It’s All About Textures, Materials, Colors, Tools, and Playing

Yesterday, as I sat down to work on items for my Etsy shop, Magic Carpet Dance Arts, I thought of the most recent Voca Femina live performance evening, and of a woman named Cindy.  Cindy is an artist, and she shared several new mixed media pieces she’d created, and told us a story about learning how to let her art be play.  She remembered being in grade school, and feeling excitement and joy at seeing the art teacher (“always an odd little person,” she said) wheel her cart of art supplies into the classroom.  All those art supplies.  All those materials.  All those textures and colors.  It didn’t matter what the project would be; Cindy just wanted to get her hands on all that art stuff and PLAY.  But somewhere along the way in her artwork, the playing went away.

At our Voca Femina evening, Cindy shared her process of returning to play.  Her new pieces were medleys of color and texture and out-of-the-box creativity.  And she told us she made them more quickly than her usual speed, and without as much thinking.  And they were gorgeous.

Back to yesterday.  I still need to get more belly dance costume items made for my Etsy shop.  I read on one of Etsy’s tutorials or forums that it seems to be ideal to have about 60 items in your shop.  Less, and you don’t appear to be a consistent, productive artist and a reliable source of a quality product.  More, and shoppers get overwhelmed.  So when I opened Magic Carpet Dance Arts in February, I set 60 items as my goal.  Right now, I have 22.  And when I sat down to work, I felt the pressure to produce.

But for some reason, I thought about Cindy the little girl, so excited about her art teacher and the cart full of art supplies coming into the classroom and bringing with her a sense of expectancy for the magic that could happen next.  And instead of stressing about making some of my more difficult pieces that I ‘should’ be making, I resolved to just play for a few hours.

One of the things I sell are modified Banjara belts.  Banjara belts are handmade wedding accessories of a group of people in Rajasthan, India, and much loved by belly dancers because of their shiny mirrors and embroidery.  But they are made for young brides to wear around their waists, not for belly dancers with hips.  I’ve figured out a way to re-sew them and turn them into something usable for us.

I have a bunch of them that I hadn’t modified yet, so I spread them all out on my table, and picked the two that appealed to me the most at the moment.

And I played.

And I finished them both.

And I had fun.

Now, HOW am I going to remember this the next time I feel that pressure to produce art?

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The Tale of the Leggie-Legs (or How the Goodie-Good Turned Baddie-Bad)

So…I wrote on my Facebook fan page a little while ago that I had been asked by a return customer if I could make her a pair of “leggie-legs”.  I had no idea what leggie-legs were, so asked her to send me some links or photos.  She sent me a link to IlanioWear.com, and here’s what I saw.

And I fell in love with them.  Funky.  Sassy and saucy.  Playful.  Sensual.  Daring.

I’ve come so far, grown so much.  This daring, playful, sensual woman is no longer trapped by the constraints of a religious sub-culture that tried to make her into a goodie-good.  I know who I am now.  And I knew as soon as I saw the photos that I would LOVE to make a pair for my customer.

IlanioWear.com has gone out of business, but they’ve posted their patterns online and say that you can use them as you want.  So I downloaded the pattern and got to work.  Here’s the first pair, the prototype. My customer said she wanted earth tones to go with another item I’d sold her, so I told her I’d make an experimental pair with material I had around, and if she liked them, she could buy them, or she could tell me what colors she wanted.

Well, my customer loved them, but wanted different colors.  (I’m not sure quite where her request for ‘earth tones’ went.)  Anyway, here they are:

Wild, shiny, quilted turquoise, trimmed with bright, bright red and crazy faux fur.  They rank among the most fun costume pieces I’ve ever made.

Hmmm…maybe I need to make myself a pair.

