Three Reasons to Learn Abstraction

Abstraction Assignments
©2015 Mary Beth Thorne


Why Learn About Abstraction?

Once a year I teach a 10 week intensive workshop on abstraction.  Why might you want to learn about abstraction?

1) I admit…  when I started out making abstract art I really didn’t know exactly what “abstraction” meant.  Which made it really hard to know if I was really doing it “right”.

Non-objective, pure abstraction, cubism, abstracted landscapes – it was all muddle in my head and I could never really define it – for my self or for others.  By spending hours and hours studying and doing extensive reading and looking and seeing I was able to finally sort it out.

Had I just taken a class (well duh!) I would have figured it all out sooner.   One of the fun things in my class is students get to try out a variety of types of abstraction to find the style that suits them best.  We are all different and most all students have a preference for how they work abstractly.

[As a bonus along the way students get to try out different ways of planning their art and as a result they tend to build stronger studio habits once they sort out how they work best.]


2) To speak intelligently about our artwork we need to understand where our artwork fits into the history of art.

The history of abstract art in the Western world is only about 100 years old.  While abstraction appeared in other cultures long before, it wasn’t until the early 1900’s that anyone was bold enough to claim a big black square was fine art.  How did that happen?  Why?  How did it evolve?  Where along that 100 year timeline does your work fit in?

When we understand what came before us, and why and most importantly – what were they trying to say – I believe it is much easier for us to explain the same things about our own work.  Why abstract?  What does it mean?  What is meaning in abstract art in the first place?  Once reality is removed – is there meaning?  What role does the artist play in the creation of abstract work?

I could go on and on here – I find these sorts of questions fascinating and I love that by studying the history of abstraction I gain great insight into why I’m doing what I’m doing and how I fit into the world of abstraction.  It makes it infinitely easier to talk to others about why I’m doing what I’m doing and what it all means.

And why it is a legitimate form of art. Do your friends and family members look at your abstract work and wonder what it is?  By learning the history of abstraction you can help them better understand what you are doing and why it has value.


3) Not working abstractly?  Doing landscapes but which you could put more of yourself into the work?  Abstraction doesn’t necessarily mean there is no relationship to reality.  For many the process of abstracting reality (either a little or a lot) is where they find the sweet spot and it is often the key for making realistic work more personal.   I find abstracting reality hard – yet incredibly gratifying as it is about sorting out what matters to me and exposing it in my art.

We learn a lot about ourselves and our preferences when we start to abstract reality in our art.

So to compliment this exploration my abstraction workshop includes a lot of mindset explorations – we’ll look at personality types, perfectionism, vulnerability, confidence and a biggie – limiting beliefs.  All of these can help us better understand our world which results in making better art.


My Online Abstraction Workshop

The 2016 session of Abstraction begins June 5.

There are a total of 8 assignments of the course of 10 weeks.  And there is a built in catch up week midway through the workshop.

Details and Registration are here:  Abstraction.

See more work and read form students thoughts about Abstraction here:  Alumni Directory – Abstraction.


Mary Beth Thorne

“While paintings of the Impressionists were my first love, studying the many Abstract Art movements showed me how each new movement was a reaction to the previous one/ones. I called my own painting style “fuzzy realism” which was simply blurring the lines and shapes of a realistic object. I wanted to develop more complex pieces of art, but I had no idea how to do it.

Lisa’s Abstraction class gave us the opportunity to study many ways to abstract objects and ideas and then to practice doing them. My favorite exercise was recreating one of Kandinsky’s paintings. I became deeply involved with his shapes, colors and the placement of them.  Critiquing his painting helped my identify the elements and principles of design in his work, as well as in other abstract artist’s work. This led me to a greater appreciation of modern art in general.

I found the huge variety of abstract styles to be both freeing and a little daunting.  But, becoming familiar with them and creating my own pieces in those different styles gave me the confidence to be creative in ways that I previously could not have imagined. It has now been several months since I finished the Abstraction class.  My mind must have been busy behind the scenes because I recently put together two painting ideas with a new awareness for abstracting them. The result was my most complete, complex and finished painting!  It is still recognizable as mine, but it is so much more interesting – perhaps a “reaction” to my previous style.  Now, I can’t wait to start a series of these paintings.

Lisa’s classes are like taking a challenging college course in a subject that you love, and doing it in your own space with your own tools on your own time-schedule. Combined with lots of valuable contact with Lisa and the rest of the online class, what could be a better situation?”

~Mary Beth Thorne, Hot Springs Village, Arkansas

Does all that inspiration actually do anything?


…And What They Did Next…

You can’t shake a stick on facebook without hitting a link to an inspirational article or video of some type.

Many of them with click-bait titles along the lines of…  and what they did next will surprise you!!

We to go watch the video, we click like, we might take the time to type out “love this”, and if it’s really cool we might even repost it on our own wall to inspire others.

And then what?

What do we do next?

Do we ever do anything with that inspiration?

Does it change our mindset?

Do we take action?

Are our lives improved?

Or o we move on to the next cute cat video and forget we saw the video?


