Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The "Underneath" Story

A reader commented on my 2014 Re-Cap post that her year was full of less tangible accomplishments than mine. I like that observation. It's true that some years are full of busy activity, and some can be more low-key in terms of visibility, but a lot can go on underneath the surface. I'm going to use my Golden Moth Illumination Deck to show you what 2014 felt like to me.

I receive e-mails with tips and quotes from a creative business coach named Alexis Fedor. One quote I liked a lot was by novelist Zora Neale Hurston:
"There are years that ask questions and years that answer."

For me, 2014 was a year for both. I asked a lot of questions and experimented with trying to get the results I thought I wanted. I'm still sorting through the answers. I wanted to find a way to make a reliable living through my art, to find a way out of the ups and downs. I wanted to prove myself. But the truth is, I'm still experimenting. And I doubt that will ever end. Maybe I thrive off of the ups and downs more than I'd care to admit.

As an artist, I have never liked being fully in the spotlight. I want to reach people and share with them through my art, blog, and newsletter, but sometimes I feel very exposed doing so. And last year I felt more exposed than ever.

I wanted to take on a new role last year. One of "business person." I put myself out there in ways that felt exciting but sometimes uncomfortable. I worked a lot with my printer, figuring out solutions to issues that came up and figuring out the best ways to print my products. I called store owners and sent out many e-mails to try to get my notecards into stores. I had some success with that. But trying to learn how to run the business and apply it immediately sometimes felt like this:

It was a balancing act and a lot of scrambling. I went from feeling triumphant when I received an order, to feeling scared and overwhelmed that I couldn't handle anything or that nothing would result from my endeavors.

By throwing myself into my business, I also realized that running a business is unlike anything else I have done. It's not a flight of fancy. To grow a business, I'll need to keep it going on a day-to-day basis. I need to think about the next steps, how to make things work better. I run on cycles. The idea of long-term anything can feel like a burden. I wondered, "Is this really what I want? If not this, then what else should I do?"

By the end of last year, I had reaped my harvest. I wasn't a millionaire, but I had achieved small financial successes. Through trial and experience, I had made some good decisions. But I didn't feel good about it. It didn't seem like enough. I didn't feel good enough.

Right before I traveled to Rochester, NY to visit my family for the Christmas holiday, I spent an evening with a friend. Through intense conversations over dinner, in the car, and on a chilly walk through my old neighborhood, we both experienced a catharsis. 

"I feel pathetic," I told him. There were so many things I wanted for my future - children, a family, to continue to be a working artist. And I still couldn't see how that would be possible. It felt like so much work just to keep afloat. I felt lost and in need of a change. 

I still judged myself so harshly based on my social/monetary standing in life. Over dinner, my friend and I realized that's silly! Modern society places so much emphasis on our social statuses. As humans, we can no longer be happy with just surviving. We need to prove ourselves to other people, to bolster our own egos, to strive for what is considered "success."

I placed so much emphasis on money, thinking it would bring me happiness. I thought I was being reasonable, that I need money to raise a family, to buy a house, to continue to make art. I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting those things. But feeling like I'm not capable of achieving them has tortured me for so long. That night, I realized that those things were outside of myself. What matters most is how I feel.

Rather than trying to be someone worthy of feeling happiness, I just want to be happy. And for me, that means not trying to control the future. Not thinking Point A leads to Point B leads to Point C. Not trying to find the answers that will fix everything. I know my desire for control will flare up again and again. But when I get that anxious feeling of dread when I think about the future, I'll know that something is amiss. And I'll try to move toward the thing that feels better. Moment by moment.

It's been almost three weeks since I returned to Richmond from holiday, and this is where I'm at right now:

I feel like I'm floating through my life, incubating. I'm not trying to push myself too hard. Last year was a year of willfulness, of trying to put things in motion in the outside world. It taught me a lot. 

But I'm very tired from all that striving. Now I feel like retreating into the part of myself that bubbles with creativity, stories, visions, unknowns. I want to nurture the part of myself that doesn't want to be rational or successful. It's the part of me that creates for pure joy.

