May 2010

My recent obsession is with the statistics counter I installed on my website.  I use Foliolink, a web hosting service that provides templates and hosting. I can update my website easily, it looks great, and for the most part it’s really easy to navigate and I can afford it.  In fact, because I am such a fan, people think that I get a kick back if I convince someone to sign up. I don’t, but I highly recommend them. Anyway, one thing Foliolink lacks is a way to track traffic on my website. I had no idea who visited, when, how many times or if anyone was visiting at all. Bummer.

Then I found Stat Counter, and I can’t remember where or how I came across it, but I thought I would give it a try. It’s free and claims that it will keep track of how many people visit the site, where they came from, how long they stayed and probably more advanced information if I knew how to figure it out.  So now I am obsessed.

I am checking it to see how many people have gone to the website, what pages they visit, how long they stay there, etc.  It’s fascinating! For all of you that are more techno savvy, this probably seems like very elementary information, but this is all new to me. I am shocked that so many people see the site for one, not that I have hundreds daily, but I figured maybe 10 or 20 people looked at my site per month. Maybe more if I was promoting a workshop or had a current exhibition. I was shocked to see much larger numbers. It was also great to see where they were coming from, with some of them coming from overseas.  I feel so naive in saying this, but I never fully thought about the reach that my website might have and who would really be looking.

Now I am dying to know who from Simon and Schuster keeps looking at my website. And who from Ohio keeps going back. And West Hollywood, although maybe I don’t entirely want to know. The other benefit: I can be fairly sure when a gallery that I contacted looks at my website. The Stat Counter gives you the IP address of the visitor but doesn’t identify the person by name, so I guess based on the time line of when I contacted the gallery, how they travel through the website and if I hear back from them. This is almost guaranteed when I send an email, within minutes they click the link and then I hear back. It’s less accurate if the gallery waits and then visits but it at least gives me an idea if anyone is looking. It also tracks whether someone comes back again or not.  Genius!

So if you have a website and don’t have a tracker I recommend it, and if you go to my website, I’ll know you visited. Well, sort of.


Saturday and Sunday I taught a monotype workshop.  I relied on all of my techniques, tricks and tips to try and help students get the most from the two days. I answered lots of questions from students:  how this might work, what to do about this, that or the other, what size paper to use, any color suggestions? Oh, and one minor melt down.  Watching from my table, I could see her body tense up. She was squinting her eyes, wrinkling her nose and just froze.  Unable to make any decisions of where to go she got stuck, really stuck. She had been having similar issues earlier so I suspected that an intervention was needed. I resorted to one of my teaching tactics to get her moving.  I gave her 5 seconds to pick a tool and a color, counting down the seconds out loud. She had 10 seconds to make a mark, add color or remove ink before she had to put the tool down. Counting quickly, I asked her to make another choice and gave her 10 seconds to get it executed. We went through this together 4 times and then I grabbed the plate. We made a beeline to the press and I reminded her it was only paper, not arms and legs, but that we were going to print it.

Vapourous Landscape, Monotype, 14x14

When the press was running I talked with her about why she thought she was having a hard time making decisions and working. She bravely told me that in looking around, she was comparing herself to the other students and felt like she was coming up short. The feeling that she wasn’t getting it, that she wasn’t catching on and in her mind making good and interesting work led her to seize up. My heart broke. This is the exact opposite of what I hope students feel in class.  The first thing that came out of my mouth was that comparing yourself to another person creatively is the quickest way to make yourself miserable. This sentiment was echoed by the other students at the press and I think that helped her feel a bit better.  We lifted the felts and pulled the print back from the plate.  She was surprised that it was better than she thought. We talked about it briefly and then went back to her table. We went through the timed exercise again. I told her the surest way to get stuck is to stop moving and that she needed to get up momentum and keep rolling. I could visually see her loosen up and I encouraged her to continue limiting the amount of time between decisions and to just moving forward.

