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There's no such thing as a born writer. It's a skill you've got to learn. You've got to write X number of words, before you can write anything that can be published, but nobody is able to tell you how many words that is. You will know when you get there, but you don't know how long it will take. -- Larry Brown
The buyers of my cards have all been working women. I read today that there are 57 million working women in the US. How do I reach them?
Tomorrow, I leave on a trip to take pictures for my card business. I need source pictures for my paintings, and this should be a good opportunity to gather as many images as I can. I want to return home with a camera chock full of pictures.
My last sale was 9 cards to a woman who manages a pool of administrative assistants. Why 9 cards and not a dozen?
She went to my cards web site and saw that by buying 9, she would get a quantity discount and save $6, which is like getting two cards for free.
So how do I reach them? How do I invite them to have the color-rich, personal, affordable, portable art that I offer?
That's the question I'll have in my head over the next 5 days. Time to work on the dream...
Nothing feels so secure as knowing who you are and what it is that you should do and that you can do it. That confidence emanates from within. It's pretty cool.
My cross-country trip cemented a lot of things for me. The cards I should paint now seem obvious and the words come easily and I feel pulled to my drafting table to paint them and complete them. Next up is a card about faith... not religious faith. You'll understand when you see it. Should be done this weekend.
At the suggestion of a friend, I drove all over looking for a church in a meadow. Pretty scene, but not to be found in my travels. I have a few more leads here at home. Don't know the words for that one yet, but they will come.
I'm also queuing up my next camera shots. I've reached out to some folks to be models, or for their kids to be models. I know the scene I need. I understand the lighting. It's all falling into place.
I know that the next year will focus heavily on getting a slew of cards painted and printed. I've found my voice and now I want to sing all the time.
"Faith is often just putting one foot in front of the other..."
Thankfully, the terror plot to explode planes as they fly over American cities was foiled. Once again, Islamic Jihadists conjured up this murderous idea. Do the math... 12 planes with about 400 passengers each. That would have been 4,800 dead, plus those on the ground killed from the debris.
The way I'm afraid it is going to end is with another one of these negotiated peace agreements which will be used by radical Islam to do nothing more than to regroup, re-strength, re-arm, and become stronger until they find the time is right, usually at the instructions of Iran, to launch yet another attack on the west.
Want crime in your neighborhood to stop? You kick the ass of the criminals bringing crime to your neighborhood and lock them up. You don't sit around and negotiate peace with them. Murderers don't respect sissies. They respect guns. So let's speak their language - in spades.
When would-be murderers begin to respect the lives of those around them, that's when we should have any respect for their life. Until then, it's war.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: But, here we have maybe 24 people who have lived in London and England and the free world for all these years that become citizens, subjects of the Crown, and yet, after having gotten to know us, they want to kill themselves to hurt us. Isn’t that an even deeper conundrum here than the chemicals being used in these attacks.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: And that, Chris, that last aspect, the willingness to take one’s own life. I always tell people there are guys on our team like that, too. They’re called Army Rangers and Navy Seals and the Special Forces folks and the first responders on 9/11 who went into those buildings knowing, by the way, they weren’t going to come out. So we have players like that on our team.
The difference, of course, is the huge gulf between the murderers not trying to save the life of anyone and those trying to save lives. But Williams only sees that we too "have players like that on our team." And of course, he always tells people that.
To draw an equivalency at all is to have lost any moral compass whatsoever. Williams, the anchor, has no anchor.
Started the next painting. They never look like much at first...
But as I paint, I can feel the details as I stroke it out. I could feel the trees, for example. Hard to describe, but I'll pull them from the painting as I get further into it.
I came back to Iowa with my son, Aaron, today. I spent the last two days in Minneapolis on business. I picked him up from his summer with his mom and as I drove home, I spotted something for which I'd been searching for quite some time now at mile marker 2 in Minnesota on I-35.
For those of you who've wanted me to rediscover religion, no, I haven't found a church for me. In fact, I find it funny that there's a "WRONG WAY" sign in the picture.
