Monday, July 29, 2013

Ask for What You Want

Synchronicity is an amazing thing. At a moment that I was really appreciating the power we have over our own lives if we are willing to take risks, ask for what we want, and work hard, I was sent several things that confirmed this for me. Ralph Marston once wrote the following in his wonderful "Daily Motivator" series:

"The world around you is whatever you sincerely ask of it. Your life is precisely what you ask of it, with your thoughts, your actions and your attitude. . . The value you look for, and the value you expect, is the value you will find. What you decide to make of anything will ultimately define for you what it is. What you truly expect to see, you will most certainly see. The way you genuinely expect to live is the way your life will surely proceed. When you know without the slightest doubt that it will happen, it will happen. ."

I am not saying that we have a secret genie in a bottle and that we can merely speak our wish and have it so. I am saying that there is great power in intention. Having the courage to put ourselves out there and say, "this is what I will have" is a powerful thing. When we do this, it creates a new reality for us. That is, one in which having that thing, job, event, person, etc. can and will happen. As a result, our vision and thinking shifts.

Have you ever bought a car and then suddenly you see that car everywhere? Or you learn a new word and everything you read suddenly has that word in it? That is what asking for what we want does for us - it shows us where to find it. It makes us pay attention to things we would have never notice except for our intention. It helps us strike up conversations with the right people, and see signs we would have otherwise ignored.

I know that many of you know that I got my first book deal for a reference book on painting at a time when I'd yet to publish a single design. I had done a lot of writing online, but had published very little else. I didn't know anyone at the publisher. I didn't even know how to go about getting a book deal.

What I started to do was to tell everyone I knew that I wanted to write this book and ask them if they knew anyone at the publisher. I got a book on writing a proposal. I worked as though it was going to happen. On the day I was set to mail off a proposal to my publisher, I got a call. It was an editor from that publishing house and they were looking for someone to write a reference book on painting. They'd heard my name from a couple of the people I had told of my intention. Because I'd been writing the proposal, outline, etc. when she called I was able to give her all the information she needed and substantially build my credibility with the Editor.

For a while, I combined my my "art" and "writing" journals into a single entity. To do this, I started the book from both sides (upside down from one another) and the "back" side includes things like my goals, deadlines, resume, etc. Part of what I write in the back is my "intention" list. I break it down by "career", "personal,", etc. This has lead to some amazing things for me.

For example, at one point (years ago) I had decided to look into adoption. My first step was to go online to the county website about adoption. I made at least 20 phone calls, and spent hours online trying to find information on how to get started in the program. Phone calls weren't returned, I was cut off when I was being transferred to talk to someone else, etc. It was an exercise in frustration.

At the same time, I had gotten to know a couple of local artists in the area. On a whim, I invited them up to my studio to play and make art and it turns out that two of them work for County Child Protective services. They gave me the exact department I needed to talk to and answered most of my questions. I made one call and got the information mailed out to me to go to the first meeting and get started.

That is the power of asking for what you want. You ask, and then you start working towards it. Even when you seem to hit a wall, you keep working because just the power of your belief (and prayer) will make things happen for you. The difference between those living their dreams and those who are not is usually not talent or "who you know" or any of the things such good luck is usually "blamed". It is tenacity in the face of frustration. It is a belief that you can because you can see it, feel it, and almost touch what it would be like to have that thing come true. That is what keeps you going.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fortune Favors The Bold

Sometimes you read or hear a phrase that resonates so clearly within you it is like the blossoming sound of a spoon tapped on a crystal goblet. For me, it was a quote attributed to Virgil "Fortune Favors the Bold".

I have often written in these articles that any success that I have attained is not so much because I am a great talent, nor am I particularly well connected. That is not to say that I am without talent (and any talent I do have should be attributed to God), but rather that the difference between my success and those who may be more talented who achieve less is simply that I took a risk. No one can admire your work if you keep it in the closet.

At some point you have to take responsibility for your personal art. Perhaps what you want is to be a weekend artist and use your art as a release from the pressures of your life. If that is the case, then you must make time to do that for yourself. If you are trying to make a living from your art, you have to take a different tack. Just making time for your art is not enough; you also have to get it out in front of people who need to see it. That is probably the hardest thing we face.