Thoughts from My First Vending Experience

  • Vending is hard work.  Stinkin’ hard work.  On your feet for hours.  Lots of talking.  Talking loudly to be heard in a noisy room.  Did I mention that it’s hard work?
  • Strangers touch your artwork.  They pick up your beautiful creations.  They don’t handle them gently, with love and tenderness, like you do.  They dump them back on your table in disarray.
  • Somebody out there might steal one of your babies.  You have to watch everyone, all the time.  Your heart pounds when you think one of your pieces is missing, only to discover it under a pile of other stuff.
  • It’s really hard to make a display that looks nice.  It’s even harder to keep your display looking nice when everyone keeps coming by and moving things and messing it up.
  • People glance at your beloveds and walk away, and you know they hate your work.  Probably, they hate you too.
  • You get some compliments on your work.
  • Some people ask for your business card.
  • People say things that give you ideas about new things you could make.  “Oh, you should make bags like these!”  “Do you ever make armbands?”
  • Your friends help you at your booth, and you feel surrounded by love and support.  You also have someone to talk to when there’s a lull.
  • You sell some items to complete strangers, and it feels better than Christmas when you were a child.

I can’t imagine vending very often, even though I made some money.  Yesterday’s event gave me a whole new appreciation for people who do the art/craft fair circuit.  Yes, I’ll sign up for a table at our Christmas craft fair at work, but mostly right now, I’m just saying thank God for online shoppers and my Etsy site.

A funky photo of a funky choker

More Treasuries!!

Just a quick post to this morning to say that my Magic Carpet Dance Arts items got included in yet two more Etsy Treasuries!!!

Let’s Dance Together

Gypsy Wanderlust

So WHAT am I doing wrong that I’m not having sales galore????  Obviously people like what I’m making.  And I’m getting lots of consistent traffic to my site.  Maybe it’s time to lower all my prices?????  Lisa Sonora Beam, in The Creative Entrepreneur, warns against artists making their prices so low that they’re not making any profit.  The desire to sell can be TOO strong.  So I’ve been keeping track of how long it takes me to make each piece, and doing some simple math:  the cost of the materials plus a rate per hour.  But what am I worth per hour???????

Odd Inspiration – South Main, Buena Vista, Colorado

In Buena Vista, Colorado, they’re building an old-fashioned town called South Main.  Every house is different, and the styles range from 1920’s Craftsman bungalows to New England mansions with turrets.  There are wraparound porches and wide streets.  Nostalgia abounds.  Fake old, with all the convenience of new.  I can’t decide if I like it or not…

But that’s not my point right now.  My point is the odd inspiration I draw from the wacky outdoor living room that sits right at the edge of the Arkansas River.  Public art for South Main.

Concrete and metal and tiles form a sofa, a high-backed chair, an ottoman, a coffee table with chess board, and an oriental rug.  The lamp really lights up at night.

There’s no plaque to tell who the artist is.  But whoever you are, bravo!  We were in Buena Vista last September, and I saw this work for the first time but didn’t think to take a photo.  However, the complete unlikeliness and creativity of an outdoor living room, the incongruousness of soft made from hard,  the pure fun of it, stayed in my mind for months.

I have no idea what the artist thinks their work means, but it really doesn’t matter right now, because tonight I remind myself that creativity is play, and my inner artist is a child.

That’s Great, But I Want To SELL Something!!!!!

It’s been several banner days in a row for my Etsy site, Magic Carpet Dance Arts.  My items got four ‘shout outs’ in 3 days.  What’s a shout out, you ask?  When someone else mentions you on their blog or website.  Free publicity and a bonus serving of encouragement.  And the Etsy website has its own internal shout out system, called Treasuries.  Anyone can create an Etsy Treasury, which is simply a selection of up to 16 items listed anywhere on Etsy.  (Because the idea behind Treasuries is to showcase other people’s work, if you’re an Etsy seller you’re only supposed to include one of your own items in your Treasury.)  The Etsy staff regularly look through the thousands of Treasuries, and select ones they like, and feature them for an hour at a time on the Etsy home page.  Making it to the Etsy home page generally means a LOT of sales.

