Learning Curves

January 27, 2012

Recently I realized that I'm an awful beginner.  This is probably because beginning usually involves being horrible at something for awhile.  I realized it when I was starting to drive stick-shift and found myself completely self-conscious of my jerky stops and starts, to the point where I was unwilling to drive.  I saw this tendency rear up again when I tried a new form of yoga, and had to force myself to show up every day, even though I had every awareness of how comical I looked (side note: I was also wearing glasses in hot yoga, so I had to keep inching sweaty glasses up my face, which didn't help my self-esteem).

My struggle is a combination of impatience and perfectionism: I want to be good at things, and I want to be good at them now.  And, right now this struggle is the thorn in my side.

This past summer I decided that I wanted to leave my freelance teaching and exotic server life, and start a business.  I will elaborate on this more at some point in the future, but I bring it up now to state the obvious: this endeavor is insisting that I learn a lot of new things.  There are new ways of organizing myself, new ways of thinking and strategizing, and plain old new skills. I knew I wanted to be documenting life and my process in a better way, so it made sense for me to leave my old point & shoot camera behind, and learn to use our digital SLR (Ben also shoots video with this for his business).  And, I knew that a lot of the things I was trying to do with pages and iphoto would be better done in photoshop.  And, I figured that re-learning Quickbooks (in highschool I did the bookkeeping for my parents' alternative health business) would probably make organizing our finances easier.

The point is: I forgot how painful it is to move slowly and suck at things.  I forgot how annoying it is to lose an hour to reformatting a document because I forgot a detail about how the computer program works.  I forgot how important PRACTICING is, and about how essential it is to prioritize time and let go of the notion that I can do everything, perfectly, all of the time.

What I'm realizing, though, is that I just HAVE to work through this period of challenge, and spend as little time self-loathing as possible, because it's only getting in my way.

I remember seeing this Ira Glass quote on facebook (and then again here), and feeling like it perfectly summed up my challenge:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me.  All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.  But there is this gap.  For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good.  It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.  But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.  A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this...And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work...It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

So, right now this is my challenge: forcing myself to fight through.  Other things, though, are totally making the challenge worth it, like the excitement of working with my first client (something I will write more about in the future).

And, behold, my first camera attempt: photographic evidence from organizing our bags of bulk co-op spices into the jars we bought ourselves as a Christmas present.  I now know some new camera vocabulary, and I'm trying to avoid spazzing out over how long it takes me to adjust settings before taking a photo.  I'm trying to remember it will get easier.

Balls-to-the-walls, Mondo Beyondo

January 23, 2012

I am taking a class in DREAMING.  Maybe this photo is appropriate for this announcement.

It’s true.  The skeptical side of me is laughing a little rudely right now.  But, this skeptic has also been mocking me for most of decisions I’ve made over the past 3 months (the yoga, the blog, the desire to be a Shivanaut- more on that one later), and I’ve rarely found myself happier or less anxious.  So, take that skeptical me!

The conversation with myself went down a bit like this:

"Laura, wouldn’t now be a really great time for your to invest some energy in dreaming big."

"But I don’t actually need that, because I’m taking concrete, methodical steps to reach my goals."

"True.  But, maybe you could use all of the help you can get.  And you have a coupon for the program."

I'm a sucker for a good deal, so maybe that was the clincher.  And that’s how I’m here, starting week 3 of a 6-week daily dreaming class based out of San Francisco.  No surprise:  In San Francisco they can use words like 'affirmation', 'intention' and 'universe', and no one wonders if they are being euphemistic.  Here in Minnesota, those things don’t fly as well.

I might be less skeptical if I hadn't been raised by spiritual parents in rural Ohio that casually used phrases like 'your divine self'.   But here I am: a skeptic and a pragmatist.  I don’t want you to look at my aura, and I don’t need to go back to Sand, Sea, and Spirit, the ocean-side retreat that we went to when I was 10.  It’s just a little uncomfortable for me.  So in touch.  So much singing.

Here’s the thing, though: life as a skeptical pragmatist is overrated at best.  It takes so long to get things done, because your judgey parts are constantly showing themselves, and you’re always asking DOES THIS MAKE SENSE?  IS IT SUSTAINABLE?  So, lately, I’ve been practicing ACTION, which is way better than thinking.  I highly recommend it, in fact.  And, it was this little action voice that saved my ass a few months ago when I did two very smart things that started making my life a lot nicer:

:: I went to a therapist!  It’s true.  I actually only saw her for a few months, but it really helped me work past some things that were standing in my way and dragging me down.  Namely: me.