Research suggests that we are likely doing the later with much (most? all?) of those inspirational videos that we watch (along with everything else on facebook).  Information overload results in most of what we see online not being stored into long term memory.

Try this – write down (don’t just think about) a summary of the last inspirational video clip you watch on facebook.

Now ask yourself – what did you do with that information?  How has it changed your life for the better?  Did you take a concrete action to change your life?

The Regret Video

The last video like this that I watch was the above video about regret.  Someone on one of my coaching facebook groups posted it.  It was indeed inspirational.  Many people wrote a short comment agreeing the video was excellent.

[Quick video summary…  They asked people to write down their biggest regret.  Most everyone mentioned something they didn’t do.  An opportunity lost, an action not taken.  It was about not taking risks, not following dreams.]

What did I do with this information? Nothing personally.  I didn’t take any risks, I didn’t follow any new dreams.   I just thought “yep – I should do things”.

It didn’t change my life in anyway.  I just went back to facebook and read another post.

For some reason this video got me thinking.  So I asked on that facebook thread what it was they all did with that information.

It was coaches – we know all about learning and taking action and transformation – so I figured if a group was going to actually do something with the inspiration it would be this group.

Only  1 person answered my question – the person that posted the video. She took the inspiration to go deeper into a workshop she was creating.

I’m not sure if other people didn’t answer because they thought I was being obnoxious (questioning the value of inspirational videos is probably an un-coachy sort of thing to do) or if they did nothing with the inspiration who wants to admit that?  Or more likely we are pretty much all to busy to have conversations on facebook and it’s better to just click like and move on.

Making it Personal

So I’m left with my thoughts on these sorts of videos and here is the conclusion I came to.

These videos add about the same value to our life as cute cat videos.  They are fun, they make us feel good and surrounding ourselves with positive, happy things is a good way to remain happy.

Why do I think they don’t add much value?  If you are stuck and don’t have the tools to implement the messages from these inspirational posts its kinda hard to do anything with the message.

Yes – to avoid regret we need to do things and not miss opportunities. But how can you take risks if you are too afraid to take the leap?

Inspiration is excellent – tools to put that inspiration into practice are even more excellent.

And because everyone is different (what blocks me from taking the leap is likely different from what is blocking you) we need personalized tools.  Help in taking the leap and also help in identifying the right leaps to take.

And that is where coaching comes in.  Coaches provide the tools needed to help you move forward.  To take the risks that you want to take.   And it is personal.

It certainly has been my experience.  It wasn’t until I started working with a coach that I was able to start creating exactly the life I wanted.  Finally the inspirational message meant something personal.

Wrap Up

What do you think? What’s your experience with these sorts of videos and articles?



PS – my co-active coaching services for artists.

“The opportunity to receive coaching from Lisa Call is the gift that keeps on giving. Her coaching enabled me to reach beyond my fears and step into a more bountiful art practice. I went from thoughts of self-doubt to being empowered to perform to my own standards above all else.

Lisa’s coaching was the pivotal “Aha-moment” for me.  Since then, I’ve achieved several career milestones including a commission from an international hotel, a competitive artist residency, an unsolicited invitation to teach at a well known fiber conference and have been curated into a premier textile art exhibition next year.”

~Christine Mauersberger


Design is the Foundation

Mary Beth Thorne
Design Elements Exercises
©2015 Mary Beth Thorne

Why You Need Design

“How do I know if my work is any good?”

“I want to learn how to critique my own work.”

I’ve heard these comments many times from fellow artists.  They want to make better artwork.  They know that learning to look at their work objectively is part of that path.  They need to know what isn’t working so they can fix it.

They ask me how they can learn this skill.  My answer is very simple:

Step 1) Learn design.  Practice design.  Eat, live and breath design until it is second nature.

Step 2) Get clear on the meaning of your artwork.

Step 3) Make a lot of art, evaluate it based on what you know from #1 and #2.  Make the next one better.  Then the next.

Step 4) Repeat steps 1 and 2 through out your career.

How to Learn Design

Learning the vocabulary of design is easy.  Just google design elements and design principles.  Read the wikipedia page.

So why take a workshop to learn what you can google in 5 minutes?

Great question – for some people reading is enough.  They can then take the information and apply it to their own work.

For others learning in a classroom environment is better.

Design is about learning to seeing a different way.  It’s about learning to look at the parts and the whole in a more intentional way.

Doing assignments and getting feedback is a great way to provide structure, motivation and integrating your learning.  I personally believe that design classes are never a waste of time.

You are Never too Old or too Good for Design

I am starting another session of my Design Elements workshop in a few days.

I feel I am at a transition point in my artwork.  What’s next?  I’m not exactly sure, but I’ve decided to take my design elements workshop right along with my students.

Part of my workshop is reviewing older artwork in terms of design.  I have no doubt that is going to be a huge learning for me.

Mary Beth Throne

One of my alumi from Design Elements has this to say about the value of learning design:

“Thanks so much for the really encouraging words on my latest assignment!  But I do realize that the reason for your good words is you and this class.

I have thought many times that you tailored this class for me … with the content, the logistics, the assignments and studying my own paintings and other artist’s paintings in detail.