I can’t say that by the end of class everything was hunky-dorey and she felt fabulous about every print she did from then on, but I do think that there was a mental shift that was visible in her work. First off, she produced twice as many prints as she had before which meant two things. One, she wasn’t stuck anymore and two she was learning twice as much as before by making more work. Experimentation became less scary and she was much more willing to say that she was just going to try it and see what happened. Efforts that didn’t work out became tools to use for the next print and she became more deliberate about color palette and composition which resulted in better work. As she stopped comparing, her work improved as did her confidence, which gave her more freedom in her choices and resulted in better work.

The situation reminded me again how true it is, that nothing will make you miserable faster than comparing yourself to others. I was impressed that she felt comfortable enough to express her fears in a class setting, and as always, I learned something too. The situation helped me strengthen my teaching and I was able to help her work through the issue in a constructive and compassionate way. I felt like a pretty good instructor, which is not to say that I am comparing!!

I am getting ready to teach a two-day monotype workshop this weekend.  I have five students so it will be a nice small group, leaving me plenty of time to really help each person and maybe even pull a few prints myself.  I’ve taken dozens of workshops over the years along with leading workshops in a variety of subjects, and it occurred to me that there is an unspoken set of rules that apply to workshops that is seldom talked about.  So here’s what I think is important to keep in mind if you are taking a workshop, chime in if you think of one I miss.

1. Be on time, even 10 minutes early, but don’t be late.  Nothing is worse for me than feeling like that last student or two will walk in the door any minute, so I’ll hold off on starting. At some point I have to weigh starting without someone and wasting the time of the students who were on time.  Plus, once I am in the groove it’s hard to go back and catch someone up.

2. Don’t show up too early and expect to have the instructors undivided attention. This happens fairly often for me. I have students that show up 45 minutes before the start of the workshop, excited to start the workshop, filled with enthusiasm and I really appreciate the positivity. But honestly, I am trying to get everything in it’s place so that I can effectively teach and students have everything that they need to have a successful first day.  As much as I’d love to sit and chat, I can’t.

3. Be prepared to share.  In a workshop situation, I supply a generous quantity of what I think students will need and want but I don’t always have enough on hand for everyone to have one of everything.  Usually people end up sharing and while it’s not always a problem, if you are used to having something all to yourself, bring it. And if you have something that you’d like to share with others, you’ll earn the appreciation of your fellow students.

4. Be tolerant of other personalities. Every once in a while, someone comes to class and they don’t want to play nice. Whether they are pushy, bossy, politically incorrect or a slob, sometimes you have to look the other way. As an instructor, I try to deal with the offenders quietly and privately to see if I can moderate their behavior, for instance pointing out that their stuff is crowding someone else’s workspace. Grin and bear it if you can.

5. Label your personal things. I hate at the end of the workshop trying to figure out which brayer is mine and which is yours, and it happens more than you think. So mark your tools like scissors, brushes, x-actos and anything else that you bring so that we can tell them apart at the end of the workshop.

6. Avoid controversial topics. Try not to bring up issues that are controversial like politics and religion. While I find that most people that take workshops are open minded and well informed, you never know when someone in the room really believes that they were abducted by aliens, and they have the marks to prove it.  I am not saying be fake, just bear in mind that it can make it awkward to have these conversations go awry. And for the record, I neither believe nor disbelieve in alien abduction, just in case someone who took a ride on a space ship wants to take my workshops. wink.

7. Clean up after yourself. I know, this seems really silly to have to mention this to adults but it’s true.  Enough said.

Those are the things that I think a workshop participant should keep in mind when they take a workshop. I really love teaching workshops. I have developed friendships with many people who have taken my classes over the years. Teaching helps me be a better artist too, watching people create and solve problems, and as the Chinese proverb so wisely states, “When one teaches, two learn.”