:: I bought the infamous coupon for 2 months of unlimited yoga!  And, I practiced being a beginner at something, and realized that it was pretty fun.  (More on that another day.)

From there, I got crazier I guess, because here I am....DREAMING!  This past week, as part of the class, I made a Mondo Beyondo list.  It's called 'Mondo Beyondo' because it's just that- a list filled with crazy, gigantic, seemingly unbelievable dreams!  It was hard for me.

I like goals.  But, goals aren’t the same as dreams, the wonderful Andrea Scher explains (you really should read her blog, Superhero Journal if you don’t already).  I have plenty of lists of goals.  But, a dream is your heart’s desire (I shuddered just then).  The aim is to get in touch with the things that don’t necessarily make sense; to get in touch with the less practical, seemingly unattainable hopes that you have.  Want to write a book?  Or study the art of cooking tapas in Barcelona?  Or ride your bike across America?  That kind of thing.

So I sat down, I did it.  I wrote for 10 minutes, without stopping, working past the goals I was familiar with into bigger and bolder dreaming territory.  Then I rested, and jumped back in for 10 more minutes.  It was liberating.  I gradually transitioned through the 'who am I to do THAT?' feelings, and into the 'I could actually make that happen' zone.

Then I sealed it up, as per instructions (I follow instructions very well), and will open it up in a week WHEN I AM INSTRUCTED TO DO SO.

There is a point to this (other than insisting that you write your list!), and that is....THANK YOU!  

My interest has always been in art as a means of participation and community, and one of my most gigantic Mondo Beyondo desires has been to develop community around the experience of being an artist & freelancer.  Thank you, friends, for sharing this writing on facebook, the twitterverse, and for your nice comments over the past couple of months as I've outed my blog.  I do see it all, but I’m shy and full of Minnesotan humility and inner conflict.

So, go write your list.  I will go practice with my camera.

Practicing What I Preach

January 20, 2012

I'm thinking about my life as a pyramid these days, and it's helping me wrap my mind around the important things.

But first, to back up:

I have a really hard time relaxing.  I don't know why-- but I do.  I've tried a hobby (cooking, traveling, and experimental cocktail making are my favorites, none of which should be done too often, for obvious reasons) and I've developed an affection for serial television on DVD.  Both of these have helped.  But, by nature, I am a multi-tasking, goal-oriented person, and I don't always know how to turn that off.  And, it gets a little exhausting at times.  It actually makes me feel like my own worst enemy.

Ben is usually the grounding force: he shuts down by about 7 pm, and limits himself to cooking dinner, hanging out with me, or watching movies after this point.  He's good at recognizing his limits.  But, lately he's been working a crazy amount.  It's one of the many hard things about starting a business: you don't always know when business is going to slow down, and you want to take advantage of spurts of work.  There is always something additional to do.  Ben hasn't taken a full day off since the holidays.  And, now that I'm working weekends at a restaurant, I don't get my Sundays off anymore.  I swear, the world is just quieter on a Sunday.  I always feel justified in letting things (like emails) go.  Right now time is feeling so valuable, and I want to use as much of it as I can in the best way possible.  I have a hard time remembering the importance of down time.

The saving graces are the two things I'm good at making time for: moving my body, and cooking + eating dinner each night with Ben.  The things that I'm having a hard time making time for are just as important: doing nothing, reading books that aren't related to work goals, and talking about things not related to work goals.

This is where the pyramid comes in.  I realized that this empty space is the most important.  It's the source of my energy and creativity and stability.  It's the foundation for my goals.  I made this janky little chart to remind myself:

It's an obvious metaphor: I can spend all of the time I want learning new tools, developing a business, and throwing myself into these things.  But, if I don't have the habits that balance me underneath this, there's no foundation to support my growth.

So, starting in February, days off are coming back.  Heck, we're even taking a (short) vacation.  And, I'm thinking we might have to institute a technology-free day.

Do you make rules or habits around time off?  What works?

H*ll YES.

January 17, 2012

Momma might be growing up.


My favorite things are still flame arms (my signature dance move), fake pearls, and brightly colored tights, but there are other signs that growth is happening: I'm starting to shrug my shoulders a little at rejection.  I'm starting to take for granted that there are going to be a few NO's along the way.  Heck, I'm starting to get a little less excited when I get what I want and everything is feeling sunny.  I guess I'm realizing that I have to separate myself from the roller coaster of YES and NO, because it gets really exhausting.  And, the energy I was expending on getting worked up over rejection (jobs, grants, auditions, collaborators) was really, really self-defeating.  Because, for the most part, it's out of my hands.  And, inevitably, some people aren't going to jive with my plans.

