Arts Etiquette: Art Crawls

Art crawls are a treasure. If you haven't been to one, I highly recommend that you put on some comfortable shoes and go explore one. They are usually held in art districts where working artists open their doors and welcome people into their homes and studios to see their creations. In the Twin Cities they are held in the Lowertown Arts District of Saint Paul in April and October, spreading outward to individual arts building along University or near Harriet Island. In Minneapolis, they are held primarily around the Northeast Arts District. Art-a-Whirl is held in May. Unlike art street fairs, where the vendor booth fees are astronomical and prohibitive to newer artists, you get to see more artists who are just starting out, who are less commercial, or who sell less low-priced kitch than the street fairs (much of which is imported filler and not original work...I get the same catalogs they do). There is an intimacy and vulnerability in the the open studios that you rarely find in a gallery opening.

How to be a good guest:

1. Don't be a cheese hunter. These are the bane of the artist's existence. Many people attend art crawls for a free meal and to get hammered on cheap boxed wine. The artists want to be good hosts, so they put out a good spread. However, the quality of food offered and the public availability of that had declined this past decade due to the cheese hunters. These are the people who will poke their head in a studio just to look for food, not to look at the art or interact with the artist. It is not unheard of for an artist to spend more money on feeding their guests than they actually take in. If you are looking for a meal, you can at least buy a post card or keychain from the person hosting you. It is discouraging to an artist to think that their work can be upstaged by a deli-tray when people ignore the work and make a bee-line to the food table.

2. Respect the space. You are walking into someone's studio or home. You are a potential customer, but you are also a guest. Be gracious. Don't be nosey if they've curtained off areas like their sleeping quarters. Don't steal. Don't leave litter around for them to pick up. Don't be so drunk that you crash into things.

3. You don't have to understand or like every piece, but don't be a dick about it either. I have given many a hard look to people who wanted me to commiserate with them on how "awful" an artist's piece was or how "their five-year-old could do it". What art have you created lately? It takes guts to put it out there on display. That said, yes, there is bad work out there, but unless they are soliciting a critique, it is rude to dish on the artist in their home.  Almost every artist has heard some nasty little person say "I can make that". Really? Then why aren't you?

4. Don't touch. We all learned as toddlers that we can look with our eyes. Don't touch an artist's work unless it is something that is clearly marked as okay to touch or something that is understood to be handled like some clothing or accessories. You break it, you buy it.

5. Acknowledge the artist. It is only polite to say hello, or at the very least to acknowledge that you have been greeted. Little courtesies really do matter, and they cost you nothing. They do, however, keep an artist from becoming jaded about the event, ensuring their studio doors will be open next year. 

6. Don't judge a book by it's cover. There are a lot of would-be fashion experts out there who have watched too much reality TV and think that they need to be bitchy to have any cred. However, a real working artist will probably have spent the night before prepping for this event, and if they are working though it, they will likely be in clothes that they don't mind getting dirty. Sometimes artists have dealt with their own demons, and it shows in social awkwardness. Be prepared to interact with a wide variety of people. Does the work move you? Is the talent there or just starting to blossom? That is what matters more than the posturing.

7. Come to buy. This is how the artists make their livelihood. While it is good to create out of love of art, that is not what pays their rent or puts food on their table. Even when I have been at my starving-artist poorest, I could afford to buy SOMETHING. That is the rule my husband and I have. We always buy SOMETHING. It may be  a small print, or it may be a large painting, depending on our budget. These little things add to our experience, add rich variety to our home, and put money directly in the pockets of artists.

8. Don't haggle. This is not a market in Marrakesh. Haggling with an artist is just tacky. Sometimes artists may be willing to cut a deal (especially if it is toward the end of the event) but don't expect it, and certainly don't be pushy about it.  If it is close to your budget, you can always make an offer, but don't be insulting by asking them to take a huge chunk off. Artists already tend to undercharge and devalue their work on their own. They don't need you doing it for them. In order to have a working industry, they need to be paid a fair rate.

How to be a good artist:

1. Copying a well-known photo or album cover is an exercise, not your own art to sell. You may love that image, but so does the original copyright holder. You may have learned light and shadow and texture by copying it, and that knowledge is valuable, but is still doesn't make it an original piece, at least not without significant alteration. Selling a copycat work is the classic mark of an amateur, and it is not what people are attending the event to see.

