This was published in Ceramics Monthly in June of 2001 but it is still true.
Waking Up the Wish
by Delia Robinson
The old saw “be careful what you wish for” might sound worthless when planning a career in clay. It did to me but at last I believe in the power of the wish. In fact, I wish I had thought more about what I was wishing for, but my wishes seemed so innocuous. Basic wishes for health or happiness or worldly success, hardly threatening. And generally they were not, except for that last one. Success. Not just paying the rent, but having more orders than you can possibly fill without enlarging your business. Did I really want it? Do you want it?
In my youth, if a person did not seek success they were described as having “a fear of failure.” In my eyes, it seems much more reasonable to fear success. Failure seems comfy and relaxing in comparison. All aspects of success, though initially tasty, can slap you with some unwanted side effects which must be experienced to be believed.
That is the rub, as Hamlet so clearly stated. You must experience success yourself before you can say “I like it” or “not for me, thanks,” so you might as well make your wish right now and get things rolling.
How to make a wish come true? Hard work helps, love of what you are doing helps. In creating my life as an artist, at first I just I took the opportunities as they were presented, or did not. Later, I got more interested in the game and began to create the opportunities. It never occurred to me that I might not want what I was creating. I would plan each coming year like a military campaign, setting up shows and exhibits eons in advance, stacking my various successes into what proved to be a nice tight prison. Now as I mastermind the prison break needed to access new levels of creativity, I am reviewing the procedures that served me in the past.
There are many techniques to ease the birth of a dream. For most of us, the first step, recognizing ambition, can be can be very awkward, even embarrassing. Allowing ones true, perhaps overly rambunctious ambitions out of the box seems shameful. Though difficult, it is necessary. You probably won’t get there if you don’t acknowledge where you want to go.
That other old saw, “Hitch your wagon to a star” describes the thought process needed here. Recognize all the highest stars in your daydreams of success. In the world of clay, this can be much higher that it might have been ten years ago, so don’t hold back. Aim high. Now jot your ideas down in an inexpensive notebook.
Wild and reckless journaling, on a daily basis, is best for revealing wild and reckless ambitions. Daily wish lists, musings, diagrams, and plots on how to accomplish each wish should be written rapidly, thoughtlessly, and regularly. Ongoing daily effort is required to uncork this bottle, but it does it pay off.
I am not talking about keeping the dull “dear diary, today I didn’t do much” sort of journals that we kept padlocked as children. Our real dreams are potent, hot enough to melt any padlock. When you are done, the paper should smell scorched.
Notebooks for random jottings, ideas, and sketches should always be be at hand. By the bed, in ones satchel or purse, in the car. Oddly enough, reading your notes is not necessary. Just writing them down, madly, rapidly, is enough. Just do it. Don’t be concerned if it is overly spicy, irreverent, or hasty. Before long ideas and dreams will flow like water. You will begin to see what you want to accomplish and how you might do it.
I discovered through this process that having a solo show was one of my dreams. I talked to other artists and always got the same advice; send out slides. I got some expensive slides but before I sent them I visited the gallery I had my eye on. Poking my head into their inner sanctum, I saw a corner desk completely obscured by mountains of slides in carousels and plastic sleeves. I winced. I certainly did not want my precious slides to end up in that heap.
More mad scribbling in the journal was needed to solve this problem. I jotted down all my observations. The fact was, I noted, slides are a big pain. In this case, as opposed to a jury, there was no deadline to spur things along. Someone, when they had a minute, or more likely a month, would have to correctly put the slides into carousels, not backwards or upside down, then set up a projector and a screen, darken a room, watch the slides, and take notes in the dark, observing that they LOVED my work, to the exclusion of all others. Who would do this? It sounded like too much to wish for.
After more scribbling, a solution began to come into focus. I sent one beautiful slide off to be made into color postcards. On the back was my name, a brief description of the work, and how to reach me. I sent it out.
I imagined various gallery directors flipping through their mail and throwing all the unsolicited letters in the trash unopened. Then they came to my postcard. Nothing was required of them, the image was right in front of their eyes. As they tossed it in the trash, perhaps they would catch a glimpse of my name. In six weeks when another lovely post card arrived, I imagined them shuffling again through the mail, pausing and thinking “I know this work.” This time, they might also think “ I know that name.” Based on the sporadic twitching of my own brain, I figured they would already have forgotten that they knew my work only because I had sent them a card. They might even set the card on the desk to enjoy the image and later call and ask me to give them a show.
And it worked. From the wish, to the scribbling, to the practical reality. In fact, I got more shows than I wanted. In accepting them I never asked the right questions. Do they have references so you can be assured they are not a bunch of crooks? Will there be an opening? Who pays if you have to travel to an opening, who buys the wine and chips, how do you get unsold work back, when will you be paid for sold work? The question of who pays for advertising the show isn’t worth asking. Privately plan to do your own version of public relations to augment whatever they say they will do.
Press releases to newspapers and other publications are free . The format is as follows.
“Press release- For Immediate Use.” Date.
Short article, often printed as is.
“Contact person” -your name and number
If a photo (that card again) is included, it will generally be printed. The lead time in many publications is glacial so plan ahead. A countdown to do-list is helpful and allows you to pace yourself. For the card to be printed, plan an eight week lead time, send the information to newspapers four weeks ahead of time, mail your announcements three weeks before the show, that sort of thing.
For the show get another post card printed, now with the show dates and information. Do not used tricky unreadable fonts. You want your name legible from 50 paces. One excellent company who advertises in CM will make you 500 high quality cards for $100.
I can hear you screaming “ 500 CARDS!!!” Even with the extensive mailing list of buyers and galleries which you have assembled and are updating regularly (get mailing lists from galleries, from friends, from arts organizations, from advertisements in glossy magazines), you will probably not approach 500 cards. Fear Not. Everyone loves postcards. Give them away at the show and let the gallery patrons continue your advertising campaign at their expense.
Keep things in perspective. At this point you have spent nothing on wishes, a few dollars on notebooks, and several hundred dollars on cards and postage. One meager advertisement in the local paper costs more than that. From this mailing, if you select appropriately, you will get more shows and may start to attract big name collectors. When The Queen of England buys your creamer for her tea, you should not miss a beat. Send out a press release.
This might sound outrageously self promoting, or in my case “blowing ones own whistle,” since that is what I make, but keep in mind that NO ONE ELSE IS GOING TO DO IT. You are creating the atmosphere in which your success will grow . So do it as medicine and await the rewards. Some of the nicer benefits of apparent success are that you get asked to be in shows without jurying, or be on panels, or to teach interesting workshops, or have your work included in museum exhibits. Isn’t that worth the price of a few postcards?
Be creative. Be playful. Try some warm ups to get in practice. For instance, get an empty shopwindow for an exhibit. Ask your legislators if they showcase products made in your state in their offices in Washington D.C. and when can you have a turn. Train your eye to look for display cases in unusual high traffic venues; airports, city halls, foyers of office buildings. I once had a traveling show that only went to libraries but my favorite show ever was in a cathedral. The work looked radiant in spotlit cases in the huge dark church, everything sold, and many terrific things came to me from the contacts made there. So keep your eyes and mind open for unexpected opportunities and don’t scorn little steps, they can lead to better things.
There are a million roads to your dream but the wish comes first. Acknowledge it. Then set your compass and get going!