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Monday, April 21, 2008

Thinking Big

While doing the Smithsonian Craft Show last week, I was able to take an hour to visit the Helen Williams Drutt Jewelry Collection exhibit at the Renwick Gallery Museum of Fine Craft. It's an understatement to say I was absolutely blown away by the collection of art jewelry she has collected over the past 40 years.

After looking at the breath-taking jewelry pieces made by many different artists, what I came away with more than anything is the question "Why don't I think that big?" By thinking big, I don't mean big in scale, although that can be part of it, but rather big in idea, or big in elaborateness, big in complexity, big in the amount of time it takes to make it.

Unfortunately, sometimes we think that in order to make any money doing what we do, we have to do "affordable" work, or work that is popular. I'm not convinced that we have to think small in order to make a living and in fact, we may make a better living if we occasionally think "museum stuff" -- meaning work we would like to have in a museum or a conoisseur's collection someday.

I have seen so much unassuming polymer work -- little earrings, one small pendant on a cord, a bracelet made up of 10 or 12 beads. BORING. Not only would it never be in a major show, but people would not buy it for more than $5.00. Now it's fine to have some pieces that are affordable to the mainstream, but you also NEED pieces that are spectacular and even "pricey" to draw customers to your work. Also, there are people who only want to purchase spectacular pieces, and they don't want $5.00 earrings!

Thinking big takes risk. What if we spend all this time on one piece and it looks lousy when we're done? What if nobody likes it? I have created pieces that I was very excited about, but in the end didn't work out to my liking. But the next piece -- or the piece after that -- succeeded and in the end it was worth taking the risk to learn and develop. Everything worthwhile in life requires risk.

Thinking big takes work. I have once or twice taken a couple of months to make a piece, from sketching, planning, working it out and perfecting. Some of the pieces in the Renwick exhibit, however, I know took more than a couple of months just to work out the idea. Some of us are just not that interested in really putting a lot of work into something, we're a little lazy. Well, unless you are willing to work at it you'll just have to realize that your work will never be that good and you may not be as successful financially or artistically as you might like. That's OK, you just have to understand that.

Thinking big also takes perseverence. I've realized over 30 years of working at it that yes, being an artist takes some talent. But far more than that it takes passion and perseverence. Just keep making things, just keep doing it, just keep working and the ideas will come, you'll keep getting better and better!

As I'm writing this, I'm saying it to myself, even though I know it all already. I need to Think Big!


C. Ann Ross said...

Hello Kathleen!
I am glad that there is now an endorsement of BIG!

I have been making jewelry and lamps/home decor of Polymer Clay that are certainly both BIG and complicated; as you know from seeing some of my work while we were in Istanbul at the International Bead Convention last November :))) What a great adventure that was!

Donna Kato included a pic of some of my jewelry on her blog about the Istanbul trip. Also, for those who might be interested in seeing examples of what they can do BIG with PC; the website for the Artel Gallery in Pensacola, FL has posted some of my larger pieces.

I am looking forward to seeing what the "community" comes up with now that the trend for BIG is being presented to inspire the mainstream's participation.

I am scheduled to teach Polymer Clay at our local college this Fall. One of the classes is on techniques for constructing LARGE, complicated projects.

So, the near future could see some new faces prepared to make BIG (it can be a bit tricky as PC is so breakable when it is fresh from the oven.) You are welcome to attend :)))

Please keep in touch.
C. Ann Ross

Enkhe said...

Congratulations for the Smithsonian Craft Show award!
Thank you so much for that article!
Now I am able to think BIG even I am new for this media and even it is not such easy. I really thought about it lately and stopped doing beads that could be interested by no one. But I wasn't brave enough to think big like you say.
Please inspire us with your great articles very often! Thank you!

Bella Ornamento said...

I especially like your comment
"I have done pieces that I was very excited about, but in the end didn't work out to my liking. But the next piece, or the piece after that was really good and in the end it was worth taking the risk."

Polymer clay (and sometimes marriage) is like waffles. Sometimes your greatest success comes after you throw the first one away.