But a friend has been after me to paint a picture of a church in a meadow. I respect her direction - it's usually right on - so while driving across the US, I looked feverishly for such a church. (I probably have no less than 30 pictures of churches in my camera right now.) But this picture is about as close as I've found to the church I had in my head. I can create a meadow around it, so at some point down the road, I'll tackle this. But at least I found my church. To paint, of course...
(An old joke with the punchline, "Repaint, and thin no more," springs to mind. Aren't you glad that I shared that with you?)
When I first started painting, I found that concrete wasn't just gray. It was blue in one section of the painting and brown in another. That was a step in the right direction. Today, I see things quite differently. Last night, I worked on painting a road and saw pretty much every color but black and gray in the asphalt.
I can feel the texture of the road and the sunlight that hits it. I'm not quite done with it, but the road is almost where I want it to be.
I'm reading the book "Tipping Point," which gives us the science of epidemics as it relates to marketing. General premise: a few small things can make huge differences. Very well written and researched, I like its approach and observations. Good book.
I took the strengths survey a long time ago for work, and of my top five, the one that gives me the most fits is "Activator," which is the strength of being impatient for action. It's a strength in that once I make a decision, I drive like hell to go in that direction. It's a weakness in that once I decide I'm not going in the right direction, I generally hit the brakes and determine a new direction. What I lose in that is the subtlety of being "close." It might be that my initial direction was generally right, but that I need to slightly adjust it and proceed. Not a new direction, but a tweak.
Such grave redirections have left others with whiplash. I need to learn to be more subtle and to communicate my direction better. That way those who ride with me can anticipate what I'm doing. My old friend, Steve Neal, once told me that driving with me wasn't so much driving as careening. It's hell on my passengers.
I've sketched the runner and I've picked the words, font, and color.
Some have asked me if I paint the words. No... I don't imagine that anyone could be that adept at calligraphy with acrylics and a skinny stick with camel hair on the end of it. I add the words via my computer after scanning the painting.
The question: do I like it better in bold?
ETC: After consulting with my expert advisors (my two teenage sons), we all agree that right-justified and no bold is best.
If you guessed a sunflower, you would be right. I know it doesn't look like a sunflower, but it's currently buried under the white. I have to unearth it with my brush. But in the meantime, I just love the color blue.
Between Tamara and my mom and the art gallery guy, I'm nearly convinced to change the price of my cards to $3.99 per card from the $2.99 that they are right now. If I do that, then I would restructure the tiered pricing to a quantity break at a dozen ($2.29 per card, which would be like getting 5 cards for free) and $1.79 per card at 50 or more, which of course is less than half the price. That should motivate people to buy in quantity!
So I'm thinking about it...
My goals in this are:
Make my art affordable to anyone.
Make my cards competitive in the market.
Allow me to make a living by my art.
Hiking the price to $3.99 doesn't conflict with any of this. I'm small enough today that I can make this decision without upsetting too many folks. And the cards are huge (5½" x 8½"). Similarly sized cards are $4 and $5. The extra margin will make it more attractive to retailers because I can give them a larger cut and this can give me more room for any surprise costs in the future that I don't know today.
I have one slight logistics issue if I choose to do this. My cards have the $2.99 price printed on the back, but I could fix that by using the $2.99 cards for quantity purchases only and I could reprint all of the cards with the $3.99 price and use those in retail locations. Plus, it might give me an opportunity to get words on some of my previous cards.
The tweak is stronger than a new direction. So I'll tweak; decision made.
Sometimes, we do things that make no sense to others because it is the very thing that we need to do. It might appear selfish to others. It might appear stupid. But it's what we need to do. To do it is to be true to who we are.
It might be a business venture. We spend money in pursuit of a dream that we have. "Foolish," others might charge to our actions. "Harebrained scheme. A waste of time and money." Nonetheless, it's what we need to do. It's in our soul. And so we pursue it, and in the pursuit we learn that thing that we had to learn.
"I knew it wouldn't work out," we hear. "What the hell was he thinking?"
But the pursuit satisfied a need deep within, cynics be damned.
Some folks might abandon the chase and give up. Others might decide it was the wrong direction and turn to something else and try again.