2. Internet tutorials are inspiration, not original works. Creativity is not optional, it is essential. Take the ideas and use them as seeds to grow your own works, not as something to copy (see #1). I thought that melted crayon piece was neat when I saw it on pinterest as well...before I saw it several more times in person with people trying to sell that craft as their original creative work. Take some risks and try something new.

3. Label your work with prices. Don't get a possible patron's hopes up if a piece is not for sale, or is a commission in progress. Don't make them have to fight their way through a crowd or come back just to ask the price. Let them see it and figure out if it is near their budget. If you take the guesswork out of it, they will be more likely to buy. Sometimes people want to give you their money; let them.

4. Be available, or have an available representative.  There are few things as frustrating to a patron as an artist who can't be found when they want to make a purchase or ask a question. However, you are human, and you can get overwhelmed or need to eat or pee. Be available to answer questions when you can, and when you can't, have someone to back you up. Give them a basic rundown of your work, and an interesting talking-point about the pieces. This could be about your method, the inspiration, your materials...People love a story, and they want to feel a small connection to the artist they are buying from.

5. Be genuine, or at least entertaining. Don't be this artist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZRj3CPtC9I People are not dumb. They can tell if you are trivializing a serious subject for your own notoriety, or if you are pontificating about a completely BS artists statement. They can also tell if you are an "artist" because you just wanted cheaper rent on a loft.

6. As I listed for guests above, don't judge a book by it's cover. There are times I hit a crawl dolled-up and dressed to the nines. There are times I come in blue jeans from working in my own studio. There are times that I come in biker leathers and carrying a helmet. I have always been a chameleon. As I stated above, I always come to buy. I also only buy from a genuine and gracious host. I like my artists real. Not pandering because I look rich, or giving me the side-eye because I look poor, or getting snotty because leather offends them. None of these outer trappings affect what should really matter to the artist: I have a lifetime of arts education as a student, muse, coach, and instructor. I appreciate the work, and my cash is green. That is what is important. You never know who your next dedicated patron will be.

Cheap boxed wine? Nope I only serve the finest "Three Buck Chuck" at a crawl.

"Where have you been?"

Hello darlings.

Sorry I have been absent from blogging for a bit. My business has really picked up in the last few months, so I have been kept very busy with cosmetic companies and advertising campaigns.  Very busy, very exciting, and I am very happy for the work with some talented crews.

In addition, my husband and I are expecting our first child. The first few months of exhaustion and nausea have passed, and we have been moving full-speed-ahead into planning to bring this little one into the world this December, so preparation for that (including a move of home and studio) has been occupying the time I am not working, eating, or peeing when the kid head-butts my bladder.

Now that I have a little bit of a breather, or as close to one as I get anyway, I will be fleshing out some articles that I have in my head and will start getting them up soon.

Be well, be fab,


"Once Upon A Time..." by Karl Lagerfeld

In his latest foray into short film, Karl Lagerfeld offers us a glimpse into Chanel's past. Kiera Knightly stars as Coco Chanel selling hats in her very first shop. I wonder if Karl enjoys the notoriety he has been getting for calling people (Adele, for instance) fat, as he did sneak another little dig in here. Nonetheless, the film is charmingly awkward and pretty to look at, like most period films, and there is a parade of models as guest stars.


Made-up: Parabens.

People do love their flawed science and urban legends.  They latch on to them and get downright aggressive when challenged. This is true even when it comes to makeup. I have run into this myth so often, that just mentioning it elicits an almost Pavlovian response from me. I may have ground down one of my molars by patiently grinning through yet another moment when a chain-letter educated customer wanted to dig in and loudly debate over ingredients, but not listen to the actual science from people who are trained to know it. After all, what good is thousands of dollars in education, years in the field, and daily working product knowledge when compared to an email in all caps sent from an AOL account to their entire address book?

"Enter"? Are you sure about that?