I want to write and illustrate the stories that have been living inside me, half-formed, for years. I don't want to think about the long-term plan right now or where my work will lead me. I just want to do it. 

I don't have all the answers. But answers just lead to more questions, anyway. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

2014: A Year in Pictures

This is me, right now. And Dozer, my cat.

As the caption says, it is glorious. I'm taking a rest - a self-enforced laziness. I feel like I should get up and do stuff, I have my to-do list filled with activities, yet they're getting ticked off so slowly.

YES. To sluggy-ness. It is so healing.

I know that a new western calendar year can mean a clean slate, but truth be told, I usually get depressed after Christmas is over. November and December mean lots of craft shows and art sales for me - it's really the one time of year I can dependably make an income from selling my artwork. And it's very exciting and rushed, but that means post-Christmas blues.

This year, after my busy-busy-busy season, I spent 10 days at my parents' home in Rochester, NY celebrating Christmas with my family.
My mom and older sister looking at a branch on our Christmas Day Walk. It was unseasonably warm for Rochester!

After so much nurturing energy, good food (including Thai, Indian, and Bar-B-Q restaurants), and being around people who have known me my whole life, it felt sad at first to return to regular life. And because my artist lifestyle is not the most predictable, a clean slate can be somewhat terrifying. I have to evaluate what worked and what didn't in the last year, and modify how I will make my living this year. But weirdly, I am not that worried about it. I think things will fall into place.

2014 RE-CAP

Last year was a very busy year, perhaps one of the busiest in terms of variety of activities.

I was a panel judge for a students' art award. That was fun. I had to quickly move to a new apartment after my old apartment's two chimneys caught on fire. I worked on illustration commissions:
An album cover I illustrated in linocut.

An extremely intense hand-embroidered portrait I did as a wedding present/commission.

I travelled to the SCBWI conference on children's books in NYC in February and was totally inspired.

I took a pastel class with Sarah Masters which I loved. Here's one of the still-lives I made:

Starting in April and continuing through the rest of the year, I did at least one or two craft shows per month. I ended up doing at least 20 craft shows/markets total this year.

In the summer I started re-invigorating the notecard business I had begun the previous fall. I printed 8 new card designs, made a catalog, and contacted more than 100 new stores - whew! I also read a lot of books, internet articles, and watched videos to learn how to run my business.

 I had a 2-person art show of my prints at Rivermont Studio in Lynchburg, VA in November:

I fulfilled a dream of mine to learn the technique of Moku Hanga (Japanese woodblock printing) by taking a class with Miwako Nishizawa. Here is the print I created from the class (I still have a lot to learn!):

In late summer, I sold out of my limited edition of 300 Golden Moth Illumination Decks! I re-formatted the files, updated the Handbook, and had a new (unlimited) batch printed in November.

I traveled to visit my family in Rochester twice and my boyfriend's family in Kentucky twice. In August I drove to Vermont for a camping-style wedding of a childhood friend (and on the way visited the Eric Carle Museum of the Picture Book - something else I've wanted to do for a long time!) Here is the wedding gift/commission I made for my friends (it got a little battered from being in the rainy cabin):
I illustrated the cover for my friend's Songbook. He reproduced lyrics and figured out the tablature for more than 250 songs!

I donated artwork and time to some art auctions and events. I cut back on teaching a lot, but taught a few printmaking classes, Etsy Seller workshops, and private art lessons. I worked two part-time jobs and quit one in March and the other in August. I was able to survive on art sales and teaching from September until right now (although that may be subject to change!)

You know what? I'm proud of myself. I worked really freakin' hard, and did some really fun things. But you know what was lacking last year? I didn't make that much new artwork. Okay, now that I am writing this post, I realize I created more than I thought I did. I did commissions and re-printed some pre-existing artwork, as well as made a couple new things, but there was so much more I wanted to do. I did not have as much creative energy last year because I was so focused on learning how to run my card business and selling artwork.

I was fixated on making it "the Year that I truly began my art career," meaning a sustainable and predictable form of making income. I had hoped the card business would do that for me. But because I threw myself into it really intensely, I am now intensely burnt out. Honestly, I'm not sure if I'll continue the wholesale card business, at least not in the grand scope I had planned. But I'll keep creating cards to sell on a smaller level at least.