But the smart ones, I think, study quietly what went wrong, and then retool their effort, and dive in again, if passion is their motive.
Sometimes, we do the thing that makes no sense. It's risky. But it feels right, and we ignore everyone else and go for it.
Security starts with knowing who we are and knowing what we need. The insecure need someone else to tell them these things and validate and affirm who they are. The secure drive ahead, regardless of what others say. It doesn't matter. They know what they need to do. And they do it. No amount of ridicule or cynicism can stop them because they don't hear anyone else.
As I've been discovering words, I've started reworking some of my cards that didn't sell much, where it made sense to do so. For "Front Porch," I've added the words, "Home is where you're loved." And for "April," I've added "Life's simplest pleasures are worth the time to enjoy." Inside that card, it says, "Remember to take time for yourself!" In both cases, I think it takes some nice pictures and gives them a context that makes it more obvious why you would send the card to someone.
Johnnie emailed me last night and suggested that I go with $3.49 per card. It's not that the cards aren't worth $3.99, but there is a psychological barrier at certain price points. I agree. After tax, that's still a card for less than $4.00, and so $3.49 will be the new price.
Others have been telling me for some time that I need to have mini cards. I went searching and found an envelope size suitable for such a thing, and got the quote back from the printer to have these printed up. The size will be 2¾" x 3½", which is quite a bit smaller than my cards now at 5½" x 8½". It's exactly half the cost of printing the large cards to print these smaller cards. So here's a matrix of the price points:
Large Card, single
Large Card, dozen
Large Card, 50-pack
Small Card, single
Small Card, dozen
I'm tweaking the direction. I've set the first six mini cards, to be sold in dozen packs mostly, and I think I'll have the printer get 1,200 ready by some time next week.
I also need to reprint my other cards with the $3.49 price on them, and with words, where they've been added.
Lots of money goes into this little venture. But I'm believing, so I'll keep walking toward it.
I went to the Saturday Des Moines Farmer's Market this morning with my friend, Tamara. Saw a few people we know from work and ate some cool foreign dishes. I bought banana bread, pumpkin bread, flowers to paint, and strawberry jam. All good stuff.
Saw the cutest little girl there...
Ain't she a picture?
And some other nice flowers... I love the look of the guy on the right.
I spoke with with a woman named Courtney. She's one of the folks who run the Farmer's Market. I asked how to go about getting a seasonal slot in the market next year. If I can get in, every Saturday morning, that's where I'll be during summer 2007. It should be good exposure for getting my stuff out there.
Based on my trip driving across the US and the notion of showing up at the Farmer's Market, what if I traveled the country later in an RV and went from show to show, city to city, promoting my art and cards? Gee, I can think of worse ways to spend my time.
Later, I stopped at the Art Store and got some replacement brushes. I typically use three brushes with acrylics, and I felt as though mine were getting about to the place where I might consider new ones.
The ones on the right are the old ones, and the ones on the left are the new ones that I just purchased.
While at the Art Store, I also got a Golden color chart, which is actual swatches of their paints. I love Golden Heavy Body Acrylics. Best paint out there, by far. (I know this because I tested them.)
I've decided that once in a while I'll introduce something for which I'm excited and link it to Amazon. Today, it's Fabio Biondi's Vivaldi, and here's a clip to follow below. Great stuff, and it will be my painting music as I continue work on the sunflower.
A little more... still rough sketch work. I think I'll do a lot later with my small brush to blend in the petals.
Someone found my web site the other day and saw the first day of my "Faith" painting. Heather commented that she didn't get my painting and thought it looked freaky. It didn't look like faith to her. She's right - at that stage, it certainly didn't. Everything looks kindergarten at first. I probably need to find some way of saying that it's step 1 of 9 steps, or something. I like telling the story, but I need to let people know that it is a story. With an ending, you know.
I've been reading Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point. In it, he talks about a concept called Broken Windows, which is the idea that if we "clean up the sidewalk every day, the tendency is for litter not to accumulate - or for the rate of littering to be much less." People tend toward civility more than they want to contribute to lawlessness if their environment is orderly. As Napoleon put it, "A man becomes a creature of his uniform." New York City found that by getting rid of the grafitti and by fixing the broken windows, crime subsided during the 1990's.