Forgive the slightly cheesy rhyming, but which one are you? Chances are, you’re both.  Everyone wants to see our friends, families and colleagues succeed, but what happens when they do really well? What happens when they achieve something that makes us secretly say, “well, I don’t know if they’re all that!”  We all sometimes have a hard time congratulating someone who has achieved something that we desire and have yet to achieve.

I’ve had a recent experience with this. A colleague and friend of mine has recently taken charge of her health and her body. She has been transformed. There is a light inside her, her skin is a glow and she carries herself like a woman in charge, capable of anything.  I love it, and I have been in awe of her over the last several months.  I aspire, but have been in a bit of a quagmire of unfinished business of all kinds and I am not putting myself on the to-do list.  This is going to change, because when that twinge of “I am happy for you but wish I was achieving the same for myself,” came up, I knew it was time to take stock.

Being envious of what someone else has or is doing can be a great flashlight into your unrecognized desires. That twinge, whether you call it a green-eyed monster, jealousy, or envy, let it be your teacher.  She didn’t take a magic pill, have surgery or have access to anything I don’t have access to, she just did it. There was no reason that I couldn’t follow in her path. So I have set some new goals for myself and will be starting to add myself on the to-do list daily.

Not to break my arm patting myself on the back, but that’s a constructive way to approach the twinge of jealousy.  What about the haters? I think this is a pretty common situation in the art world. How come so and so got in that show? How did he get in that gallery?  She get’s WHAT for a 12×12 inch painting?  You know, he doesn’t even have an MFA? And so on. This is a harder situation, and why I believe some artists don’t have very many artist friends.  It’s tough to be friends with someone who you know is stabbing you as they pat you on the back. You know the type, the compliment followed up with a jab, the “Good for you! I got into that show a couple of years ago, but you know I’ve really outgrown juried shows. And besides, they never get any decent jurors anymore, but I’m sure it’s a good show for you!”

I’ve had this experience more times than I care to recount, but in brief I’ve learned to recognize them quicker and to insulate myself from the comments. Nothing wilts the bloom of success like a hater disguised as a congratulater. So what’s the moral of the story?  Success is not a limited natural resource. It should feel good for everyone to be genuinely happy for a colleague’s good fortune but if you feel that twinge, pay attention. Maybe that feeling will illuminate a little nugget of life that you want for yourself.

Peonies, from you guessed it, Major Market

It’s official: I am in love with my grocery store.  Living in a small town makes for limited grocery options. We have three choices: Albertson’s, Fresh and Easy and Major Market. When we first moved to Fallbrook, that took some getting used to. I had numerous stores within 5 miles of where we lived before, including a Trader Joe’s, so I had withdrawls for a while and would routinely make the 30 minute drive to my old favorite markets.

For the first couple of years that we lived here I shopped at Albertson’s. I found Major Market a bit small and crowded. I had a hard time getting around, especially since people seemed to always be lingering in the aisles.  I was in a hurry, dammit. I had stuff to do and I didn’t have a lot of time to do it.  I was commuting insane distances teaching and the last thing I wanted to do was linger in the grocery store. And the parking lot was insane. No thanks, I thought, I’ll be at Albertson’s.

At first I enjoyed the big wide aisles, the really large produce section and what appeared to me to be a broad selection of items.  But as I became more of a local, which I am still not and may never be annointed such, I began to hear more and more about Major Market. We’d be at a dinner party or barbeque, and some unusual item would appear. Where’d you get that? Major Market.  hmm.  Did you make that salsa? No, I got it at the deli at Major Market. okay….