For right now, I'm taking some time off. I've been watching a lot of movies and reading lots of books. I'm basking in the glory of slug-style living and not having an enforced schedule. And I'm trying not to push myself to do ANYTHING. I think it is well-deserved, and much-needed.

2015 is going to be a much different year. I'm intentionally going to back off of busy-ness and take things slow. I want to:

Learn from the slug.
Learn from the tortoise.
Learn from the placid well.

I want to do another update on this using the Golden Moth cards to illustrate my points, but this post has been long enough for now.

To everyone, Happy New Year! What have you done and learned from last year? What are you excited about this year?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Golden Moth Giveaway + Shop Sale Through December 14th!

Finally, finally... After much poking and prodding of digital files and discussions with my printer, James River Press, the second printing of The Golden Moth Illumination Deck has arrived! This time, I had the cards printed digitally on a smooth cardstock and they were corner-rounded by the printer (taking the strain off my shoulders!) For those of you who haven't been following its progress, The Golden Moth Illumination Deck is a set of symbolic cards that I self-published in 2012 with the help of lovely people who backed my Kickstarter campaign. You can read about the whole sage here. They are oracle cards (kind of like tarot cards), meant to be used for divination or any creative purpose you can think of! Take a look:

I just finished listing them in my Etsy shop, Sprout Head, and this time around there are a few different purchasing options. You can now buy the deck separately from the handbook. If you buy just the deck, it comes with a brief fold-out information guide to get you started on using the cards. This guide gives advice on how to give a reading and interpret the cards and shows you one spread layout. It does not include individual symbol interpretations.

If you want that, you'll have to purchase the handbook. It contains all the information from the first handbook that I published, but it is updated with individual card interpretations. It comes as a hard copy and a PDF version. If you purchase the hard copy of the handbook alone or with the deck, you will also receive the PDF version as a FREE bonus! But note that this offer cannot be used retroactively if you purchase the PDF version first and the hard copy later. Sorry, no refunds.

You can see the listings for all the different Golden Moth products here. I hope you are as excited about it as I am. In celebration, I'm offering two cool things: a giveaway and a shop sale! Read on:


I'm giving away Golden Moth Illumination Decks + Handbooks to TWO lucky winners! Giveaway ends on the evening (Eastern Standard Time) of Sunday, December 14th.

How to enter:
1. Leave a comment on the blog about why this deck should be yours (or gifted to a friend, if you so desire).
2. Check this blog on the evening (EST) of Monday, December 15th to find out if you've won. If you aren't subscribed to my blog or might forget to check back, please leave your e-mail address in your comment, but put some spaces between the words so the spam-bots don't steal it. I need a way to reach you if you win - VERY IMPORTANT!
3. If you know of someone who would be interested in this giveaway, please SHARE! I will be sharing this giveaway on my Golden Moth BlogSprout Head Facebook PageGolden Moth Facebook Page, and Instagram. Pick your favorite social media link!


If you don't want to take your chances with the giveaway, how about taking 15% off your total purchase in my online shop, Sprout Head? Through Sunday, December 14th, use coupon code HOLIDAY2014  HAPPY2014 upon checkout to receive your discount. (The HOLIDAY code had a minimum order requirement, the HAPPY one does not!) You must enter the coupon upon checkout or you won't get your discount - it does not happen automatically.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Adventures in Selling, Part Three: Dreams and Shadows

Last week was Halloween - a time to bring the skeletons out of the closet and wear them on your skin. For a few brief hours, I became a tiger. It feels good to look and act differently than normal. It's fun to see the beautiful, horrible, and fantastic out on the sidewalks - dancing, collecting treats, and reveling in the night.

Me and Dozer. He wasn't fooled by my cattish-ness.

Which brings me to the subject of dreams and shadows..

It's easy to have a dream and feel longing for it because you "just didn't try" or "life got in the way." The dream can remain glow-y and beautiful in the distance, something that "could have been" but just wasn't. Sometimes it's great to have certain dreams stay in the distance, because maybe they really are more beautiful that way. But some dreams are worth the challenge.