First up in "Made-up", parabens. Parabens are the boogeyman of the makeup world. I remember when the endless email forwards arrived, telling me that parabens=cancer. Suddenly we realized that we were using products every day that were hiding in our medicine cabinets, waiting for the perfect moment to ninja in, attack our breasts, and kill us with cancer. That's scary stuff right? Wrong. It was all based off of a single massively flawed study and a giant heap of paranoia. 

You know what IS scary? Bacterial or fungal growth in products leading to infections, unstable shelf lives, and spending half a day's wages on a product that I'll soon have to chuck in the trash due to ineffective preservation. That's what you have without parabens. Parabens are gentle to the skin and products including them are among the safest cosmetics you can buy. Some brands have given in to the paranoia and phased them out, but the length of time that the product will remain safe for use was drastically reduced. That is good news for a makeup company, since you'll have to buy their product more frequently, but it is bad news for your pocketbooks.

Kevin James Bennett addresses the paranoia in this article. Read it. Listen to him. He's a smart guy. I am so glad I discovered his writing and attended his demonstrations back when I was first starting out. He was a good guide and helped me avoid many pitfalls. In other words, I trust him to know his stuff, and so should you.

For an additional take on the subject, here is Paula Begoun, the "Cosmetics Cop". Her ingredient dictionary is well-known and goes into great detail about the products we use. She's got the science to back her up. 

What do professionals in the field of Cancer research say?

Please, for the love of all things beautiful, correct this myth when you hear it. Send your well-meaning aunties to these sites when they forward an email on to you. Your long-suffering makeup artist will thank you.


Lucinda's Quick and Dirty Guide to Thrift-Store Clothing

I love to shop garage sales, vintage boutiques and thrift stores. It started when I was a starving artist, and my choices were to either hit the Goodwill or run around in rags.  Now that I am a bit better off as an artist, I do it for the thrill of the hunt. I love finding unique pieces that are pleasant surprises, and I feel a little victory when I score a hidden treasure or a designer piece at a steal. I recently scored three regular dresses, one maternity dress, a skirt, ten shirts, two chain belts, a designer sweater, and a handbag...for about $110. That is a huge savings. Heck, I paid far less for all of it than I would have buying just the sweater new. Besides the money I save is money I can apply to buying new supplies for my makeup artistry or my other arts. Maybe I'll spend it on a martini with friends (vodka, dirty).

My little excursions have become almost legendary among my friends and I have had many people ask how I do it. Here are my tips for thrifting but keeping it sharp.

Make time: I make a day of it and eat a lunch first. Being rushed and hangry (hungry+angry) is no way to shop. You'll end up with purchases you'll regret. Some people don't like to eat before trying on clothes, but I'd rather go in with a full belly and know that whatever I try on will still fit well even after I hit the all-you-can-eat sushi joint

Willpower? What is that? There's fish involved!

Look closely at the fabric: How much life is really left in it? Check for wear, especially at seams and areas that tend to rub, like knees, elbows, and butt. Hold pants up to the light and look for any thin spots in the seat or thigh area where the light shines through. Check the color for fading or pit stains. Make sure the knits aren't covered in pills. Also inspect buttons and zippers to make sure they are present and work.

Inspect embellishments:  Is the beading or embroidery stable? Are the buttons chipped or falling off? Can you do a quick fix, and do you have supplies at home to repair it if needed? When it comes to secondhand clothing, simple is often better, as the clothing has already been worn and embellishment takes the most abuse.  Can you tack town the edges with a few stitches, or are you going to have reinforce everything? Of course if you find some gorgeous, sturdy, and flawless embellishment, by all means snap that up.
15 minute mend: Unless you have the evening after your shopping trip set aside for the express purpose of watching trashy TV and mending clothing, don't buy anything requiring more than a 15 minute mend. It will just end up in a pile somewhere for you to get to...eventually...when you think about it.

Keep the clothing classic, chase the trends with the accessories: Part of this is my own personal taste. I like classic lines. If I'm buying, I don't want something that will rapidly look dated. I want clothing that will stick around a while, but I can update and revamp with my accessory choices.