In the past 3 days, my work was mentioned on two different blogs and two Treasuries.  And one of my items ended up in someone’s earlier Treasury.  (Click on the images to follow the links.)

I love these Treasuries.  The whole idea is to create a collection that looks beautiful and has a theme.  Here’s one I created a while ago.

But I still want to SELL something!!!!  I love all the encouragement, and it’s helping me to keep going, but as an artist (and this applies to my writing too), if my work doesn’t get sold/published, the communication loop isn’t complete.  I haven’t shared what I need to share of myself until the moment when someone reads this blog or Get A Klu, or until we (Anam Cara Dance Company) dance in front of an audience, or until that moment in the future when someone will buy my novel.

And the desire to share is a burning, passionate, frustrating, fierce presence in my life…

Two Lessons Learned – Julia Cameron Was Right All Along

My lessons:

1.  Just because I’m artistic and creative doesn’t mean I can sit down with a new medium and expect to make quality art without practice.  (What arrogance!)

2.  When I start focusing on selling stuff while I’m creating a piece, I don’t create so good.  (Duh!)

My story:  I’m going to be vending Magic Carpet Dance Arts items on August 28th at the D-Note in Arvada, at the Belly Dance Swap and Extravaganza.  This will be my first time ever of live vending, so I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what my table will look like.  Most of my pieces are rather 2-dimensional, and I wanted to add some 3D to the array.  I decided, hey, it would be simple to paint a couple of mugs with henna motifs at a pottery place.  It wouldn’t matter if they sold — they would just add interest to my table.

I went to paint at a pottery place one Saturday, full of ideas in my head for henna patterns like the ones on my Etsy shop items.  But I haven’t painted pottery for a year or two, and I had forgotten how liquid and runny the paints (glazes) are.  (I’ve been painting a lot with acrylics and thick fabric paints, and they’re totally different to work with.)  And I’d forgotten how you can’t tell what color you’re getting until after the piece has been fired.

I sat there at my table getting more and more frustrated as the runny paints refused to cooperate with my imagination.  I couldn’t draw the delicate lines I wanted.  I couldn’t tell if the colors were coming out how I wanted. But I NEEDED these items to come out.  I NEEDED to be able to add them to the things I will be selling.  And my frustration grew as I tried hard.  Too hard.  I left feeling completely disgruntled.

When you paint pottery at one of those shops, you have to wait a week or so to get your fired pieces back.  And during that time, I thought a lot about the lessons of Klu the Bear and his blog, Get A Klu.  Klu and I have been writing his blog for 5 years now, I think, and it’s been effortless and delightful.

Klu and I started Get A Klu in response to an exercise on playfulness in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  And the blog has had staying power because it’s always been playing for me.  No pressure.  No thoughts about making money off of it.  I just play in a medium I love:  words.  And have fun with my camera and my little bear friend.

When I sat down in the pottery place that Saturday, though, I forgot all about playing.  I forgot about delight.  I forgot about experimenting.  I forgot to ENJOY making my art.  I was too busy creating a product.  And I didn’t have fun.  I ended up cranky, disgruntled, frustrated.  And it shook my confidence in my abilities.

Thank God for Klu.  Thank God that his little face looks at me with accepting eyes.  Thank God for reminders to live out of a place of freedom and delight and love of life.  Thank God that my inner artist is a forgiving child.  I said a heartfelt apology for my arrogance, for trying too hard, for forgetting to play, and we were reconciled.

And to my complete surprise, when I went back to pick up my pieces, they had actually come out a whole lot better than I expected.

Today’s Offering On My Etsy Site, Magic Carpet Dance Arts

Just thought I’d do a quick post about a new item I just added to my Etsy site. Dang it, when am I gonna be able to be a full-time artist and writer? Or at least a half-time one? I have so many ideas, and not enough time!!!!!!

Magic Carpet Dance Arts

This is a gauntlet cut from soft kid leather.  The texture is luscious — so much fun to work with.

