I was recently contacted by a woman named Debbie, who owns a sweet site called Work Your Art, asking if she could interview me for her Artist Spotlight series. The site is created specifically for creatives -- artists, designers, illustrators, etc. -- who are interested in learning more about marketing their work, how to use different social media platforms and various other online marketing tools. If you have an Etsy shop, for example, she has so much information for you (I do not have an Etsy shop, but if I did, I'm sure I'd gratefully dive into her advice)! There is so much to learn, in fact, that I've barely been able to scratch the surface other than to absorb a few of her free "Work it Weekly" tips and post my blog images to Pinterest (which has made a traffic difference here, amazingly).
Anyway, the original interview can be read at her site, or below. And it's at this point that I'd like to quick talk about voice ... not artistic voice, which is something I mention in the interview. What I'm talking about here is that mild embarrassment coupled with outright alarm that you feel when you hear your recorded voice played back to you. It's a different voice, right? That's not what I sound like. Is that really what I sound like?
So Debbie, has a very bubbly, life-of-the-party voice to her writing. Her whole site feels like this. Just based on her voice I know right away that she's the hostess who will meet me at the door barefoot with a toe ring and a perfect pedicure, wearing a gauzy floral maxi dress and holding a glass pitcher of sangria and a wooden spoon, while an entire Brazilian-themed pool party is in full swing out on the patio.
I, however, based on my voice in this interview, have clearly gotten lost on my way to the party (did I know it was a party?). I've arrived late, am wearing about 6 shades of black (hey, that sweater description was "heathered charcoal," okay?), sweaty boots and am now brooding in the corner with a glass of red wine (which will give me a headache later, oh, why do I drink it?), I don't know anyone and the conga line has left me in the dust. And my hair looks greasy.
I re-read this interview and want to say: Geez, lighten UP, Meissner. What a stick in the mud.
Obviously, I need to get out of the house more.
Hello there! What's your name and where do you live?
My name is Amy Meissner. I am an artist and writer living in Anchorage, Alaska.
What do you create? Are you currently selling (and if so, where can we find it)?
My writerly form is memoir and can be read via my blog, “Spontaneous Combustion” (www.amymeissner.com/blog). I have been a designer, painter and children’s book illustrator, but the current vehicle for my visual art is based on the quilt form. I sell through galleries (currently in Alaska only) and sales inquiries can be made directly through my website.
How would you describe your work?
I explore traditional sewing, and handwork techniques in a contemporary context, often drawn to the quilt for its ability to evoke a powerful narrative response for the viewer. A quilt is warm, nurturing and safe; my work explores fear, vulnerability and the fragility of family and childhood, using text and found objects to convey layers of meaning. This art form is the culmination of my life experiences -- painter, seamstress, pattern maker, illustrator, writer, mother, woman. I am reverent about the historic and handmade, and constantly wonder where these things fit into contemporary society lest they be forgotten completely.
Do you have a lot of competition in your field? What do you do to stand out from the crowd?
It seems to me that there are a lot of quilters, a lot of “art quilters,” a lot of artists and, of course, everyone is a writer. I try not to see others as competition because this will have the opposite effect on me than I think it should (paralyzing, not motivating). Instead, I see these overlapping circles as community. I’m not creating work that I’ve seen other people create and I don’t intend to. I’m very focused on my path, perhaps to my detriment (with the blinders and everything), but this has enabled me to work more efficiently for now. I have young children and there are days when I get no work done at all. At. All. I don’t have time to ponder or worry too much about competition when I’m hell-bent on my own production and the laundry and the dinner and the lunches and the laundry. Did I mention the laundry?
This is not to say that I’m not aware of what others are producing. I’m quite cognizant of other artists and their directions. I just work hard to not get swept up in trends or envy and I work deeply with the living questions that I have as an artist and a human.
What is the best compliment you’ve ever gotten about your work?
I received two descriptive comments about my blog recently — “meditative” and “nourishing.” In a sea of tossed-off blog posts (and I’m a latecomer to the blogging scene), I really strive to produce well-written and thoughtful work. If it’s not what I would be interested in reading, I don’t post. I’ll skip a week. I can’t tell you how many people have “stumbled” upon my site and expressed surprise at what they found there.