It happened yesterday: I got disappointing news and, for a minute, I had that stupid, pointless conversation in my head that had something to do with 'what's the point?' and so on and so forth.  Then I surprised myself: I woke up and tried again.  I got a 'YES' this time.

I'm not doing the football touchdown dance, because I'm starting to get the point: it doesn't matter.  If I'm smart, I will show up and do the work, regardless of whether anyone else cares, or gives me a pat on the back, or a gold star, or thinks I'm brilliant.

I think this especially pertains to artists: just do the work.  I have the utmost compassion for my actor buddies, who are constantly auditioning.  Inevitably, they hear 'NO' a lot.  They wouldn't get jobs without a lot of rejection along the way.  Becka Robinson writes about how we should all post a sheet on which we've written NO 100 times, and should cross them off as we experience them.  She says that 'NO' is a rite of passage, and- of course- along the way there will be an exciting amount of 'YES!'.

It's so true.  And, it's so hard to remember.  But, I'm kind of excited about this way of existing, where I don't have to flail my arms every time someone doesn't want to jump on my ship.

It's Nicer Together

January 16, 2012

It started with this:

I started the Artist Series because I was in a serious funk, and I needed to take some kind of action.  I had finished this big project, and it had left me financially and emotionally drained.  Making art wasn’t feeling very *cough* sustainable.  I was getting bitter, and I was feeling really alone.  I felt like there had to be a smarter, more efficient way of being a working artist.

And, I decided that there had to be SOMEONE who had perspective on being an artist-preneur that I couldn’t, at the time, offer myself.  Ben insisted: we know a lot of really smart, successful people who would love to be taken out to lunch!  This thought made me freak out a little, because talking to people that I don’t know well gives me a silly amount of anxiety.  But, one night, I ran into a buddy.  My lovely friend Sarah is a classically trained singer, and we ended up talking for over an hour about our mutual anxieties and frustrations over art-making.  It felt really good to share them!  Our conversation solidified my desire to help working artists find ways of working more sustainably; it made me realize that I wanted to develop community around this.

So, I kept talking to people, in search of new resources and perspectives.  I did the ultimate scary thing (for me at the time) and invited a stranger to lunch.  I sat with publicist Kate O’Reilly (who was SO generous with her time, and so fabulous), and she talked about starting her business.  She told me about volunteering to help a friend sell her art at a gallery opening.  Kate was in charge of selling the art, and her friend got to be, well, the artist, and they ended up selling a pretty amazing amount of work that night.  Kate was able to market and promote her friend in ways that her friend couldn’t; she had an outside perspective on her friend’s brilliance and what made her work unique.

This made perfect sense to me.  I’ve always had a hard time articulating what my work is and promoting it, because it’s hard to be objective: it feels incredibly personal.  An outsider can see it in a whole different light.  It’s just like when I tell a buddy something I think is totally incredible about them, and they can’t see it the way I can from the outside.

I went on to talk to Jen, Alan, and Emma.  And, each time I came away with some nugget of insight that, although possibly banal to them, felt revolutionary to me.

 All of this has made me aware of a few things:

1.  Action is magical.

I was feeling stuck.  Every time I took some kind of action (talked to someone, found a new resource, started to actively change something in my life) about 10 wonderful things that I couldn’t have predicted happened as a result.  Sitting still is torture.  Taking action is so freeing (even when it’s terrifying).  Suddenly you have momentum.

 2.  So is sharing.

I started this blog because I’m a proponent for sharing resources and ideas, and even frustrations.  Creating a small business or creative work can be so lonely, and Sarah and I talked a lot about this when we ran into one another.  Community can be pretty magical, because between us we all have a lot of knowledge and experience.  The community is best used when it promotes action, though, rather than just continual discussion, like Alan talked about.

3.  Other people can help us get out of our own way.

Jen talked about resistance (essentially, self-sabotage), which is discussed at length in Steven Pressfield's The War of Art.  Basically, we can all over-think, which prevents us from acting.  I can get a good idea, think about it, and convince myself that it’s an awful one, all within the span of an hour.  Talking to other people has helped me get out of my own head and get some perspective (although, in the end, I'm the one who needs to act).  When Kate talked about why she became a publicist, it made perfect sense: she helps people see what’s working in their idea, and where the gaps are.  Sometimes it's essential to get help seeing the bigger picture.

What about you?  Do you work with a collaborator? A life coach?  An accountability buddy?  How do you get out of your own way? 