The real question for the unfulfilled dreams is, "What keeps you from trying?"

One thing I've been learning these days is that grasping onto a dream and shaping it into an achievable goal will open a can of worms that may be difficult to face. Achieving your dreams can alter important relationships in your life (for good or ill), make you face personal demons, and reveal parts of yourself and your life that, once inspected, MUST change. Deep down, I think that most people are unconsciously aware that this can happen.

Change is scary. But Change can also be very good.

A Halloween-y display at my friend Sarah Hand's house

In my last posting about how I made a breakthrough with my own attitudes toward money, I mentioned that there were other issues holding me back from being able to make a living. While the dough hasn't been flowing in like a raging river (it's more like a trickling creek, hopefully gathering strength!) I feel relatively more calm and trusting these days that it'll keep growing bit by bit. But my feelings have run the gamut from spazz-y to peaceful.

By the beginning of October, I had contacted over 100 stores asking if they'd like to carry my cards. I added 13 new stores through my efforts (22 total stores so far!) which I am proud of. But after the small slew of orders, there was a dry spell, and I decided to take a break from contacting stores so I could work on other projects. I was frankly sick of thinking about my notecard business.

I have mixed attitudes towards freedom and responsibility. I will never be a 9-5 kind of person - it's just not in my nature. Throughout my life, I have always wanted to be free with my art, to do only what I enjoy. But running my card business is showing me that no one is totally "free." In fact, running my own business is harder in some ways because I face full responsibility for every decision I make. There isn't a boss to manage me. I am still not sure how this business will grow, and sometimes I wonder if I should quit because it can be overwhelming and too hard at times. On the other hand, going back to what I was used to would be frustrating and unsatisfying.

What is freedom? Was I really free when I was barely making enough money and worried about it all the time? Was I free when I was doing what was familiar to me, and my dreams were beautiful and distant? Can I always just do what I want to do, and will that make me happy?

The answer for me is "No." I've got to compromise if I want to be happy. That means bending my brain into different shapes and looking at the long-term. Rather than striving to have all the answers now, I can grow to be the capable person I want to be. This means learning the legalities of running my business (that alone is nerve-wracking!), being adaptable to change, and getting help when I need it.

Hot cider and treats from a Fire Ceremony party that I attended in October.

In the last couple of months, I took a creative writing class called "Writing the Shadow," taught by Douglas Jones at The Visual Arts Center of Richmond. In Jungian terms, the Shadow is the part of ourselves that we find unacceptable, the part that haunts us or that we try to hide from others. Through writing and thinking consciously about how to see and integrate the shadow side of myself, I realized that there is someone in my life who I greatly admire but who haunts me in many ways both positive and negative - my dad. Throughout my life, my dad has demonstrated, through words and actions, a trust in life and in his abilities that I have never fully embodied. Even when he's told me about his struggles, I still see my dad as being magical. But by striving to be like him, I have lived in his shadow.

I can see now that trying to conduct life like my dad doesn't allow me to be the self that I am. I want to free the part of me that never feels good enough for my own standards. I want to accept that I will always be a bit doubtful and fearful, and that's okay. It hasn't kept me from doing things that are brave, if my heart says they're worth doing. I don't have to feel declarative and confident about everything. Sometimes just muddling through is good enough - and I suspect that's how many seemingly-confident people do it, too!

After taking my shadow writing class, I learned that the parts of ourselves that we are afraid to look at are the parts that make us human. And these things are beautiful in their own way. They make us complex, layered, imperfect. We cannot have strengths without weaknesses, and we cannot have weaknesses without strengths.

True change occurs within. True change comes from looking at yourself more clearly through a process of heartbreaks and triumphs, and what follows - whether that takes days, months, or years - is a "symptom" of change, not the change itself. It's the fruit that grows from the seed. I look at all that I've done in the past as building towards my dreams and informing what I decide to do each step of the way. Looking at my life as an accumulation of thoughts, actions, and creations is much more healthy than judging whether I have succeeded or failed at any given moment - as if I or anyone else has the right to decide that!

A couple of weeks ago I attended a wonderful "Fire Ceremony" hosted by my artist friends Sarah Hand and Suzanne Vinson. Sarah makes dreamy paper-mache dolls, sculptures and whimsical paper collages. Her work just makes you feel happy.