With regards to my artwork, I have to give a bit of history because the biggest complement I ever received was the catalyst for this current work. In 2013, I entered a competitive biennial juried show at the Anchorage Museum with a quilt called “Spontaneous Combustion.” It featured hand appliqued text on vintage domestic linens, hand embroidery and hand quilting. It took 3 years to complete, working on and off and around babies and diapers, and repeated the question, “Mama, what in this house can catch on fire?” in the same haunting way my son asked when he was 4 years old. The piece was a time capsule of my little family, from a period when I was absolutely in despair that I would never create art ever again, that I would never be myself again. This piece was my own spontaneous combustion as a mother, artist and woman. Reinvention.
It was awarded the Juror’s Choice Award and the museum subsequently purchased the piece for their permanent collection. This was more than a compliment, it was confirmation.
What usually inspires you to start creating something new?
My journey as a woman and a mother is the well that will never run dry. I listen to my children constantly, I observe them as they receive the world with wonder and I try to do the same or at least imagine what this was like once. I ask a lot of questions of myself and of the world and I read a lot, everything from young adult fiction to the New York Times to memoir to theory to the Rescue Princesses series. (Okay, that last one was so not my first choice).
Who is your favorite artist? What do you like about him/her?
I have admired Dorothy Caldwell’s work for years. Her textile work is vast and expansive, filled with the marks of presence and place. Mastery.
What kind of marketing are you currently doing for your creative business? Is it working out?
I am midway through an Artist Fellowship grant from the Rasmuson Foundation, which is allowing me time to produce art for a whole glorious year. I am doing the bare minimum in terms of marketing (a website, blog, Facebook Page, Pinterest…). I know this isn’t enough in the long term, but it’s what I can handle right now and still fiercely protect the time it takes to generate this kind of slow work, much of it done by hand. So, it’s working out, but just for now.
What is the number one tip you have for creatives in your niche that are just starting out?
Aside from the obvious “continue to develop your craft,” I suggest you identify your voice and hone your sense of place. Here’s what I mean by this:
I’m no expert at anything other than The Not Knowing, but therein lies my voice. And it is authoritative in that I am continually seeking clarity, making connections, applying experience and history to try and arrive at answers. When people feel a connection to a piece of writing or artwork — whether based on beauty, personal history or The Not Knowing — they do so because of the emotional truth of a piece. This creates the imagery that will not leave their minds.
Fourteen years in Alaska has done nothing more than create an even greater sense of awe for the vastness, sharp beauty and breathlessness of living here. My sense of place can be described as feeling lost beside that which towers overhead or stretches deep beneath the feet. It is fear-based and exquisite and fragile and never-ending. This informs the concepts I’m drawn to in my work.
What are the things you feel yourself struggling with?
Where to begin … is the work good enough? Am I supposed to be doing something else? Am I working enough hours? Am I neglecting my family? Should I be pushing harder? Am I ever going to make any money? Am I burning dinner again? Do I have to go shovel the driveway yet? Can you please get yourself your own cup of water?
Do you set regular goals for yourself and your business? What are you currently aiming for?
I do set goals. One blog post a week (realistic) and 25-30 hours of studio time (unrealistic with children, but sometimes it happens),100% sales (since we’re being unrealistic and I’m all about feeling disappointed…), balancing the types of juried shows I enter so they aren’t all textile themed (realistic), building a body of work towards solo show efforts (realistic, I have one in June, 2015).
What is something you’d still like to learn (a skill, a topic) with regards to creative entrepreneurship?
I would eventually like representation outside of Alaska, but this means exploring methods of finding the right galleries and making those vital connections virtually since I’m limited by distance. This is about 10% research-based and 90% finding the confidence and assertiveness to sell myself.
Any other thoughts or stories you’d like to share?
Just some advice I think about for myself:
Find your teachers, find your peers.
Don’t get comfortable with your work. Edit.
Reinvent yourself — many times if you need to — and know that The Not Knowing is a great and real gift.
Things worth keeping go in this pile, here. Not in that pile by the door. That's all getting loaded into the back of the car. Yes, of course it will all fit. No, you can't look at what's in there ... hey, don't get into that stuff now! No, really, please don't open those bags.