More soon…gotta get back to my making…

Cynthia

Crushing Rejections Are Looming

A couple months ago, when I started going through my novel manuscript for one final edit, I promised myself that when I was one month away from completion, I’d start my agent search process again.  This morning, I reached page 177 of 430.  That’s 41% of the way through.  (Yeah, I just did the math.)  I can’t put it off much longer.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the publishing world, if you dream of having your novel published by a mainstream publisher so that it will be sold in places like Barnes & Nobel and read by the general public, you have to get a literary agent to represent you first.  Many of the editors at the big publishing houses will not even read a submission from an un-agented newbie.

So you have to send queries to literary agents and ask them to represent you.  Sounds reasonable, right?  Except it’s crazy-competitive.  I’ve read statistics that say most reputable literary agents receive around 1000 queries a month.  And they might be looking to represent one to three new authors a year.  (Your turn to do the math.)

The literary agents are so busy that you often have to wait six or eight weeks to hear back.  And it’s usually a form rejection letter.  You read the polite words that say your work is not a good fit for their agency, and you know it really means, “YOU SUCK!!!!  YOU CAN’T WRITE!!!  GET A LIFE!!!”  My worst rejection letter ever, back before all this was done by email, was my own cover letter, returned with a big red stamp across it that said “REJECTED.”  And I’m supposed to keep writing after that?  Keep trying?  Keep putting my artistic babies out there for the world to eat up and spit out?

Sometimes, once in a while, you get a request back to read the first 50 pages, or maybe the whole manuscript.  Then you wait even longer before you get that rejection letter, and it hurts even more because they’re rejecting the real thing, not just the summary of your novel that went in to the original query letter.  And once in an even longer while, the agent writes a personal letter and tells you your manuscript is definitely publishable quality, but the market is saturated with that type of books right now.  (I submitted a young adult fantasy right at the beginning of the Harry Potter era).

I DON’T WANT TO FACE THIS AGAIN!!!!!!!!  It hurts too much.  It makes me doubt my inner artist.  It makes me feel like shit.

I’m stalling.  I can feel myself avoiding.

I want to summon up the courage.  I need to, if the dream is going to come true.  But right now, at this moment, I’m not sure I can.

Laurie Maves, the “Lolllipoppy Painter” — Live Art

A few months ago, Anam Cara Dance Company was invited to perform at a First Friday of the Art District on Santa Fe in downtown Denver.  It was close to Valentine’s Day, and the evening was benefiting the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk.  We dressed in reds and purples and pinks, and danced on a red carpet in a studio with a vivid red wall behind us.  Crowds packed in for each of our sets, and radiated their appreciation and delight.  We didn’t even ~really~ mind the guy with the foot fetish, who took photos of our bare feet all evening.  It was an evening of love, an evening dedicated to the heart.

The thing I didn’t know was that Laurie Maves, a Denver live artist, was busy painting us while we danced.  I love this woman’s work, and I love the concept of a live artist!!!!! You have to check out her website, Laurie Maves Art, but I’m not sure any website or video quite captures the experience of being painted by her in person.  Squashed into that  small, crowded, really hot studio space, we danced with so much joy that night.  And while we danced, Laurie turned each one of us into a lovely lollipop with a wavy belly dancer stick.  The painting captures a memory of that night, being part of something really special.  Belly Dancers With Love, she called the painting, and that’s what Anam Cara Dance Company is.  And Laurie became part of our troupe for that evening, part of our sisterhood.

(The image or the link above will take you to the Fine Art America website where you can see a bigger version.  It’s also on Laurie’s website, under her Shop.  It’s quite an honor to see Anam Cara Dance Company on the same page as The Fray and Phish.)

When we finished dancing and Laurie finished the painting, she had each of us sign our lollipop stick.

I wrote in a post a few days ago about the icons and talismans in my own personal space.  Belly Dancers With Love is one of those icons for me, holding all the joy of dancing with this special group of women.

Laurie dares to make her art while people watch.   She dares to paint as a live performance.  And I’m touched and inspired.