Before I talk about that, I want to discuss the idiotic stereotype of the starving artist. Yes, many artists can't make a living at their craft but the reason is not that there are not buyers for it; it is because they did not understand that by making the decision to make a living as an artist, they must also become a businessperson. Some of us must hire bookkeepers and assistants to keep us on track if numbers and paperwork bog us down. That's fine. That's part of the business. Like any other business, you may have to get a loan to get started.

Your art is not enough - it has to be seen. You have to do whatever it takes to get that done. Take responsibility. Talk to a bank. Talk to the SBA. Talk to women's groups or other organizations that give grants or mentorship. If you want it, you can have it. Many people who are less talented than you are have made it.

Now, on to showing our work, it is a hard line to draw between promotion that gets positive attention and being egotistical - but only in our minds. We are taught as children that talking about our accomplishments and ourselves in a positive light is "bragging". "Bragging" is bad. Oh please! We aren't children anymore!

There is a line between bragging and promotion. Promotion is a professional necessity. We have to put together press kits, press releases, and promotional materials to get our name out in front of Editors, Producers, Gallery Owners, etc. It is not bragging to talk about what you do and how you are unique. If you find it hard to write about yourself, then put money out to get a publicist to write the press releases for you. If you can't afford that, trade with another artist; you write about them and have them write about you.

Fortune Favors the Bold. Everything I have ever achieved in life is because I tried. No one has ever handed me something for free. I had to ask or follow up on leads for every column, article, design, book, and project I have ever done. There is no need to be pushy, but there is a need to be professional and consistent.

Want to write a book? Go to the bookstore and look at similar books. Find the names of four or five publishers and then write to ask them for their submission guidelines. Do the same with magazines. The guidelines will tell you how to submit your work.

Want to be shown in a gallery? Call a gallery and ask how you go about getting your work shown. Chances are you need good photography of your work. This means not sending in the fuzzy snapshot taken in your living room at night with the kid's toys in the background. If you don't have a good camera, barter with someone who does or pay to have your work photographed. Treat it as a business and your work will be repaid.

If you meet someone of influence in your industry, follow up with a handwritten letter to tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them. Handwritten letters are a rarity these days and for that reason it will be remembered. At a recent trade show, instead of handing out business cards to everyone, I made twenty or so painted and stamped tags, cut slits in it for my business card and gave these to key people at the show. When they get home, they will remember my card over the dozens that they were given that week. Most people told me they would display the tag in their office - a continuing reminder of my work!

Finally, I would encourage you, as I often do, to write out goals. No matter how lofty or far off they sound, write it out. Two years ago I wrote out a goal about writing a reference book that I felt would be unique in the marketplace. Within months I signed a deal with the publisher that was my first choice in the marketplace.

Putting your goals in writing is like shouting your intention to the universe. It causes you to be aware of opportunities that you might have missed before. It brings synchronicity to everyday events.

When I bought a new car a few years ago, I had never seen a car like the one we bought. Within days it seemed like everyone on the road had the same car! The reason was that now I was in tune with the car, I knew what it looked like so it caught my eye when it hadn't before. Goals are like that. Once you write a goal down you are more likely to bring it up in conversation, and be aware of opportunities when they present themselves to you.

Fortune Favors the Bold. 

Inside you, maybe buried beneath many layers, you remember that voice that was so SURE and so powerful telling you that you ARE special and your work DOES have value. That is the voice of the bold. It is inside you. It is the real you that gets covered by convention and peer pressure. But, I know that you wouldn't be reading this newsletter if you didn't want to bring that voice out into the open. Go on; give it a try. Be Bold and watch for Fortune to favor you.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Courage to Create

All creative processes require courage. It takes bravery to take that first step towards doing anything new. . . but creative processes generate even more fear than other first steps because they are, in a way, a birthing process. All parents want their children to be popular and accepted.