Scene + Heard

January 13, 2012

This week I watched the Creative Mornings Portland lecture with Kate Bingaman Burt, and I got pretty gosh darn excited.  Drop everything and go watch!  She is a visual artist and designer who works with an assignment-based method for generating work {MY FAVORITE!}, which she refers to as  'automated directives' or 'rule systems'.  Meaning, she gives herself really strict parameters for working {i.e.- she drew all of her credit card statements until her debt was paid off} and works on this every day.  I love it because she's really prolific, and because she and her process are perfect example of the benefits found in doing the work.  I'm so smitten!

On the State of the Arts blog, Marianne Combs discussed the issue of artists struggling for affordable rehearsal and performance space.  It reminds me a conversation I had with choreographer Stuart Pimsler, who told me that when he lived in New York, he and his dance friends used to make and show all of their work in their apartments or other similar free spaces.  I'm excited to see how we all get creative.

And, on a similar note, critic Max Sparber wrote this article about Minnesota artists making a living.  One might call the article depressing, but I find it hopeful.  With so many artists and arts organizations, we are sure to start finding some more sustainable ways of producing work.

Today I found this interview  with The Jealous Curator on Sweet Station.  The Jealous Curator (aka Danielle Krysa) is a visual artist who was continually finding herself looking-jealously- at the work of other artists, which she describes as "unbelievably inspiring, and totally soul-crushing all at the same time."  She decided to make a blog out of her jealousy, which turned into admiration in the process.  I love this.  I can relate to this: As I've been turning more of my attention towards promoting & supporting the work of other artists, my own art-making has flourished in the process.  I do my work, they do their's, and I realize that there's room for both of us.  Fun!

Twin Cities folk: You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown {which was the first thing I ever choreographed professionally, so I have a major soft spot} opens at Bloomington Civic Theatre, and you should go see it!  I'm very excited that it features some buddies of mine.

Have a great weekend!  I'm taking care of my brother-in-law Max, who happens to be a dog.  Last night on our walk, we got lost after dark in a gated community.  Believe it or not, this can be a lot scarier than the woods.  Hopefully we'll do better today.

Do The Work

January 12, 2012

“Don’t think. Act. We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted.  But we can accomplish nothing until we’ve acted.”

Suburban nature office.

I feel a lot of pressure to make January really stellar.  It’s a fresh slate, and I want to treat it like that.  And, judging from the number of people that seem to have newly populated the YWCA, I’m not alone.

Most of the gigantic goals I’m working on were started back in July or August when I had the realization that I needed to make some significant life changes.  Regardless, January still feels scary.  It feels like something big should be born, and if it wasn’t, it was a bust.  I read this article by John Goins on Zen Habits this week, and I felt like it clarified why January is scary: there are too many resolutions in the air.

Goins insists that goals don't work.  Instead, he talks about making habits, which can re-boot your entire life.  Goals are plans, he says, and plans are hard to stick to because life is really busy and unpredictable.  Habits, on the other hand, are about  the journey, and you might reach a goal on this journey, but they are’t dependent on it.  For instance, I exercise almost every day, and that’s a habit.  It’s not an option, because I’ve decided that it’s necessary.  Along the way I might reach my goal of getting really ripped arms (!), but that’s not entirely the point.

Up until about 6 months ago, thought of my life largely in terms of goals and checklists.  I did this in my artistic practice, too.  My goals were grants or producing a show or getting into graduate programs.  I’d put a lot of energy into these things, and then get horribly disappointed if they didn’t work out, or, uncertain as to what to do next when they did work out.

I didn’t have a practice, and for an artist, the practice is everything.  The practice insists that you show up and DO THE WORK, regardless of whether you’re applying for a grant or have a performance in a month.  Writer Meg Keene puts it so well:

I'm glad that I was trained with the idea that you show up Every Single Day ...no matter how sh*tty or uncreative you were feeling, and you do the work. You do the work when what you're doing sucks, you do the work when what you are doing seems brilliant, you do the work when you'd rather be in bed. And thank God, because that takes some serious pressure off.  You just have to show up and work, not show up and do brilliant work. 

I’m thinking about this a lot right now, because I have some big ideas cooking in my brain, and I’m trying to make them a reality.

It’s easy to make excuses for why this can't happen-- I’m not ready, I don’t have enough money, I don’t know if the ideas will work.... but the only solution is to plunge in and do it.  And, I have to do it every day.  Even when I think it’s not working.  Even when it’s uncertain.  Even when I’m about to sh*t my pants with fear,  I have to keep doing it every day until it’s a habit- second nature.  And then, I might find that I’ve reached some of my goals.

Some of the most brilliant people I know are people who second-guess themselves constantly.  They have more impressive skill sets than me.  And maybe even bigger + better ideas.  But, they can't get over the hurdle of making it happen.   Entrepreneur Penelope Trunk says that discipline is the skill of remembering what you want.  And, right now I REALLY want some things.