As time went on I was becoming really unhappy with Albertson’s produce, which seemed to spoil so quickly, and then there was the shrimp incident.  I bought some shrimp that by the time I went to cook it that night smelled of bleach and I was done. So I vowed that I would give it a go again at Major Market. I took my time and really thought about it from an investigative approach. I was going to really figure out this market and see if it was a fit for me.  I lingered at the refrigeration section, bought some of their enchiladas that are made in house and tried them. Fantastic!  I bought their in house made croutons, SOLD!!  I noticed that a lot of the produce was grown locally, including the heirloom tomatoes that we couldn’t get enough of. I discovered the artisan cheeses made locally, the bread baked by a Sadie Rose Bakery in Escondido and I couldn’t get enough of grocery shopping. Add to that the fact that I never have to wait in line to get rung up and never have to bag my own groceries, and I was in heaven.

I figured out that if you slow down you can see all of the nifty things they carry so now I am a lingerer.  They don’t have a ton of stock of anything on hand, so if you go too fast you might miss the ready to fry pappadums that taste authentic, hard to believe I know but true.  And the organic tahini that I use to make home made hummus.  Not to mention that you run into neighbors and folks that are just taking their time. And you can stop and chat with one of the guys that keeps the aisle neat, with a real feather duster in his back pocket.

I’m not sure what the final item was that sealed the deal. Maybe it was the exotic garlic that I found on Tuesday, or the new bulk organic section with quinoa, or maybe it was the black truffle butter that is quietly tucked in between the butter and whipping cream.  Whatever it was, I am hooked and I’ll never ever cheat on Major Market again.  We’re soul mates.

Friend and fellow artist Jhina Alvarado recently blogged about this topic of how long a painting takes and if/how that should affect it’s price.  To read the complete post, visit her blog Rising Artist, but in essence the post was about a comment made by someone who questioned her pricing because in his mind it “didn’t take her very long” to complete a painting.  Umph.

Pricing art is tricky to be sure. A lot of factors go into coming up with a pricing structure. Some artists have a price per inch strategy, others price paintings based on how much they like them, others have an arbitrary price structure that I can’t make heads or tails of.  An artist’s resume plays a part in pricing, how many solo shows they’ve had, if they have a particularly outstanding exhibition record, are paintings selling faster than the artist can produce them and so on. Typically, if an artist has gallery representation, the galleries will give input on pricing as well. My own personal pricing has been based on all of the above and I feel that it’s appropriate for where I am at in my career.  But it sure has nothing to do with how long it took me to make any particular painting.

I understand some of the thinking behind it – the longer it takes to make something the more it must be worth, after all time is money, right?  But this idea of time predicting value is misleading, especially in the case of art.   The active creation of any piece of art is only a part of what it takes to be a professional artist with a studio practice. It’s taken me about 15 years of active searching to find and define my voice to make the art I make today. Behind me are countless hours of experimenting, workshops, classes and that’s after my three years of high school art and almost five years getting my BA in Fine Art at UCLA.

An experiment

It may seem like I can pick up a brush and make art, but I am well practiced and deliberate about what I am doing so that I can reach a focus and get in the mental zone to paint.  There is a massive amount of time spent on mundane things that have to happen to get to the end of a painting, of which active painting is only a fraction. I make some of my own paint, I make all of my own medium, my husband makes many of my panels, and we frame every painting when it is finished. I use my own photographs to make up the patterns in my work, and I may have taken 500 photos to get to the one that I want to use in imagery. And some paintings don’t make it. No matter how I fuss sometimes a painting just fails and doesn’t see the light of day again let alone a gallery wall. And that’s before I begin the business side of what it takes to promote and sell my work.

My analogy for those who may struggle to understand: imagine if someone told you that only the last 12 months of work experience was going to count. Your position, pay and job responsibilities were only going to be based on what you’d done in the last 12 months.  Anything before that wouldn’t count.  That’s what it’s like to tell an artist that the only way to assess value of a painting is the clock. Tick Tock. The more tick tocks you get the more digits you get to charge. Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense to me either. So, for those non-artists out there, the next time you want to know how long it took to paint, sculpt, write, compose, film or create a particular artistic endeavor, just ask how long the person has been working in their medium.  It’ll be a far more accurate answer than a punch card.