Approaching Normal…but never quite getting there

I’m from a family of non-artists. Actually, a town of non-artists. Not only did we not know any artists, nobody knew anyone who knew an artist. Consequently, a kid who spent all her free time drawing and doodling (moi) was a strange ranger.

Other habits set me apart. I was always looking at the ground, not because I was shy, but because I was a natural hunter-gatherer. I acquired a huge collection of rocks, driftwood bits and pretty shells early on. (Want to see my Petoskey stone collection?)

I collected other things, too. The best present I ever got was a huge box of pretty wrapping paper scraps and bits of ribbon from a family friend. Oh, and a Jon Gnagy “Learn to Draw” kit. My mother thought there was something wrong with a child whose closet was full-to-bursting with boxes of rocks, shells, mouse bones, the afore-mentioned ribbon, car-squashed bottle caps, rusty nails, pretty buttons, bits of fabric and foil wrappers from candy bars. (Not the candy bars. Just the foil wrappers.)

At college, I began to get glimmers of what I was. I roomed in a house with an artist once. I saw his room. He had shelves full of stones, driftwood, pretty shells. (No ribbon, though.) Hmmmm…

I found my real calling after I had children. Wanting them to be their “true selves” encouraged me to do the same. I began to make stuff with those buttons and pretty fabrics.
I did my first show, met other “real” artists, and felt like I’d finally found my tribe. I thought, “These are my people!”

Now I do fewer shows. I work in isolation, with unusual media and forms. Most of my art friends I’ve met online. We talk and email a lot. But we don’t see each other, or our studios, or our work, very often.

That sneaking suspicion—that I’m different—returns.

Do other artists buy more beads and fabric than they could possibly use in ten lifetimes? Do they buy weird stuff like odd rusty metal, old typewriters and vintage radio resistors just because they’re “so cool”?

Do other artists go years without cleaning their studio, working around towering piles of materials, only clearing the decks when forced to by an impending Open Studio Tour? (Why did I buy twenty boxes of vintage radio resistors??)

Do other artists decide they need a variable-speed jeweler’s drill, complete with foot control and the bajillion little drill attachments? And just before they order, while stashing said towering piles of materials in the attic, do they find the unopened box with said really cool drill in it that they bought last year??

Do other artists get great ideas for framing their work, and over a period of months, acquire dozens and dozens of frames? Only to abandon the idea and get a great idea for something else?
Do other artists sit down happily to work, thinking they have a few hours of creative free time, only to suddenly realize a) their next show isn’t three weeks away, it’s next week? b) and they forgot to order new halogen bulbs for their lights); c) they’re three days late on their column they’re supposed to write; d) they owe another artist a thank-you note for sending them instructions on how to make those fabulous beads I…er…they…were asking about; or e) it’s their 26th wedding anniversary and they forgot to do anything about it?

The answer to these questions, of course, is a) yes; b) yes, many people forget things until the last minute, according to the light bulb guy I call; c) yes; d) yes; and e) yes, because my husband forgot, too. (He’s also a creative type, though of the neat variety. Darn him!)
I recently visited an online forum where everyone posted their messy studio photos. Heavens to Betsy—they look like mine! (Some were even worse.)

I de-clutter my studio. I post stuff on FreeCycle.org, a community-based recycling website. Another artist is doing the same. Yet she snags my stuff. “But aren’t you clearing out yourself?” I ask her. “Yeah, but your stuff is cool!” she exclaims.

I confess to a jeweler friend about almost buying a drill and forgetting I already had one. “Oh!” she exclaims, “I do that all the time!”

I tell a painter about my frames. “Painters do that all the time!” she assures me. “We think we’ve found the perfect frame, and we buy a ton of them. And then we find the next perfect frame…. Painters always have a million frames lying around.”

Hmmmm. Maybe I am normal…for an artist!TCR

craft-matters-luann-udellLuann Udell is a fiber, polymer and mixed-media artist. For more information on Luann and her work, visit her website and her blog.

Luann Udell

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