Altered Art Doll
Whenever you create something new -- or even express the desire to do so -- there will be someone in your life that will discourage you. "Don't do that! You'll fail! You'll be embarrassed! No one will like it!" Maybe that someone will be insider your own head. There are many reasons that people will try to discourage you. Sometimes it is out of a genuine fear that you will be hurt. Sometimes it is because they are not fulfilling their own creative destiny and seeing you about to take a step towards your own future makes them uncomfortable to the point that they will try to prevent you from reaching your goals at any cost.

No matter whether the voice of discouragement is in your own head, or comes from someone else, the first step to getting past those fears is to understand that a) every act of creation has VALUE and b) that value is to you -- the creator. If other people are happy or approve of your creation, that is the icing on the cake, but if it is your sole motivation for acting, the first time you don't get that approval you will stall your creative process.

Try to remember the first time you creative something. Maybe it was the old shoes with macaroni glued all over them in Kindergarten. Perhaps it was a paint by numbers picture, or writing a poem in third grade, or arranging the furniture in your first apartment. Do you remember what that felt like? The sense of accomplishment, the relief, maybe the joy?

Creativity comes from within and you must trust yourself and your instinct to create. That is where fear comes in. . .and when the voice of discouragement starts making some real sense.

Getting Past Your Fear:

Many people never get started in their creative process because just thinking abut it is overwhelming. Here are some basic steps to help you get started.

1. Choose Your Weapon

You may have several projects you want to try, but you can only do one at a time. Specifically define ONE. For example:

  • write one haiku
  • paint a pattern
  • create a mosaic pot
  • create a family tree for my father's family

2. Define The Steps

Once you have defined your goal, (and it is BEST to write this down on paper), define the steps necessary to do this one thing. Here is a list I made for writing haiku.

a) pull out my book of poetry rules

b) pull out pen and paper

c) put a classical music CD on the stereo

d) block out an hour in my schedule

Once I have defined the steps, it seems much more manageable than my bigger goal of writing a haiku.

3. Find Your Creativity Zone

Everyone has their own creative quirks. Some people are most creative when they are in complete silence and all alone. Others need loud music and lots of activity. Personally, I am most creative when alone and surrounded by music. When I write, I prefer classical music with no lyrics. (The words tend to distract me from my own writing.) When I paint, I like upbeat, faster music, generally.

Pay attention to your own creative needs. I am someone that needs a lot of visual stimulation. My house and studio have a lot of "knick-knacks" and color. Some artists find this distracting and need to have a place without outside stimulus. I am more of an indoor person - but perhaps you are inspired by nature. It would be very difficult for you to do your best work in a cramped workroom without windows.

Begin to note when you are feeling your most creative? Don't fight against your body clock! I am a night owl -- I paint and do visual media best from 10 PM to 1 AM. . .but, I do my best writing from 3 - 6 PM. Each of us has peak times that we do things best.

4. Inspiration

There is a misconception that all creativity springs from inside the artist as something wholly new and original. The truth is that 99.9% of creative people spend the majority of their time reading, watching, observing and filtering information to be used later. I've been inspired by a color scheme I saw in the titles of a movie, I've heard "the click" at the grocery store, the hair stylist, just about anywhere I've ever been.

There is a fine but DEFINITE line between inspiration and copying. I try not to look for inspiration in the same media I am working in. However, many artists have interpreted the same subject in their own way. Think about how many pictures have been painted of Jesus, for example. Do not ever start with someone else's work as the departure point for your own unless you have written permission to do this.

Because I am very visual, I love magazines. I especially like home decor and family magazines because they have a broad spectrum of articles with an emphasis on visual design. I don't go anywhere without scissors, glue and magazines. I keep a journal and a several scrapbooks. If I am starting a new project, I start a new book for pictures and quotes that have the feel of what I want to accomplish. I rarely keep the books open when I'm actually working because I don't want to be tempted to copy. The scrapbooks are my way of working through my thoughts and ideas. I sketch, I paint, I write and draw in and around the things I put together.

Start to pay attention to things that inspire you. Perhaps there is a kind of music (like Reggae, for example) that rev your engines and put you in the mood to create. If you learn these things about yourself, you make it easier to get working.

5. Go For It!

There is one guarantee about any creative endeavor. If you don't try, you will never succeed. It is okay to do several drafts. Give yourself permission to not get it right on the first try. Learn from your efforts and you have succeed!