The axiom would be: take any system that appears broken, and set high standards within the environment that houses the system, and odds are that the system's defects will decrease.
My first manager was Frank, when I worked at Friday's. No idea where Frank is today, but his motto was, "Standards, bro." If a table was wobbly and lacked a wobble-stopper, then he would simply pull the chair. The rest of the restaurant was similarly treated. When he interviewed me for the job of busboy, he asked, "How fast do you run the hundred yard dash?" That was Frank. Under his leadership, we were Store of the Quarter for the entire Friday's chain for two or three quarters in a row.
The axiom being: the higher our standards, the less likely defects will find their way into the system.
That may seem obvious, but think about it. We will live in a world increasingly flat and devoid of recognized leadership. In order for standards to be implemented, we need to recognize a leader who is unafraid to issue standards for behavior and we need to respect that leader enough to live up to the standards. This implies a culture and organization. But this is the age of the multicultural. It is the age of transience and loose affiliations.
How do we set standards today? By example, assuming that others will esteem us enough to follow our lead?
I don't know, but I'll be thinking a lot about this in the coming weeks.
ETC: I watched The King and I over the weekend. This is a great case in point about standards. Leaders establish culture and to the degree that a leader is recognized by those he/she leads, those who follow will adhere to the culture. The king's servants all dropped prostate to the floor in the presence of the king. Anna, not being a servant, didn't recognize some of what the king said and while she treated him with respect, she more treated him as a peer than as a king. At the end of the film, the king's son, who was taught by Anna and becomes the new king, proclaims that people will no longer bow to the floor in the king's presence, but instead show respect and hold their head and chin high. New culture.
Standards are not just declared by a leader, but we declare standards in our own life as well. These run across many axes, such as appearance, manner, work ethic, how we care for our body, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. (Sorry - couldn't resists that.)
I was reading Tom Peters over the weekend and in one of his slides, he gives the 3 E's. Tom, back in the 80's, wrote "In Search of Excellence." Today, he insists that we personally have the standard for ourselves of Enthusiasm, Execution, and Excellence - the 3 E's. Said another way, passionately get it done with the highest quality.
What is a standard? Something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model, example, or point of reference. Notice that there is no hint of the level of quality there. A standard is a bar. It's what is acceptable. We hear of people with high standards and we hear of people with no standards. What do we expect of ourselves? What's the minimum?
Do we wear white shoes after Labor Day? Do we iron our clothes? McDonald's or Outback? Daily exercise or never exercise? Sir and Ma'am? Swear words? All of these fit into our standards for ourselves and what we expect of others and what we believe others expect of us. Standards define culture. They are rules, the bright lines of behavior and lifestyle. They determine how we conduct ourselves and how we raise our children.
At work, we like to have the expectations of us written down as a point of reference. Do we do this for ourselves? And do we hold ourselves accountable to it if we fail? Is it okay for standards to be a bit squishy? If they are squishy, are they truly standards? Or are standards always non-negotiable?
I almost made a $300 error today. I authorized the printing of my small cards and this morning I went to order the envelopes and discovered that I had misread the size of the envelopes. So I stopped the presses (whew!) and avoided paying for product I couldn't sell.
I came home and found that I could obtain 4" x 4" cards, and though they looked good, it felt wrong to me. I'm pretty smitten with the idea of selling a dozen little cards for $11.88. So I scoured the web and found a site that offers little envelopes in odd sizes. This size is very close to the one I first thought I had. I've re-created the cards to the size of 2½" x 3½". This is business card size, but a little taller.
Order submitted, and once I see the proofs, I'll order the envelopes. (UPDATE: I've replaced the pictures below with snapshots of the proofs, and I added one more card: the sunflower.)
Mercy... I'm glad it worked out as it did, although I think I've driven my poor printer nuts.
Oh, and in a bit of good news... at work, it looks as if I'll be working on a marketing project, and frankly, I couldn't be happier about it. I get to listen, react, write, invite, engage, promote, and educate. Right up my alley. Life is great!
