature is in the single digits.  While we retreat to a warm van, Red puffs up a bit more and hunkers down.  Eventually, the ravens depart and Cindy continues with the flying mouse routine.  Red makes several impressive dives and passes.  He never lands on her gloved arm.  He just hits the mouse in passing, managing to just get an occassional chunk.

“It’s important”, she says, ” to be patient.  If you startle him by trying to grab him, he will never come down. We have to wait for him to settle on the glove and then calmly get hold of his jesses…then we can get him home.”  I knew how it was supposed to work, I’ve had enough bird training under my belt to understand.  Still, it was fascinating to watch Cindy and Red.  Cindy would show him the mouse, teasing and enticing.  At times, the hawk seemed to thumb his beak at us mere earth bound mammals .   At other times however,  he dove.  He would come close….closer, but not  landing.   It was like watching a strange exotic dance.

It struck me then.  Was I trying to grab my “muse”?  I have schedules to keep and product to produce, but perhaps I need to try a different approach.   Maybe I need to simply be patient,  stop try to force things. and move with a more relaxed pace.  Like Red, the “muse” will come only when it is good and ready. 

We didn’t manage to recapture Red today, but we are resaonably sure he will remain where he is overnight. He isn’t likely to go anywhere.   Tomorrow for both Red and myself, the dance will continue.  This evening, as I ready myself for bed, I feel reassured that all three of us, Cindy , Red and myself will eventually find what we’re after, it just may take a bit longer than we would like.


Evolution in 2010?

January 6, 2010

Wow, 2009 went by in a flash, didn’t it?  I started last year worried about the economy like everyone else.  Those of us whom try to make a living on our art or craft find it especially stressful.  After all, nobody really NEEDS what we do.  When people across the country are cutting back on those “little extras” , a $28  hand sculpted caricature zipper pull would not seem to  land high on anyone’s priority list. 
Alaska has had the good fortune to not have been hit as hard by the floundering economy as else where in the country, but many people are still cautious.  While participating at some new venues (and several standard ones for me) I listened to many of my fellow vendors.  Some fretted and wrung their hands while others withheld any opinion, prefering to take the “wait and see” approach.   Will small business production craftsperson or artists go extinct?
By year’s end, I made some interesting observations.  Those folks whom allowed the media’s gloom and doom to rattle their confidence did not seem to do very well.  Those whom maintained a more positive attitude, seemed happier with their bottom line. 
(a strange juju occurs in the confines of a craft booth during a show…customers will sense negatively and keep on walking.)
Another thing I noticed was the folks whom were happy with their sales (myself included) took steps to keep a potentially frugal customer interested.  This might mean introducing a new line of work that is more affordable or perhaps introducing an item that is very practical as well as beautiful,  fun & funky.  
So what does this mean?  Well to me, a former anthropology student, it boils down to evolve or die.  Those whom can not, or will, not change with the times (be they good or bad) will usually not survive in the long run.  (like the dinosaurs and the Neanderthals)
Thus  far, I have been able to continue keep my work evolving.  I heard folks whom have visited my booth year after year, comment on that very thing. “Gee, you just keep changing and getting better and better.”  To me, this is high praise.
So am I still worried?  Well, I can’t say current events don’t occasionally give me some anxiety, but, I do know that I refuse to live in constant fear and worry.  I will continue to do the best I can and hopefully, I will not find myself admist the the dinos and Neanderthals.
Best wishes to everyone  (even the dinosaurs) for a prosperous New Year
Add a bit of color to your “techie” self (4G Data Pods)

Still in the Tropics of My Mind

February 23, 2009

Yup, I’m still fantasizing about being someplace much closer to the equator! Here is what I have been working on at the table. I must say, I like them better in person than in the photos. I have been playing with a technique of tinting and shading my sculptures by using chalks and liquid clay. Perhaps I will do a tutorial on it!

Birds in the Bush

Birds in the Bush

On the Climb

On the Climb

These guys are small. They’re intended to be pins/pendants.

The Business of Art ?

February 3, 2009

Art business.  It almost seems like an oxymoron.  I know when I was growing up, I never imagined, in a million years, that I would be working at the business of doing art.  I am even still struggling with not feeling awkward when referring to myself as an “artist”.   Perhaps it was my up bringing.  Oh, I don’t blame my parents really.  It’s  just the way things were.  I grew up in a solid, middle class, hard working, Midwestern family.  My folks taught me about a lot of things, such as the Golden Rule and the importance of a strong work ethic.  Art, was never a topic.  In fact, as a kid, if asked if we had any art in the house, I would have laughed and said,  “Of course not”.  In my mind, art was something you visit at a museum, (which we rarely did), or something only wealthy people had.  Art was big paintings and sculptures by famous, usually dead people.  It certainly wasn’t something I could or would ever do.

   Now here I am, struggling at making a go at a business making my very own “art”.  Its one thing to finally accept becoming an “artist”…but the business of art?  That is another struggle altogether.  My childhood notion that  artists were always dead people , thankfully, didn’t last past the 3rd grade.  It was replaced with one that is almost worse.  Artist are people that walk around with dreamy expressions,  have visions, wear funky clothes and are generally described as hippy, dippy and trippy.  Let’s not also forget, they’re starving  because they don’t have REAL jobs.  The word “business” on the other hand, summons images of the corporate world, ie; suits, money,  rules,  committees, money, legalities, and did I mention money?  How could one word have anything to do with the other?  It’s Craziness.