Okay, you can keep the dinosaur head with the trigger-stick thing, but that's it. Yes, I see its teeth. Fine, yes, keep it, just please stop snapping it in my face.
I know, I know.
Things worth keeping are things I've considered. But I've also moved swiftly through those thoughts, like the unnecessary quick-before-dinner-no-it-can't-wait-until-tomorrow trip to the thrift store's drop bin just so I won't have time to change my mind. I'm clearing floor space. I'm clearing my head. But mainly I have to make room for all these ice skates and helmets and backpacks and extra booster seats in the back of the car.
Things worth keeping don't directly contribute to my suffocation at the end of every year. Maybe it's the velvet darkness of a northern winter that fills my lungs. Maybe it's because I need to wet a rag and wipe glacial dust off my ceiling and walls and holy-crap-would-you-look-at-those-windows? And I need to do the filing. And what's all this junk piled up on the ... why in the world do we still have the book shelf you made 25 years ago in undergrad?
Things worth keeping should not be kept out of guilt. That should be a rule. Ask, Will I feel like crap if I get rid of this? Then do it. But some things have grown long heart strings. Like that shelf you built with the borrowed hand tools, sawing away inside that teeny apartment ... I know ... the little place where you asked me to marry you.
Things worth keeping are useful.
Things worth keeping are beautiful.
Things worth keeping are also sometimes frivolous and completely unnecessary, but might come in handy someday.
Things worth keeping have a history that is meaningful, but not burdensome. Realize sometimes these qualities shift, the same way priorities do. Sometimes all that deep meaning dissipates and leaves you wondering, Why is this broken stick/chipped vase/rubber lizard still on my windowsill?
But burdens also accumulate as silently as years, layered and thick. Sometimes the smallest item is the largest in the room. So you have to ask, I mean really ask: how heavy is this thing?
Things worth keeping should bring joy when you see them.
Things worth keeping should make you feel like, you.
Things worth keeping shouldn't be confused with things that should really be given to someone else. Like the gold hand-painted Italian Christmas ball, so precious it never hung on the tree, never left its segmented plastic case that even the 6-year-old knew to steer clear of while rooting around for the dough ornaments -- why would you teach her such a thing? Do not keep this precious item. Weep, only a little, when you wrap it for a dear friend's birthday and have the fleeting, ridiculous thought: Oh God, what if the person who gave this to me 20 years ago ... DIES?!
And then, realize that of course no ornamental ball will ever replace that person.
And then give it away. And feel lightness.
Things worth keeping are worth asking this, a friend's touchstone question: Am I keeping this for never?
Because if you are, you need to find a road and send that thing down it.
"Imagination is woven into the child's drawing. This reveals the close connection between the forces of memory and the child's own experiences. Imagination is born after the third year and from now on it adorns everything .... Soul experience now becomes pictorial presentation. Children's souls 'play' with what they have experienced and what they remember, and it is lifted up into their imagination."
Children are natural creators, myth makers, capable of World Building and existing in that somewhere-realm between spheres of physical and spiritual.
Sometimes the only "guidance" required is the space to move their bodies, the time to do so.
The most luxurious part being our own awareness, as adults, to grant this time and space. And to remember to do this for them:
to let them just, be.
When was the last time you were so lost in work, any work, and able to exist between the physical and spiritual? Was it this morning? A decade ago? Do you even remember the feeling: Time is gone. Form is gone. Logic is gone. And what one is left with is what some call freedom, some call bliss, some call nirvana. A stillness of the mind. Through creation.
When did this concept become a luxury?
And while it seems like everyone is searching for such a thing, and people want to sell you such a thing and entities want to help you attain such a thing ... really it could be society's act of de-valuing it in the first place that has placed such a high value on it now.
It is the soul experience that makes us human.
Children know this, without knowing.
"The soul-spiritual nature of small children is primarily engaged in the process of bodily incarnation. They build the bridges of life between body and soul. In their diagrammatic pictures, that which is engaged in building the body rises to the surface of visibility. They are as it were, the sand washed up out of the ocean of organ-formation, out of the subjectless and objectless 'No-Man's-Land' of life processes."
As adults, can we retrieve it? This mystery?
As artists, this is the constant journey. The living question. The fierce will. The World Building. The space to move our bodies. The time to do so. The re-valuing.
The soul experience.
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.