Shadow box by Sarah Hand

Suzanne is a minister and artist who makes art and hosts art & spiritual retreats and creativity circles. She makes fantastically colorful paintings, mixed media art, and wonderful wisdom cards. During our ceremony, I picked out her "Soar" card to focus my intentions for the night because I am ready for my art, business, and life to truly soar and thrive.

Wisdom card by Suzanne Vinson

For the ceremony, Suzanne helped us focus on the aspects that fire brings to us - it's focus, warmth, and also destructive power. I won't share all of the ceremony here because it just seems more powerful to keep some of it to myself, but it involved thinking about things we wanted to let go of in our lives and other parts that we wanted to bring in. One of my intentions was to make peace with my shadows and to integrate them into my life, among other things. There was percussion, a bonfire, and sparklers involved - such fun! 

Dear Readers, I'm sure you have felt conflicted about your dreams and have faced plenty of shadows mixed in with your sunny days. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Adventures in Selling, Part Two: Where the Money Is

It was 3:30 in the morning a month ago when I first started writing this blog post. I had to split it up because it was so long (see Adventures in Selling, Part One). My cat woke me up scratching on my door, and I couldn't fall asleep after that. For a long time, I had been wanting to express my feelings in written form, but I just felt too busy and overwhelmed to write. A phrase originated in my mind: "Writing puts me in my body." It makes me remember feelings, physical sensations, memories. For awhile, I had been feeling a bit numb. But that is changing.

At different phases of my life I've contemplated changing vocations. I was never sure to what, exactly - maybe teaching art full-time, or book conservation? I would joke to myself that I wished I was an accountant. But the truth is, I have never wanted anything else as much as I've wanted to make a living with my art. As I approached my late 20's and now early 30's, I felt ashamed when I compared myself to friends with full-time careers who were able to live more comfortably and enjoy the benefits and responsibilities of other people my age. I felt like I was staying a child, while they were really growing up.

From "Ask and It Is Given" cards. Text by Esther and Jerry Hicks and illustrations by Kristina Swarner

I am devoted to this thing called Art. It is the thing I am the best at doing and enjoy the most. It feels natural to me. The thought of doing anything else seems boring and sad. Also, any other career I might switch to would require me to go back to school, and that would require a lot of time, energy, and money, too. But, in spite of my passion for art, I've been lingering on the sidelines. Selling art is different than making it.

I've had lots of talks with friends and family about art and money. My sister Olivia Kim, who is an artist, and I were talking on the phone and she said that the upside of not making a lot of money in the beginning is that it proves to you what you've willing to work for. My best friend, Tiffany Navarro, who is an artist and educator (and presented at a Scratch programming conference at MIT in August!), also affirmed that even if things get hard, at least we are making really cool things and having fun with it. What's more awesome than bringing something amazing into the world that never even existed before?

Remember that blog post where I quit my job in March in order to have more time to work on children's illustration? Well, I exaggerated a little. I also had a second part-time job at a bookstore that I worked at 10-20 hours a week. I kept that one because I loved the people I worked with and it was fun. It also provided some stress-free financial padding.

In July, I bought a card deck called "Ask and It is Given." I'd first seen the deck in a shop a couple years before but for some reason I felt strongly then that I should own it. The cards have beautiful, dream-like images by Kristina Swarner with inspirational teachings culled from text by Esther and Jerry Hicks based on the teachings of Abraham. The cards speak about how your life is shaped by the energy and thoughts you radiate and invite. I looked through the cards on my lunch break at work. One of the cards said "An empty feeling is telling me something important" and the back of the card explained that feeling negatively is an indicator that you are disconnected with your "Source Energy." Call it God, call it the Universe, whatever you will. I thought about my feelings. A few days before I sent off that big notecard order that I talked about in my last post, I randomly woke up with a new, excited feeling. It was just there, in my body, this wonderful life and hope. Which made me realize how numb I had been feeling. Not anything horrible or even that noticeable, but my underlying anxieties and fears had taken over and crowded out anything else.