Buy for the body you have: Don't get wrapped up in "almost there". Buy what fits and is flattering in the moment you are standing there. Clothing is easier to take in than let out. If you are trying to lose inches and need a visual motivation to slim down, make it a piggybank full of cash for tailoring or another shopping trip when you reach your goal. Don't let it be a pile of clothing that will stress you out when you look at it and that may not actually fit right even if you reach that size. I learned this through experience. I have purchased clothing for a smaller size only to find that when I was smaller the chest didn't fit right, or that no amount of diet or exercise would change the fundamental shape of my butt. The majority of those purchases were destined for the scrap pile or a clothing exchange, and never worn by me.

Really look at yourself:  There were a couple of pieces I loved on the hanger. One was a warm and elegant navy blue nautical sweater, from a high-end retail designer. This was perfect on the hanger. On me, however, the collar was not wide or small enough. It rested in a weird middle ground that made my strong shoulders and larger chest look matronly. On the other hand, another sweater I tried on made me look like an elegant power bitch, and another made me look like a romance novel heroine. My body didn't change in those five minutes, the cut of the clothing did. Look for puckers or gaps. See if it's riding up in your armpit or if the sleeve is a bit too short. Can you bend down without flashing anyone. Can you move your arms without popping a button? What features are being accentuated?

Nonattachment: if it won't work on you, throw it back to another. I know sometimes it can be hard to set aside that incredible item that is almost right on you, but perfect on the hanger.  Look at it as shopping karma. Someone else will find a treasure that may be made for them and they will adore it.
Enjoy your treasure-hunting!

What about the non-makeup jobs?

I have done makeup for print, runway, and events. I have worked in spas as an Aveda-trained esthetician. I have been contracted out by cosmetic lines for years of employment. I have been internationally published in fashion magazines. I also am a pretty successful freelancer who has been running my own studio for a number of years. Seems glam, doesn't it?

However, what captures the imagination of my clients when they sit in my chair is my long history of non-makeup jobs. To lay the groundwork, and to support my art until it could support itself, I would do just about anything to survive, to get a good story, or for a laugh. These three things have defined my job history; I am not afraid to try new things, and I look for the best story.  I have also usually held down more than one job at a time, so my work history is pretty packed. Even though I no longer worry about a day job now that makeup has turned into a career, sometimes I will still take a short-term gig for a good story or experience, like when I worked the recent King Tutankhamun exhibit.

I have often run into people who needed work, but didn't want to take anything that wasn't "in their field". I can understand this for some highly-specialized fields. However, in the creative industries, I would argue that variety and flexibility (both on the job-seeker's part and in the job's scheduling) is extremely enriching. It allows you to build a firm and colorful foundation so when you are ready to venture on your own, you can also be a social chameleon, rich in stories and skills. I was recently working with a model and mentioned "I used to catch snakes for a nature center" and she stopped in her impressively high heelless platforms and laughed "what HAVEN'T you done?" So, for the record, I give you my non-makeup jobs, and how they helped me become the makeup artist I am today.

Our story REALLY begins 13 years ago.
Outside the place I made perfume.
Hell yes I was rocking glitter and a porkpie hat. 

I have...

...Bussed tables in a biker bar while my dad cooked.

How it applies today: It keeps me grounded to remember my roots. My dad would bring us to work when had us for the weekend. I grew up around these bikers and bussed the tables for pool, pinball, and jukebox money. They were my first patrons. They gave me art supplies and encouragement as I drew on their walls, and fulfilled requests for designs for tattoos and for images to be painted on the tanks of motorcycles and the hoods of cars.

...Been a nanny.

How it applies today: If I could handle a four year old, a seven year old and a twelve year old that chased each other with knives when I first arrived and turn them into well-behaved kids that would take care of each other and make breakfast...I can handle chaos backstage.

...Worked as a park laborer, twice.

How it applies today: I am not afraid to work hard, get dirty, or lend a hand to the crew. If I can wade into leech-filled waters to fix a pontoon bridge, chop down trees and dig stumps, pull up a patch of poison ivy by hand, drive industrial lawnmowers, or shovel hotly decaying woodchips in full august sun...I'm pretty sure I can roll up my sleeves to help lift a few things and lighten your load. I also wield a mean multi-tool and am prepared for almost anything needing fixing on set.

...Done my fast food time

How it applies today: It gave me humility and the ability to fend off skeezy people in positions of authority. It helped to ensure that I will never be needlessly rude to someone working an entry-level job.