Thanks for all your great posts.

Jael said...

Your work, and now your words, inspire me.

I tend to think small. I find myself afraid to put my work out there, the work that is in my heart dieing to come out, for fear of rejection.

I'll take your words to heart. So far to go....

Janis said...

You are so right Kathleen!

Laura said...

Thank you, Kathleen, for the inspiring words. Often, I think about going big, but it never materializes. I think I might try taking your inspirational words as a contest for myself to go deeper than the simple boundries I wade in.

Adair Artist said...

I love your handbags and your thoughts.

ilngal said...

Kathleen, I was amazed at your artistry when I found your link on the PMA show website. I have recently found my creative passion in metalsmithing and hope to aspire to gallery craftmanship. This is my focus and you have confirmed that the path I have choosen has already paid off. I don't ever want the creative process to end! My girlfriend and I did our first juried show in Sisters, Oregon. I create one of a kind jewelry which was a bit higher end than most. The response that I received was incredible, especially from the other artists. They encouraged me to stay on my path and were inspired themselves. Unfortunately, we all have to make a living and many have fallen in the trap of mass producing and they have lost the joy. My sales were not as great as my girlfriend who came up with a simple necklace of two linked rings on a commercial chain with a wonderful poem. It was a hit for 35.00 and she was mass producing from the time she woke up before the show, during the show and when we got home. Her sales we great... and if making money was her main reason for creating jewelry... she suceeded. Someone told her that she needed to continue making this because everyone else wanted them. Sure we all want to be able to make some profit for our time... but at what expense?

Thank you for your aspiring words. We all need positive affirmations to remind us once in awhile. Congrats to being a new Grandmother! The love for your grandchildren is like no other love! You are an amazing woman! Sincerly, Stella Rose

nannypie said...

When I first saw your work/ visited your website, I was in AWE of your talent. Quite literally--it brought me to tears. I have a love affair with polymer clay--but it doesn't love me (we're just getting to know each other, but it's a one-sided affair).
I am EXTREMELY artistic; know i have excellent (and expensive) taste in fashion and art and can appreciate the talent and LONG hours that go into your work, but no matter how many books or supplies i buy or how many nights i fall asleep with my face in a pile of mistakes: I can never hope to be able to produce even magazine-ready pieces, let alone anything of the caliber that comes out of the right side of your brain; your professional touch and....your magic oven.
For that reason, I have to say--I take offense to your $5 earring remark (that you...not so smoothly... tried to soften for the "little people".) Perhaps it's time that you not only thought "Big"--but thought "small"--and remembered what it was like when you were proud of your smallest achievements. I'll just BET that you, too, have sold a few $5 earrings--once upon a time.
The irony of your work is that--those gold-plated clients and disposable celebrities who can afford your handbags don't APPRECIATE your work as much as that poor, struggling PC 'wannabe' artist--pumpin' out her $5 earrings. Does the glitterati understand the difference between PC and...(heaven forbid!)...plastic?! Probably not. And...would they--like US (fellow artists)--lovingly, and tenderly wrap one of your Dustin Originals in a cloud of protective love and place it gingerly in a spot where we could gaze upon its intricacies and details and drink in its subtle detail and admire each delicate shift in shading and color? or would it end up in a pile of "last season"s discards--just one more trinket on the VISA...and on the floor of the closet?
I'm sorry, Kathleen--and everyone else who's reading this and thinking "WHO does she think she is?!--if you are offended by my comments. But...I just want to remind you of where you (may) have come from and say that "we $5 earring ladies may not be able to afford your work, but we're doin' the very best we can at our level and WE are your TRUE fans. "Time and Effort" are not the equations that separate us. You are in a different orbit that only the truely gifted can follow. We KNOW how long it takes to do what you do; we KNOW your time is worth every penny you charge and we can't wait to see the next amazing thing you create. (Just don't step on us to do it.)

Adrienne Dinopoulos said...

"Nanniepie"...your comments were well written and true to your heart. Thanks for defending us "$5" people!...and I am definitely NOT offended by these comments...

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