From "Ask and It Is Given" cards. Text by Esther and Jerry Hicks and illustrations by Kristina Swarner

When I thought about how I felt at work that day, it wasn't good. I felt blah and unmotivated. As I looked through the cards, I realized that my feelings about the job had to do with me and what I wanted from my life, not about the job itself. I'd been contemplating quitting for awhile because I was really overwhelmed trying to work on my card business and make new art. I thought that gaining back those 10-20 hours a week for myself would make a big difference, and possibly push me to be even more successful with selling my art. But for different reasons it didn't seem to be good timing.

As I sat there, I thought about quitting soon and for real. A scared, exciting feeling passed through my stomach. It was then that I knew I had already made the decision. Because if I hadn't, I wouldn't have felt so scared. Still, I got home and talked to my boyfriend about it. He was surprisingly matter-of-fact about it, and said all I had to do was hustle a bit more to earn the extra money I was currently making at my job, which wasn't really that much. He said I'd been on a roll so far and didn't see why I couldn't do it. I realized that at this point in my life, I am doing better than I ever have before. For the past year I've been actively striving to build an infrastructure for manufacturing my products, explore new venues to sell my art, and implement different ways to give my work exposure. It made me more confident that not only is this my dream, but it has been a part of my reality for awhile.

I gave my two weeks notice last month. It felt great! At the end of August I began to go full-time with my art business. I'll still be teaching and doing a few odd jobs here and there, but for the most part I will be spending my days working on my own business. YAHOO!!!

From "Ask and It Is Given" cards. Text by Esther and Jerry Hicks and illustrations by Kristina Swarner

This all happened because I made a change - inside. This change has been brewing for years, literally. Ever since graduating from college, there has not been a time when I haven't worried about money. During the past few years, I felt anxiety wondering about how I would ever afford my own home or be able to raise children. Did I have to give up having children one day because I could barely support myself? It made me very upset to think about, and I didn't have all the answers.

But I'm ready now to make a comfortable living by doing what excites me. I'm learning that both art and business can be executed creatively. I think a lot of what kept me from making a full living from art in the past was not my lack of artistic skill, but my mixed feelings about money (as well as other things, which I'll get to in future posts).

There's a lot of discomfort about money among, well, anyone. Everyone has different reasons for feeling weird about it. When I started selling my art, I wanted to make my art available to anyone who wanted it. But by offering low prices on all my goods, I just could not make a true living. It was a breakthrough when I realized last year that the amount of time and energy I put into handmade art would never be enough for a career if I kept going the way I was going. But I was also scared to charge more. Charging more was saying that I thought my artwork was worth more money. In a way that felt like saying that I was worth more money, and I was terrified to say that. I didn't want to seem greedy or full of myself. I didn't think I was worth deserving more than I had. I had gotten material value mixed up with true worth, which is priceless.

Last year, my aunt came up with the idea of printing my art on cards and she was invaluable in helping me to start my notecard business. Because I don't have to spend time doing everything handmade, it allows me to offer my art inexpensively and sell my cards in lots of stores. This has been a big shift because I've decided I don't have to worry about tailoring my original art to be sold cheaply by reducing my labor and materials cost. Instead, I will spend the time I need, charge more for the original art I make, and look for the right audience that can afford it. It took a lot of effort for me to take a stand and decide to value my own time, energy, and artistic talent. Maybe not everyone can afford the originals, but I can't afford to make art if I don't charge more. I was literally running myself out of business! Ah, do you see the paradox?

From "Ask and It Is Given" cards. Text by Esther and Jerry Hicks and illustrations by Kristina Swarner

A few weeks ago I got upset at my boyfriend because I asked if he'd like to take a break from work to go for a walk and he said he was too busy. "Even just 20 minutes?" Too busy. It struck a nerve and made me very angry. Because often he gives me the excuse that he is too busy to enjoy simple and brief pleasures. I realized that "too busy" is an easy excuse to give to anything that you don't want to do. Everyone's busy. People deliberately choose what they spend their time and energy on. I've often given the excuse that I'm too busy, and sometimes it's true, but sometimes it's just because I don't want to. My boyfriend and I talked about it and came to some peace, but it stuck in my mind.