...Bathed animals in a homeopathic pet center.

How it applies today: It helped me to start thinking in a holistic manner when approaching something cosmetic. It wasn't just about prettying up the animals, but doing so in a healthy manner with quality products. This location was also an animal rescue, so it taught me to be firm but gentle, and to work with creatures that have been scared or wounded. It's a little surprising how much working with packs of dogs and working with crews of people can have similarities at times. 

...Been a clerk in a metaphysical book shop.

How it applies today: I am open-minded and love to hear what motivates and moves people of all walks of life. I find artistic inspiration in the mythologies, traditions, and stories from people all around the world and throughout history. It also gave me a start in herbalism, which has helped me a great deal when it comes to my cosmetic ingredient knowledge.

...Organized and crafted displays for a boutique.

How it applies today: It helped me to look at a work as a whole picture, not a single element, which helps to ensure that my makeup is part of the whole story that is being created, and not an element that is going to seem out-of-place. It also allowed me to experiment with color and texture and to bring something lovely and intentional out of chaos.

...Been a muralist.

How it applies today: It taught me how to manage commissions, and was my first foray into pricing my own work and timing my pace to match a project deadline. It also taught me how to work in front of an audience and in hustle-and-bustle.

...Been a cocktail waitress in a gay bar.

How it applies today: This was my first brush with being  "a name". I had large groups of regulars, who would shout their nickname for me when I'd walk in the door, like I was Norm from the show "Cheers". This was weird for a shy kid. It helped draw me out of my shell and got me to loosen up and play. It introduced me to the club scene.

...Been a hostess/organizer for a gothic-industrial dance night.

How it applies today: I performed my very first makeup application on a stranger. He was a lovely gay boy who wandered in and wanted to fit in on the dance floor. I did his makeup while perched on the bathroom sink in the men's room (it was years before I even considered makeup as a job, so I didn't know ANYTHING about safety and sanitation). I learned to commit to an ongoing project. I learned to mix and mingle. I learned to keep a crowd moving, talking, and entertained.

...Been a custom-perfumer, "the best nose in the business" according to my coworkers, and a buyer at an indie bath, body and gift boutique.

How it applies today: The buying taught me trendspotting and how to have variety while maintaining a cohesive "feel" for the store. The bath and body care was my introduction to product knowledge and applied ingredient knowledge.  It was when I first addressed individual and varied skin and hair needs. It taught me how to let a celebrity know it was good to see them without getting uncomfortably star-struck. The perfuming taught me aromatherapy and managing commissions as well as patience, attention to tiny details, and that work can be very meditative.

...Been a waitress/barista/prep cook/dishwasher/somalier at a restaurant.

How it applies today: I learned to maintain professionalism, boundaries, and a poker face while working with very difficult people.  I learned to rise above my station a bit and experience some of the finer things and to explain and sell them to the customers. Again, I learned to make people feel genuinely welcomed, relaxed, and like they were part of an exclusive club. I never let it show that I was working the jobs of four people until I went home, took one shoe off and fell face-first on my bed.

...Been a figure model.

How it applies today: I know and can coach posing to models. I also never take a model for granted and I am always aware of the model's physical and emotional comfort. It taught me to slow down, take a breath, and just BE. As there was nothing to do but listen, I earned a free supplemental art education by walking around the room on my breaks and taking mental pictures of the works in progress. I would then listen to the instructors and picture what they were saying. Thirteen years of this was more valuable than many college courses I paid for. 

...Been a public relations lead.

How it applies today: It pummeled my stage fright into something manageable and I could hide it as long as I was on-air. It also taught me how to design and present a message, steer conversations, and hit talking points. It taught me that presentation does matter. It was my introduction to teaching and to appearing in various forms of media. This is why I could look calm while painting a newscaster live on air, transforming her from a pretty princess to a zombie bride. I'm completely nervous before and after an appearance, but pretty mellow once I'm in the swing of it.

...Been a used clothing clerk.

How it applies today: I can spot a deal a mile away. I can pinch a penny until it bleeds. I can create wonderful things on a budget. It also taught me how to inspect things closely for quality, to repair things that only need a little love to be spectacular,  and to find diamonds in the rough. It helped me develop an eye for fashion.