And yesterday, I sh*t you not, a man claiming to be a unicorn showed up at the restaurant where I was working, and told me he would grant me a wish.  Naturally, I told him that I was sick of waiting tables.  He assured me that he would work on getting me out of the restaurant industry.  I assured him that I was willing to do the work.

So...here I am, house sitting in the wooded ‘burbs, trying to DO THE WORK.

What if there wasn't a d*mn thing in your way?  What would you do?  And why aren't you doing it?

Emma Freeman: The Plunge

January 10, 2012

I met Emma in 2005, when we were both working at the Birchwood Cafe.  It has been such a pleasure to watch her grow her business, and I completely admire her self-employment smarts (not to mention her style and her photography).  Emma shot our wedding last May, and I really can't say enough good things about working with her.  She's a complete camera geek, a delight to share a beer with, and has a studio that is full of lovely things and images.  I love Emma's description of her journey through her artistic and business fears.   And, I love what Emma shares about making her business fit into her life and the work she wants to keep doing.  {Also: actors, she takes gorgeous and affordable headshots!}

Photos by Melisa Oholendt

L: How did you get interested in photography, and where did you start with that?

E:  In grade school, I decided that art wasn’t for me because I couldn’t draw a perfect tree.  My art teacher disagreed with me, but I was convinced I wasn’t an artist. In high school (in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin) I took black and white photography and loved it.  After high school I wasn’t sure of my direction, even though it’s now obvious to me that photography was always a huge calling.   I debated going to art school to study photography, but ended up at Alverno College in Milwaukee.  Eventually I decided to study Philosophy.  My decision to double major in Art was a huge surprise: I was dating this woman at the time who was an art major.  She wanted me to go on an art retreat with her, but I said I wasn’t an artist.  She convinced me to come anyway.  So, I went. We were given an assignment to go into the woods and create-most people drew or painted-I photographed. My girlfriend convinced me to try sketching and not to worry, nobody would see it.  But in our group critique she told everyone that I had sketched-my face went bright red. I mean, these were REAL artists, they were going to think my work was terrible! I shared my sketches-everyone was so encouraging. It broke through whatever artistic block I had formed.  After that, I took every art class I could.

L:  How did you learn the business side of things?

E:  My second year of college I got a job with a wedding & portrait photographer working as a studio assistant.  I did administrative work, order prints, designed albums and printed in the darkroom. It was the perfect way to learn how to run a photography studio. I worked my way up to being her full time assistant, and then she hired me as an associate photographer. In 2004 when I finished school I didn’t know what to do, but my brother and sister lived in Minneapolis, so I decided to give it a whirl.  6 months after moving to the Twin Cities I moved to China to teach 3rd grade. I knew by the end that I wanted to return to Minneapolis.  Once home, I remember being in my apartment and opening the phonebook to photographers, and starting from A, and calling people to ask them if I could assist.  I talked to 3 or 4 people, and nobody hired me.  So I kept trying.  Eventually I landed an internship at the Minnesota Center For Photography.   Their office manager went on maternity leave and so I had her job for a while, and then I moved into the position of Gallery Director. Through MCP I met photographer Doug Beasley and was hired as his Studio Manager.  I  worked with him for 2 years, during which I was shooting a couple of weddings on the side, a ton of bands, and some family portraits.  I started building my client base.  And, working with Doug, I got to see the commercial and fine art side of photography.  These companies would have him shoot their annual reports, and they’d fly him all over the world.  I was amazed that there was yet another way of making a living with photography.  Doug also teaches these fantastic workshops.  I traveled with him to Vancouver and Thailand to assist on jobs, and took workshops with him in the Badlands and in Guatemala.  He’s the most generous, open person about everything in his life and his business. He completely changed my world.

The only reason I left working with him was because he couldn’t afford to pay me anymore.  So that was the push.  I thought: here goes nothing.  Here’s hoping I can pay my rent this month!  That was in 2008.  Since then I’ve been on my own.

L:  So the push partially came from necessity?

E:  Yes.  At that point I almost felt like I was doing two full-time jobs.  I've always been told by photographers that you just have to try it and put your whole self into it before you know if it’s going to work.  And it’s worked out so far.

L:  What were the biggest hurdles in starting a business?

E:  First, figuring out the legal stuff.  I figured that out because a client wrote me a check to Emma Freeman Photography before I had a business account, and I couldn’t cash the check.  So I researched how to start a small business in Minnesota and laid the foundation for my business right away.