   I am happy to say that I have long since abandoned both stereotypical views and am embarrassed  that I even held them.  Unfortunately however, I find that many other people still hold this ridiculous idea of an artist.  I feel it even more pronounced for polymer clay artists because polymer clay is still such a relatively new medium.  “How lucky you are”, I’m told by a well intentioned person,”you get to play all the time”.   I think even my own In Laws wonder why their son puts up with a wife that “plays” all day.  

 Yes, I do consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to do what I love doing…but “playing”…playing ???    Most people have no idea what is involved.  I, myself, didn’t even have a complete picture, until recently, of what is involved to make an art business work.  I’m learning that the creative work itself  is probably only 50 % of it.   There is the marketing, and maintaining your on line presence with web sites, and blogs.  Perhaps you have an on line stores.  There is figuring out show scheduling, meeting application deadlines, up dating mailing lists, keeping up with the latest news/techniques in your field,  photographing your work, updating portfolios, and sending thank you notes.   All of that is in addition to actually doing the shows themselves.  There  you are dealing with lighting issues and how best to display your work. Yikes!   Top that off with all the everyday flotsom and jetsom that life sends your way.  The grocery shopping still needs to be done, the house cleaned,  the dogs feed, bird cages and fish tanks to clean. sigh. The list goes on.   Sometimes, I think a “REAL” job might be easier.  After all, the hours are usually more regular, as is the income. I could go back…     NAH!!!!!    I am loving what I do and loving the fact that I am still learning about this  business of art.    I am  going to try not to worry about how other people view artists.  I have learned that as long as I view myself as one, it is all that is important.

What Does an Alaskan Fantasize About in January?

January 30, 2009

Well, for most of us, it’s a no-brainer. We dream of any place warmer…and greener. We dream of humidity and the smell of growing things. (The first scent to make it’self know in Anchorage in the spring is generally; doggie doo… gross, but unfortunately true.)
My own thoughts have definately turned to the tropics. Since the budget can’t handle a plane ticket to the equator, I thought I would bring the tropics to my work table.
Check out what I’ve been up to. It is the first in a new series I’m working on.tropics2

Everyone could use a bit of coaching

January 26, 2009

I have always been a big fan of learning.  Whether it is a new technique in polymer clay, beading, or whatever.  Most recently, I have learned the incredible value of coaching.   A business coach to be exact.  What the heck am I talking about?  Let me back up a minute.  I have been creating in polymer clay and selling my work in shows for a few years now.  I love it.  I certainly wish to continue doing it and most importantly, I wish to be successful doing it.  I already know that gaining proficiency with polymer clay comes with time and a great deal of practice.  (often generating a ton of scrap clay!)  What I could not seem to get a handle on was the other stuff.    How do I juggle a polymer clay business with the rest of my life?   How do I get “noticed” by the rest of the polymer clay world?  (or the more basic question; DO I want to be noticed in the polymer clay world?)  How do I measure success?  how do I market myself?  What exactly IS marketing and “branding”  ?    I have no doubt that these are questions many artists selling their work ask themselves.  Over the past few years , I have picked up a thing or two , from reading books and articles, talking to more experienced folks, and attending the odd seminar.  I still felt like something was missing in my education.

I discovered what it was.  It wasn’t my education that was necessarily lacking…it was how to put it all together.  I needed a coach.  I came across a web site called www.artbizcoach.com.   Alyson Stanfield offers a variety of classes  to help artisans grapple with many of those nagging questions and then how to channel their energies in the appropriate areas so they can realize their goals, (what ever they may be).  I am in the process of finishing up one of those classes….and  I can honestly say, I view my business and many other areas of my life quite differently.   It has been eye opening and profoundly empowering.  I would encourage everyone to check out Alyson’s site..or someone like her.

I have no idea what the future has in store for me in regards to my career in polymer clay.  But at least I now know  that I have considerably more control of it than I previously thought I had.  ( a powerful thing in these troubling economic times.)  I have learned that sometimes it takes much more than  talent and luck.   Sometimes, finding the right coach,(whom ever it may be) will help you pull it all together so that you have a shot at achieving your dreams.

Hello World

January 20, 2009

blackbearbutt1Hello and welcome.

I’m certainly late coming to this whole blog party, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter.  I have visited many blogs before deciding to start one myself.  Some have been good, some…. well, less so..  Hopefully, this will develope into one of the better ones.

I wasn’t too sure what I would write about at first.  I mean, what could I write about concerning polymer clay that could possibly be of value?  Well, I’m still  not sure… but I believe I have things to share.  I ‘ve learned a great deal about the business side of polymer clay.  I am in the process of  expanding my comfort zone and looking at exploring markets further afield .

 I am also fortunate enough to live in a remarkable place like Alaska.  Inspiration for my work is literally right outside my door.  (Sometimes, they are large and hairy, and like to get into the trash cans.)  Life in Alaska, certainly has it’s challenges for anybody, but especially the polymer clay artist.

So please do return.  Check out my latest adventures be it in polymer clay or living my Alaskan adventure.