...Been a clerk in a mom and pop gift shop.

How it applies today: I like to support the little guy. I learned to maintain equipment from the "pop" half of the equation, who would putter around the store and fix things. I always remember that there are livelihoods and beating hearts behind a business, so if one does right by me, I return the favor. I haven't worked there in years, but my husband and I recently spent a summer afternoon fixing their register. 

...Been a promotional model.

How it applies today: I tailor my look, attitude and bearing to fit the company's message. I know that sometimes it is about the message, not about me. I engage in cram study-sessions to become an instant-expert on topics. I have driven VIPs around in little golf-carts. It also taught me to be clear-headed and selective about the jobs I book, no matter the pay.

...Interned in a puppet theater.

How it applies today: I can do a lot more than makeup for a shoot. It taught me fast-paced flexibility. One day I would have to dumpster dive for puppet parts for a show on recycling, the next I would be assisting actors with pogo-stilts. I might assist with taiko-drumming, paint batik, stitch a tiny luchador costume, or help construct a giant jack-in-the-box. When we would open for community workshops, I learned to guide people in the the process of bringing their visions into creation. I also learned tenacity...I did not know how to drive at the time and there was a bus strike. I walked miles and miles on heavily blistered feet to an unpaid internship because I believed in the work I was doing.

...Worked in hand-bindery in a print factory.

How it applies today: Repetitive work by yourself can be almost meditative. It also taught me attention to detail and the ability to spot the smallest flaws in color, pattern, or symmetry.

...Been a pub wench at a Renaissance festival

How it applies today: It taught  me not to be afraid of well-timed sass. It taught me to work a crowd, laugh at myself, and to exude confidence and own my space. 

...Been a resident girl-geek in a comic store on a troubled block with aggressive shoplifters.

How it applies today: I got used to being stared at. I was masterful at letting trouble know I was not allowing any shenanigans and steering it away without question or escalation. I learned to be assertive and to watch out for my coworkers (as one of my interview questions actually asked if I was willing to physically throw people out of the store if they got violent). I collected a ton of stories, enough that even though I now run my own business, I would probably have kept on there part time for the entertainment value. It also let me further study art, color, and texture through the comics, and fashion through the Vogue Italia magazines that my manager and I would descend on like ravenous hounds when it came time to discard them. 

...Been an esthetician at spas.

How it applies today: This is where I learned my safety and sanitation procedure and kicked it up a notch.  This is where I started doing makeup for weddings and events. It is also where I developed a reputation as a "brow artist". It taught me to maintain client relationships, to promote my own business, and to create opportunity. It also taught me to read subtle cues. I could tell through touch alone if someone was left or right handed, which side they would hold their cell-phone on, and if they were using certain skincare products. I could look and diagnose different skin conditions and hormonal states.  I read the tiniest shift in body language to tell if I was massaging a tender spot, or if I needed to adjust my technique. I learned to comfort and soothe, or to listen if someone needed to talk. I learned that when someone is cocooned in blankets in front of me, with their eyes covered, they are vulnerable and their trust is a sacred gift. I am not going to betray that trust by putting a client at risk, which is why my kit is one of the cleanest and freshest you will find in the industry. That is also how I learned that I would choose integrity over money, as when I was asked to do things that were dangerous for my clients, I struck out on my own and started my makeup career.

...Been a dresser for theater for disabled artists

How it applies today: Many of our actors had issues with mobility, mood, or developmental disorders. I would help people change backstage during shows, especially the people with limited mobility or who needed a little help moving fast enough between scenes. It taught me to stick to timing of the play even if someone is having a rough moment, to coach them through it and get them ready for the cue. It taught me patience and compassion and to take things in stride with humor. Backstage at a theater can be fast-paced and challenging enough. When you add disabilities and emotional disorders, when you puzzle out sentences from a few seemingly random words from a stroke victim, when you lunge forward to catch a blind gentleman before he tumbles from stage and sprain your shoulder, when someone has a loud outburst about your "ghetto booty" during a quiet part of the show...it becomes a whole new ballgame. 

...Been a bellydancer, performing 6 times a day on weekends.