Also, figuring out how to balance all of the aspects of a business was a challenge.  I’m in charge of it all- development, shooting, marketing, accounting, hiring staff, cleaning, editing, designing...I’m always making sure that I’m not letting any of the balls drop.I think you have to love multi-tasking- otherwise, you’re not going to make it.  You have to have your mind on many different things, while still focusing on the task at hand.

The thing about a creative business is that it’s all about relationships with people, that's how I get 100% of my business.  That’s what I love about it.   Another challenge is that a lot of my business ebbs and flows with wedding season, which runs April-November normally.  So, I’ve had to figure out the off-season.

L:  What do you do in the off season?

E:  I do a lot of portraits.  I’ve been trying to do more of those- families, kids, burlesque, headshots.  I also do a lot of planning for the next year.  I’m sending out sample books to vendors, re-doing my pricing, submitting images to blogs and magazines- all of those things that don’t happen over the busy time.  I also do a lot of personal work and have plans to do some big projects this year, one of which is being the artist in residence at Chakra Khan Asian Bodywork & Massage studio. I'm going to have rotating gallery shows of personal work throughout 2012-I'm so excited!

L:  So, why weddings?

E:  To start, I was trained in them.  I've never wanted to be only a wedding photographer, but I like them because of the people aspect - because its about relationships and this really amazing, intimate thing that happens on one day.  I never know what I’m going to see.  There’s a structure for weddings, but I never know what I’m going to walk into.  I love that- it keeps me on my toes. I love the emotional side of weddings. I find it really fascinating, because I am interested in the power of images and the meaning of them in our lives- in how they construct identity, purpose and gender roles. Weddings can be almost too intense, especially doing 30 of them in a year.  But I love that every weekend I have these experiences that make me think about the world in a critical way and celebrate life at the same time.

L:  Being behind the scenes at 30 weddings sounds intense.  

E:  It’s pretty amazing.  I think that marriage is a really complicated issue, especially being gay and not having access to the institution. A lot of people don’t see marriage as political, but it is.  But I’m a professional, and I’m there to do a job too...it’s complicated.

L:  It’s backward.

E:  It is.  Part of why I like being in the wedding industry is because I feel like I can do something about that.  It was a big step for me to put on my website that Libby is my partner. I went back and forth on it.  Photography is a unique profession in that way- most photographers I know share personal details about their lives on their website as a way to promote themselves and connect with clients. It felt strange not to mention Libby for that reason.

L:  How do you find your ideal client?

E:  My ideal clients are people like you and Ben- artistically minded people who I want to have a beer with, who care about aesthetics.  However, its hard to market or figure out how to just draw those people in.  I try to make connections wherever I can - You can be strategic about marketing, but it’s a saturated field.  This is a big reason why I did the re-brand [this past October].  The old one was attracting too broad of an audience.  This time around I wanted to be more specific.  I wanted to show the kind of work that I love to shoot and include more of my personality too.

L:  How do you work at balancing your personal life with being self-employed?  

E:  Last year this did not go well.  It was the first year that I was completely committed to shooting weddings, so there was a lot of work to be done.  I was trying to figure out what my style was, how to expand, and working out of running and sharing a studio space with other photographers.  My personal life was on the back burner, and I didn’t even realize it at the time.  I was constantly overwhelmed, and woke up with an anxious feeling in my stomach most days.  I got to the end of last year, and contemplated quitting.  I was out of touch with the reason I was doing this in the first place.  Then I went to a photo workshop that changed everything for me.  They shot everything on film and they were so excited about what they were doing. They even had balanced lives!  And I thought, oh my god, how do I get this?  That’s what I want!  I realized that I was feeling very disconnected by shooting everything digitally, and that I needed to get back to film.

So, in the off season last year I took a big step back and evaluated what needed to be changed.  A big step was getting my own studio, and no longer sharing a space with other photographers.  Then I decided to re-brand.  Then I knew I wanted to shoot more film, so I bought a film camera that I really loved, and started using it.  About half way through this year I woke up and realized that the anxious feeling was gone.  I feel calm, mostly. I show up; I do my work.  I think a huge part is that I figured out what kind of work I want to do. I’m more confident in it than ever before.  I used to feel like there was some deep secret to running a business that I didn’t know-turns out you just have to keep learning and growing.

L:  Do you just set specific parameters around what’s on and off time?

E:  Most days I work from 9-5 or 9-6.  I get up and work an hour or two at home and then I go to my studio.  I try to leave at 5 or 6 most days, and I always go to the gym afterwards, which is a big thing.  It’s amazing how much that helps.  And then I go home and eat dinner.  I just realized that I didn’t want to work 12 hour days anymore because I want other things in my life.  I want to have a good partnership with Libby, and I want to play scrabble and go to yoga and drink beer and watch The West Wing.  There’s always an email that you can respond to, but you can wait on it until the morning.  I worried too much about that before- that I would drop a ball and it would be the end of my career.