A few days later, I came to a weird realization that MONEY has always been my excuse. "I can't afford it." "I can't do ______ because I don't have enough money." A lot of times in my life this has been true. Yet, if I really wanted to do something, I found a way to get the money for it. I never again want to make money my excuse for doing or not doing something. I want to be accountable for the choices I make, not act like a victim who is always broke. There are many countries in the world where true poverty exists, and it is entrenched and debilitating. For those people, the possibility of change is very, very difficult. I've been very fortunate not to experience this kind, but I have experienced how poverty can be a state of mind. In fact, the only way to change true poverty is by first changing your mind, by allowing for the possibility of abundance as a reality. You can see examples of this in people who win the lottery and then squander all their money quickly because they didn't adjust their minds and actions to fit a reality in which abundance was ever-present, not just a chance gift. It's not an easy thing to do.

I feel like I have now unlatched the gates to material prosperity. Maybe it was just one of those U-shaped latches on a chain link fence that you can flip up effortlessly, but I did it. And now there's nothing separating me from the life I want to live. I don't expect huge changes to happen right away because I know that my business will take time to build. But I can already feel and see it happening. While I know I may be scared sometimes about when or how much money will come rolling in, I feel much more flexible and less frightened about it than I ever have in my life. I finally trust that I will have enough. I don't have to haggle about every penny I spend. More will come in when I need it to.

From "Ask and It Is Given" cards. Text by Esther and Jerry Hicks and illustrations by Kristina Swarner

Money is just a physical object/concept that you can exchange for goods or experiences. I want to travel more, I want to go to artist residencies and take more classes, I want to not always order the cheapest item on a restaurant menu. I want to send my parents on a wonderful vacation. I want to set up a scholarship fund for kids who want to go to art college. There is so much I want to do with the money I'll make.

My new attitude toward money is that having enough will allow me to experience the joyful things I desire and enrich me personally. It will allow me more options for doing and creating, as well as getting more art into the world.

To me, that's worth it.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Adventures in Selling, Part One: Hitting the Pavement

A few weeks ago, while visiting my boyfriend's family in Kentucky, I took my notecards around to some shops. It's been a bit more difficult than I imagined to get in touch with store owners to purchase my cards. I'll write e-mails, and sometimes I'm lucky enough to hear back that they're interested, or maybe my cards aren't a good fit for their store or it's not good timing. But often, especially when I'm using one of those fill-in-the-blank e-mail forms, I won't hear back at all and I won't know why. So I decided to "take it to the streets" and just drop in on store owners. Which I've heard you're not really supposed to do - it's better to make an appointment. But I did it anyway.

Zum Kartoffellager by Michael Sowa

One of the store owners wasn't in town, but I talked to her employees who showed interest in the cards and told me to e-mail her. One store buyer showed a lot of interest and took some samples and an order form. One owner immediately took six of my card designs on consignment! And one owner (who I'd actually e-mailed several months before but hadn't heard back from) anticipated my request before I even asked and told me she was too busy to look at anything (which she was, since there were lots of customers in there), but gave me her direct e-mail.

Kranker Hund by Michael Sowa

The day after my boyfriend and I returned to Richmond, I e-mailed the store owners from Kentucky to follow up. Then my boyfriend and I went to a grocery store to eat lunch and I griped about how, even with the luck I'd had with that one store taking my cards on consignment and a handful of other stores currently selling them, I didn't think it was possible for me to make much money. I felt completely pessimistic. I was tired out from the long drive back and depressed to come back to regular life after having such a fun vacation. I also didn't have enough income to cover the rest of the month and didn't know how I would generate it.

Later that day, I checked my e-mail. One of the store buyers from Kentucky had just placed a huge order! I grabbed a calculator to tally the order - 360 of my cards! I yelped with joy. It was my biggest order from any store so far. Financially, my month was covered.

For awhile, I was so excited. Then I wondered how I would make enough money the next month. Not every buyer was going to order so many of my cards. And then I remembered that I was running out of envelopes and I would have to order more before I could send out the order! I didn't want her to think I was unprofessional and couldn't ship my orders quickly, especially not such a big, important order. That night I slept fitfully and had dream-like worries about envelopes.