How it applies today: It taught me how to treat fans, respectfully, thankfully, with boundaries. It taught me to push past what I though my physical limits were. It taught me costume design and fine embellishment work. It provided the name for this blog when I had some very ardent fans and was told, "Lucinda, fanboys are an occupational hazard of being fab."

...Been a bodygaurd.

How it applies today: I spent a week in a hotel room with a model to make sure she was safe while traveling. My models trust me to look out for their safety when I am backstage. Even if other designers are having trouble, that trouble instinctively knows to leave my crew alone. We are the safe and calm eye of the storm.

...Worked door at a nightclub.

How it applies today: I brook no BS. I know a line when I hear one. I am not easily intimidated. I polish up well. This was another job where I worked alongside some of the very wealthy and blended in even though I was living in a tiny studio apartment with a shared bathroom at the time. I learned to carry myself well and walk in circles that I would have though beyond my reach as a kid. It also taught me to handle the unexpected with poise, including the night I had to ask myself "there are free drinks, no electric lights, women in nothing but body paint, candles, and a petting zoo..what could possibly go wrong?"

...been a clerk in an adult novelty boutique.

How it applies today: Discretion. I know the kinks of local celebrities and I will never tell. Humor. When you realize we all come naked and screaming into this world, and you've seen all of the ridiculous ways that seed gets planted, it's hard to take yourself too seriously. I also went into this job in this post here.

...Been a substitute teacher at a center for disabled artists.

How it applies today: I am constantly inspired by the artists. I see such deep acts of compassion and far-reaching founts of creativity. I see miracles happen through art and determination. I am reminded to play and to experiment with my art. I constantly learn new techniques so that I can help someone achieve a goal. They teach me as much as I teach them.

Each and every one of these jobs had something to offer that I use in my career today. You never know what will come in handy. Supplementing my arts with interesting jobs did not diminish me or blow my focus. It just meant that when the art was ready to support itself, I had a richer background for it. That depth and "something different" makes people want to work with me and keep working with me. It made me more skilled and adaptable. Lessons and opportunity are not always on a clear-cut path, and an interesting life rarely is. Don't be afraid to explore what you can do or to seek out your own collection of stories. 


Artistic frustration, you are not alone.

I was teaching painting recently and one of the women in the room was getting frustrated with her work. She creates lovely work, but was at a point where she had reworked this particular piece over and over and couldn't stand to look at it anymore. She and I took a break and I read her a poem that made her feel better and reignited the artistic spark.

At some point, all artists get frustrated with their work, question their talent, or are simply ready to quit. In times like that, and when I get frustrated with my own work, I think of Michelangelo.

Point one: "David" is not perfect. In fact, I have an article from the earlier days of the internet as we know it. When the Digital Michelangelo Project started up, they took scans of the "David" and they discovered that he's a bit cockeyed. I like this flaw as it reminds me that the sculptor was human and even a master can make mistakes.

Point two: Even he got frustrated with his employer. "I am thy drudge and have been since my youth" and he was uncomfortable when he had to stretch his comfort zone. Even though he excelled at it, he never viewed himself as a painter.

I have an antique book of Michelangelo's sonnets. My favorite is this one, where he bitches and moans about the creation of his work in the Sistine Chapel. I share this with other artists when they need to know they are not alone when they are unhappy with their work and that even a masterpiece in the making can gnaw at an artist's patience.

On the Painting of the Sistine Chapel to Giovanni Da Pistoja

I've grown a goitre by dwelling in this den--
As cats from stagnant sreams in Lombardy,
Or in what other land they hap to be--
Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in,
Fixed on my spine: my breast-bone visibly
Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery
Bedews my face from brush-drops thick and thin.
My loins into my paunch like levers grind:
My buttock like a crupper bears my weight;
My feet unguided wander to and fro;
In front my skin grows loose and long; behind
By bending it becomes more taught and straight;
Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow:
Whence false and quaint, I know,
Must be the fruit of squinting brain and eye;
For ill can aim the gun that bends awry.
Come then, Giovanni, try
To succour my dead pictures and my fame;
Since foul I fare and painting is my shame.

In the end, even though he suffered and complained, he created a thing of breathtaking beauty.

Watch Sistine Chapel Anniversary on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.