L:  What’s next?

E:  I want to craft with my photos! I’ve always wanted to make things with my pictures that are wearable, especially jewelry. I love detail, and getting that close and meticulous with something.  So I’m playing around with that. There is so much that I find inspiring- I look at other people’s work all the time, I listen to the etsy podcasts, and I love pinterest.  I watch a lot of TED.  It keeps my mind fresh and inspired.  And, of course, I want to continue to shoot more film.  That picture of you and Ben that I shot on my Holga?  I just love that moment.  There’s soul to it.  It’s slow and purposeful and full of wonder.

Scene + Heard

January 6, 2012

Here are some of great things I found on the mighty interweb this week for artists and small business folk:

:: Kathleen of Jeremy & Kathleen writes about when to work for free.  {When do you work for free?}  And here is the flowchart from designer Jessica Hische about the very same thing, which is pretty hilarious.

:: In a similar vein, Kate O'Reilly reminds us that freelancing is a job.

:: Photographer Becka Robinson of Life As An Artistpreneur has started a great new series on her blog, every Monday, called Coffee Cup Chats.  She features topics relevant to artistpreneurs, and encourages dialogue around them.

:: The Dieline's Top 100 Package Designs of 2011 made the designer wanna-be in me drool.

:: Lisa Congdon started a new daily project (hand lettering!), which I love.  I'm a HUGE fan of daily projects as a way of generating and sharing work.

:: On the Twin Cities front, Young Jean Lee's Untitled Feminist Show is kicking off the Out There series in a totally nude fashion:

Have a great weekend!  I will be serving Bloody Marys to the masses, and organizing my bags of bulk spices into labeled jars.  No more mistaking cayenne for paprika...

Websites That Work

January 5, 2012

Over the holidays, I got to see my friend Alisha, who was in town from New York.  She's working really hard to get established as a working (PAID!) actor, which is no easy feat (in Minneapolis- let alone New York).  Alisha recently got a brand new sparkly website!  It's a fantastic example of a website that works.  Meaning...

1.  It's clear: There's no tiny type or difficult to read colors (unlike this website).

2.  It informative: I come away knowing a lot more about Alisha, and her experiences as an actor.  It represents her honestly; the headshots are recent and look like her!  I also love the newsflash on the home page about her latest project.

3.  It's easy to navigate: I can find the information I'm looking for, easily.

I know a lot of artists who are waiting to make the perfect website, with carefully selected typefaces and well-designed menus, but I argue that it's better to do it now and have it be a bit janky than wait to be able to afford the perfectly designed page (Alisha's website was designed by Todd Faulkner at Actor Fusion).  The point is to have an online listing of your resume and contact information, complete with a head shot.  If that's all you have, you're doing really well.

Websites like wordpress or blogger make this really easy these days.  If you want to upload video, you can get a weebly pro account for a small fee per year.  Or, Twin Cities locals get a free talent profile with their Minnesota Playlist membership, which is just $40/year.  Either way, the point is to (honestly) sell yourself, because you are your product.  There's nothing sleezy about it; the point is to get hired.  And, to get hired you need to share the following:

1.  Who are you and what do you do? (Or, for some artists, What does your work look -or sound- like? In the case of actors, What do you look like?)

2.  What experiences have you had? (For many, this might include work samples.)

2.  How do I hire you?

I love this (recently re-branded) website for photographer Emma Freeman, which gives a great sampling of the different kinds of clients that she has, including non-traditional wedding clients.  I especially love the about section, because when I'm hiring a photographer (or anyone, really), I'm not just hiring them for their talent- I'm hiring them for their personality, and because I want to work with them.  Her website gives fantastic information on who she is.

Choreographer Karen Sherman also has a great website.  I particularly like the navigation images on the home page- because they're pretty and fun (I'm a sucker for aesthetics) and clear.  The photos and project descriptions represent her work really well.

Lastly, I love this website from publicist Kate O'Reilly (Clever Kate).  It so clearly tells us exactly what she's about and why we'd want to hire her:

  • This is who I am.

  • This is what I do.

  • This is how you hire me.

And, it's pretty easy to put that on a website.  The rest is just frosting on the cake!

What websites are you a fan of?  

11 Things I Liked In 2011

January 4, 2012

I've reflected sufficiently on 2011: the good, the bad, the ugly.  And, my inner list-maker has been satisfied with pages of big ideas for the new year.  It's time to plunge in and make these things happen!