But, once I received my envelopes the next week, I packed up the order and felt this new and wonderful energy flow through me. I felt excited, confident, hopeful. It was fun to prepare the order, to neatly stack and wrap up the cards and organize them in the cardboard box. I went to FedEx and opened an account. I told the FedEx employee how I excited I was about it. She kept smiling. I'm sure not too many people come into FedEx excited about sending out packages. I tried to savor it, because one day I may not be excited about packaging and shipping out orders. But at that moment, I was doing exactly what I wanted. One big order had given me the hope I needed.

Mann mit Elefant by Michael Sowa

I now confirm my suspicion that not only do I have to get over my fear of failure, I also have to grapple with my fear of SUCCESS. Ever since I got more serious about selling my art five years ago, I've had this weird feeling that everything that happens to me is only because I want it or truly need it to. Every time I despaired that I couldn't make enough money from my art or just really needed an emotional pick-me-up, lo and behold I would make another sale or someone would offer me an unexpected opportunity. It was never a lot, but always just enough. Throughout my life, my parents instilled a sense in me that I was always supported by the Universe no matter what. But I wondered why it was never a bit more to take the edge off my worries.

Getting more than I expected with that notecard order gave me hope, but also terrified me. I think I've never received more than "just enough" because until now, I didn't feel that I could handle it. This wasn't always a conscious sentiment, but as I now approach the reality of going full-time with my various art businesses, I can see that I was always afraid of the responsibility it would bring. Running my own business takes risk, bravery, a whole lot of accountability, and a pretty steep learning curve. And that is SCARY to me. I guess it was usually easier to feel slightly in the dark, to not ride that crazy beast even though I was already half-gripping the horns and being dragged by it. I've been working through these fears, though, by learning more about business from reading books and online articles, having a meeting with a business mentor from SCORE (a business counseling service in Richmond), and contemplating taking some classes to learn more. At each step, I experienced the initial fear of having to face something new, then the ease of actually feeling like I can deal with potential problems that may arise.

Suppenschwein by Michael Sowa

One thing I've learned thus far is that since I'm running my business, I have to be happy with the way I'm doing things - even if in a parallel universe another me would be working faster, harder, and smarter. I have to deal with my own weaknesses and champion my own strengths. I have to decide when I need to take breaks and when I need to push myself more. I also have to decide whether what I'm doing is worth my own time and energy, and learn to say no to people and activities that sap the energy out of the goals that really matter to me. This last thing, learning to say "no," has been difficult because I hate to disappoint people, but ultimately I was hurting myself by doing things that caused me resentment because they were not really how I wanted to use my energy anymore. I also have to battle with my own rigid thinking and old habits, and re-think decisions in a fresh way that makes more sense in the moment.

After I gained self-confidence with the big card order, I started to visualize how I would direct my card business - what I really wanted from it. I pondered what it would feel like to be someone else stumbling upon my cards for the first time. I suddenly had ideas for new illustrations and different card lines I wanted to experiment with in the future. I thought of it as a long-term venture where I would have fun trying lots of different things and seeing what worked.

The paintings I've been showing throughout this post are by a German artist named Michael Sowa. His work is cute but unusual, absurd and artfully created, and each painting contains an entire world.

Painting by Michael Sowa

I discovered his art at a store in Rochester, NY (my hometown) called Poster Art. Every time I went in, I would find myself attracted to a postcard and then I'd turn the card over and see his name. This is what I want with my cards - to be that thing you discover unexpectedly, that charms you and inspires you to imagine. To be a little peek into a larger world. I hadn't thought of selling my cards in this way before. I thought of them as another outlet for the art I already make, as well as an approach to affordably get my work into the hands of many people while making some revenue. But thinking of the cards in this other way made them magical - elevated them to something that could truly impact people, even in a small way.

Tigerhasse by Michael Sowa

It's wonderful to feel excited about life after a period where you didn't even know you felt a bit numb. I want to follow that excitement and see where it leads. Even if it gets scary sometimes.

Join me for more notecard shenanigans in "Adventures in Selling, Part Two," coming soon!