Went to the Des Moines Farmer's Market again today with Tamara, and here's what it looked like for us adults:
My sons tagged along. Their perspective is completely different.
The Farmer's Market is an interesting place. You see some normal scenes there:
And then there are some unfortunate scenes.
I did manage to capture a bunch of pictures though to finish my big painting, which is what I'm doing next. I'm tired of looking at it sit and collect dust in my bedroom on my easel.
Since I will have a table in the Farmer's Market next summer, I might paint some big paintings of scenes from the market and sell them next year. Might be an interesting way to garner some attention to my work.
One of my favorite books is Five Star Mind, which has a somewhat arrogant title for such a humble book. The subtitle is "Games and Puzzles to Stimulate Your Creativity and Imagination," but that completes misses the point of the book. Released in 1995, it was a pre-cursor to Aha! and A Whack on the Side on the Head. It's a book on how to approach life from new angles and arrive at new creative vistas. It's engaging and fun to read.
Tom Wujec, the author, says this about creative tension.
To be creative is to take a risk. Every new beginning - it could be an essay, a symphony, a computer program, a business plan - is as hard and as chancy as every other beginning. Starting a creative endeavor calls upon our courage to put something of ourselves on the line. For some people, the spontaneous drawing exercise is very challenging. They can't get used to the feeling of not knowing what they are going to do before they do it. And for other people, the exercise is liberating and exciting - it's a chance to let ideas flow out of the without inhibition.
Because we experience a chorus of moods throughout any given day, there will be times when we confront uncertainty, anxiety, and the dragon of fear. Great creative individuals don't have any less fear when they stare at the blank canvas or catch a glimpse of the audience before the performance. In fact, they probably feel more. But what distinguishes them is that they consistently engage their fear, put it aside for a while, or step boldly into the heart of it, turning anxiety into energy. Action transforms fear into vitality.
The feeling of doing something without knowing where it may lead you is something a creative person learns to tolerate, appreciate, and love. The seasoned creative individual can be uncertain of where he or she is going while at the same time be certain that the destination - wherever it may be - will be interesting. [Emphasis mine.] The less seasoned creative individual feels lost and disoriented in creative tension. With a need for quick resolve and closure, they lose sight of the need for the periodic mucking about in the dark to produce something of value.
Marvin Minsky from the M.I.T. artificial intelligence lab believes that tolerating displeasure is not only an integral part of the creative process, but central to learning it. He writes, "In the early stages of acquiring any really new skill, a person must adopt at least a partly antipleasure attitude.: 'Good, this is a chance to experience awkwardness and to discover new kinds of mistakes!' It is the same for doing mathematics, climbing freezing mountain peaks, or playing pipe organs with one's feet. Some parts of the mind find it horrible, while other parts enjoy forcing those first parts to work for them. We seem to have no words for processes like these, though they must be among our most important ways to grow."
Creative individuals tolerate and even thrive on this creative tension. I've seen people addicted to creative anxiety, who live in a perpetual state of turmoil, feeling continually restless, deprived, empty, and unbearably frustrated until they express their inner life in some creative way. Out of this chaos emerges something new and exhilarating.
Can we learn to enjoy feelings of tension and confusion? Certainly, in moderation. To believe fully in your ability to get things done, and at the same moment, to have doubts, isn't necessarily a contradiction. It is a way of walking through the creative uncertainties and managing your creative flame. Your confidence builds with every success. The more you solve problems, find ways out of dead ends and discover inspiration when you thought you had exhausted all possibilities, the more you encourage creative anxiety to stir up ideas rather than char them.
I highlighted the one section because I relate to that. I've said before, but it's true: every time I approach a painting I never feel as though I'm ready for it. I have some fear around it, particularly if it's going where I want it to go. The further I get into it and the more I have success, the more I'm afraid that I'll screw it up. But I have to be okay with that fear. In fact, we all do. Life is like that.
So are relationships. Our friendships in life take us by the hand and we have no idea where they will lead us. We explore, we learn, we grow through the experience. Think about this in terms of friendships:
[We] can be uncertain of where [we are] going while at the same time be certain that the destination - wherever it may be - will be interesting.