But before I do: There were a lot of things (and people!) in 2011 that life generally more awesome, or at least more interesting.  So, today I raise a fist-pump to the some of the things I enjoyed in 2011- local and otherwise, which maybe you will enjoy, too.

In no particular order...

1.  Oregon:  Yes, the state.  If you haven't been there, you should start making plans.  We drove the Oregon coast after our wedding in May, and it was breathtaking.  There was every type of beauty: the ocean, the Redwoods, mountains, and the surroundings changed drastically from one minute to the next.  Oregon has a little of it all.  I didn't make it to Portland, but have a feeling that I would fit in just fine.

2.  Open Eye Figure Theater:  Ben pointed out that the best entertainment is a really well made children's theatre production, which can actually be even more enjoyable and relevant for adults.  I'd never seen the Open Eye's work before going to The Learning Fairy this year, and my mind was a bit blown.  I was so charmed by the stand-out performers (every one of them), the dancing, the subject matter (hippie shit like SHARING), the music (seamlessly integrated into the show), and the brightly colored set and costumes.  To top it all off, there were about thirty kids in the audience that were as charmed as I was, and watching really overjoyed kids is one of life's nicest things.  I was inspired that there was SO MANY POSSIBILITIES with a little tiny stage and a relatively simple story.  I look forward to Open Eye's upcoming shows!

3.  Spilled Milk:  Food writers Molly Wizenberg and Matthew Amster-Burton join together to cook something or discuss some kind of foodie goodness every couple of weeks, and record it for all of us to listen to.  One week they discussed Chocolate, another Bahn Mi.  The best part is that they are having a damn good time hanging out, and their enthusiasm and lack of reverence in the kitchen is contagious.

4.  Friday Night Lights:  I heard it was about football, and I didn't really care to hear more.  BUT, this television series (based on a movie, which is based on a book) completely stole by heart.  Ben and I cried watching more episodes than I care to admit, and Tami and Eric Taylor have one of my favorite (functional!) television relationships.  Watching this show was a stellar to pass winter.

5.  Kathleen Shannon and Tara Street at Braid Creative:  Kathleen and Tara are sisters who started a creative consulting and branding business together, and I love how they inspire creative, big thinking.  You can follow Kathleen's lifestyle blog Jeremy & Kathleen, or read Tara's stories of her family at Kind of a Sideshow.  I love the way they infuse their business with their personalities and heart, as well as the practical advice they offer for people trying to make a living doing what they love.

6.  Moksha Yoga Minneapolis: I made the lucky purchase of a 60 day yoga pass to Moksha for a ridiculously low price.  Doing (almost) daily yoga reminded me that moving my body is one of the best things I can do for my anxiety-prone mind, and I've been on the exercise bandwagon ever since (although, sadly, at a more humble location).  This studio is one of the most comfortable and affirming in the area (I've tried quite a few), and I loved that class didn't feel like a competition for the most expensive yoga pants or exceptional class performance.  Bonus: the heat during winter.

7.  Give To The Max Day: On November 16, Minnesotans came together to support their favorite non-profits over 24 hours.  Many of the donations were matched by corporations or larger donors, so just $25 dollars sometimes became $50.  This year was my first participating, and I loved picking out some of my favorite theatres and organizations to support-- even if it was just with a few dollars.  It reminded me that when we all work together, a little money can go a long way.

8.  Chopped: We had a Chopped-inspired dinner party with friends, watched episode marathons (while eating, naturally), and were inspired to try new ingredients and cook more often.  Wildest ingredient used on an episode?  Maybe rocky mountain oysters, which aren't oysters at all.

9.  112 Eatery: In all honesty, I didn't discover 112 this year, but I did go there more often.  And I did vow to proclaim the goodness of their scallops with oyster mushrooms FOREVER AND EVER AMEN.

10.  Ice Cube Balls: I bought Ben these spherical ice cube molds, so that we could make play a game called Bradstreet Crafthouse when we don't have the money or time to go to my favorite bar in the Twin Cities.  The bartenders at the Bradstreet can give you the very scientific reasoning as to why these ice cube spheres are far superior to other ice-- basically they melt more slowly, so your bourbon will be chilled rather than diluted.  Bonus: ice balls are fun to look at, especially in a lowball.

11.  The Pizza Farm:  The Pizza Farm (officially known as AtoZ Produce and Bakery) in Stockholm, Wisconsin is pretty much as magical as it was promised to be.  I got to pet baby animals and eat delicious pizza made with ingredients from the farm.  And, escaping from the city to rustic farmland is necessary sometimes.  They are open every Tuesday 4:30-8:00 March-November.  BYOB and place to sit.

What made 2011 more fun for you?

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