Do we "tolerate, appreciate, and love" embracing others in our lives and enjoy the moments that we have with them freely? Or do we throw expectations at them and then get mad when our expectations don't come to pass?
I think there is tension, to some degree, in all relationships. The more that we want from someone, the higher the tension. That tension is relaxed as the other person either agrees to and meets our expectations or as we let go of these expectations.
I think the best friendships have another kind of creative tension. We push each other and see life from the perspective of another in the most honest way and that tension pulls us to be more than we are. Beautiful moments can come out of that. Do we dare?
Tonight was a mindblower. If you read this site on a regular basis, you know that I've disagreed with Bella frequently in the comments section, and one of those lines of disagreement was over my cold, hard Rules of Life. "Meanie" was a term that she called me. But Bella knows me personally as a warm person. From where did this cold front originate? I once asked her the question, "Do you think my web site represents me?" and her response was "No." To know beatcanvas.com is not to know Brett. It's a side of me, to be sure, but not an accurate picture of me.
It was about five years back that I wrote up the Rules of Life list. It covers a lot of ground, everything from personal responsibility to business success to parenting and so on. The goal was to find axioms that, when applied, are universally true. It searched for principles and mathematical accuracy.
I went through that list with Tamara tonight, who was very honest with me. In reading the rules, some are spot on and I wouldn't change a thing, but others are simply wrong. In fact, after reading it, I came away realizing that I didn't recognize the person who wrote that. For some of these, I'd side with Bella on the accusation of "Meanie."
When I first separated from Jamie in 1992, I decorated my apartment in black and white. Later, when I got the divorce, I went to Wal-Mart with my daughter, Bari, and bought green plates and glasses. I remember thinking how beautiful those looked against my memory of the white ceramic plates with the black pinstripe border.
And I remember going back about a year later and buying a white plate with blue, yellow, and green flowered edges.
I've slowly introduced color into my life.
Interesting to me, if I fast-forward, is that I no longer use black in my paintings. What you see as black is either a dark green, dark purple, or a mixture of green, red, and blue. Or a complimentary color brown. But black, as a color, is never part of my palette any more.
What's more, being an artist now, I know that red isn't just red. It depends on the context. Red against blue is not the same as red against yellow, for example. It might have started out from the tube as the same color of red, but juxtaposed against a different backdrop of colors, it will appear differently. Check this out:
Notice how the red is lighter on the right than on the left. But it's the same red. (See this site for more fun with color illusions...)
Or how about this:
Yellow isn't just yellow any more. It's changed by what's behind it.
I'm reading Tipping Point, and it's getting into the importance of context in understanding epidemics. I'm noticing some synchronicity here. My vision is not large enough. I'm missing the context. Life is not formulaic. And so I look back on all the black and white decisions and conclusions I've determined and all of it is suddenly suspect.
I need to rethink and rewrite the list because I no longer draw in pencil - I now paint with colors. And I wonder: are there really any Rules of Life? I think color and context change everything.
I'm suddenly reminded of someone's quote: "I'm not young enough to know everything."
This one comes to mind too: "Knowing is the enemy of learning."
I get that. I feel remarkably naive. I'm glad for that.
I picked up the card proofs today from the printer.
They're just a little taller than business cards.
I should get all 1,400 on Friday. Of course, I've gotten cards from the printer before, but Chuck, the sales guy, made the comment today for the first time that he finds my work very emotive and that he wants to buy my cards.
That's the first time that a guy has made a move to buy my cards. Could it be?
When I first started my cards, I knew that 95% of all card buyers are women, which to me spoke of the opportunity that men present if I can find a way to tap into the market. These cards, small (heck, even tiny), don't intimidate, where my big cards do.
I get them home and my son, Aaron, says, "These are the perfect size for little kids. Like for party invitations."
Tamara and I spent part of the evening talking about packaging and marketing. She, being a most excellent seamstress, has some ideas that she wants to try. You go girl. Not my bailiwick.
I just love this card business. It's fun... it feels like I'm headed in the right direction.
ETC: The reaction I'm getting is good enough that I've created and ordered seven other designs, based on my work of course.