I really hope that all your students feel this way because it feels great!  My biggest “”aha”” is that contrary to thinking that brushes, paint and paper were my tools, the real tools are the elements of design.  I had only a basic idea of what could be done with them and this class has given me the opportunity to explore the range of options that each element has available to me.

My other classes focused on the Principles of Design and were wonderful, but this class gives me the tools to follow the Principles.

So thank you again and again!”

~Mary Beth Thorne, Hot Springs Village, Arkansas

Wrap Up

What is your experience with design?

Ready to increase your comfort with design?

Learn more about my upcoming design workshop

It starts June 5, 2016.


Art Biz Systems – Challenges and the 2016 Master Class

Moody Blue
Note to Self

©2015 Helen Conway
Mixed Media Textiles

The Master Class and 2015 Challenges

Once a year I open enrollment for what I call the Master Class – a year long coaching/consulting/support group workshop.

I’ve written about how coaching works and it’s relationship to the master class. Today I want to share another aspect of the workshop.

While much of the focus on the master class is on the individual life and art coaching, there is also a consulting aspect with a monthly group call where every can ask me art biz questions.

Mid way through the 2015 master class one of the participants asked if I could look at everyone’s websites and give some feedback during one of our monthly group consulting call. They had all been saying they wanted to update their websites and thought this would be the perfect way to inspire them to do the work.

I immediately agreed – it seemed like a really good use of our consulting call.

I also knew it needed to be focused on them doing the work prior to the call. So I created a simple worksheet for them to fill out – they evaluated their own websites and figured out the changes they wanted to make before we even talked. For those without websites, it was an opportunity to start thinking about what they wanted from a website.

The call went well, much learning happened.

And from there – the master class challenges were born.

They’ve been a bit ad hoc as I didn’t have a big picture plan for them when the class started but they’ve been a nice addition to the class.

We’ve covered websites, blogs, newsletter and our final challenge will be social media.

Bigger and Better

As I was reformulating the master class for 2016 I wanted to expand on the challenges to be the mechanism providing a solid structure for participants take action.

Master classers are looking for transformation. Coaching is a huge component in making that happen – we focus on dreaming, getting clear, getting unstuck, and making plans during our calls. It makes the work very personal.

But without action, transformation is just a concept. The challenges provide a structure for some of that action (the art biz related things) because often the issue is not really knowing what steps need to be taken.

The 2016 challenges will be step by step checklists of action items to take to build/create/achieve specific goals. They are, of course, highly customizable, because we are individuals.

Essentially I am taking the systems I use to run my own art business and sharing them with my master class students. These isn’t just theory. These checklists work. And they come with lots of references to learn more about each topic.

[Not sure what systems are?  They are repeatable steps for things we do in our lives – sort of like habits.  I’ve been talking about using systems for our art careers since 2010.  This talk I gave in 2010 is a quick introduction to systems.

All challenges are optional AND you can work on them in any order you choose. Whatever you need for your specific career – that is what you work on.

The challenges do not require my feedback. They are systems that you can put in place at any time.

For some participants that might mean you are focusing on your studio most of the time. For others you might focusing more on marketing. Or building your website. Or focusing on health (which has a strong connection to our art).

The challenges are also quite complex and comprehensive – they all cover more material than anyone can do in a single month.   If you are focused on your art the studio challenge could keep you occupied for months.

With the individual coaching call, you learn to tailor your work to your values and dreams. You work on the challenges that fit your dreams and leave the others on the table for another time (or never.)

The 2016 Challenge Topics

While the challenge are always available to provide structure, each month I will provide feedback on a specific topic during our consulting call. Why?

Because we love deadlines. Yes – you can do the challenges at any time and create your art biz with these systems. AND by having a deadline it can help you do some work you’ve been procrastinating on.

Every challenge is optional so there is no pressure to participate. And even if you don’t, there is much learning that happens during the consulting calls.

Here is the tentative schedule of topics for 2016:

March – I’ve Got a Plan
– Planning
– Goals
– Systems
– Time Management
– Operations Manual

May – My Art and Studio

April – My Health and My Support Crew

June – My Foundation – The Art Artifacts
– Art inventory
– Resume
– Bio
– Artist statement
– Business cards

July – Sharing My Art – Building a Foundation
– Purpose / Big Picture
– Headshot
– Mailing Lists
– Editorial Calendar

August – My Beautiful World

September – Sharing My Art – Website

October – Exhibits and Sales

November – Sharing My Art – Newsletter

December – My Money and Other Numbers

January – Sharing My Art – Blogging

February – Sharing My Art – Social Media

Helen Conway

Helen’s website

Helen has been in the master class for a few years. Here are some of her thoughts on the experience:

“If you want your art career to take off, participation in the Masterclass is like you being a pilot of your life with air traffic control and a supportive cabin crew working alongside you.

If you are at the very beginning of your art journey, maybe not even sure where you are heading, Lisa as coach will help you prepare your flight plan, set your goals, find your guiding core values. Each coaching call helps you take the next step from ‘ chocks away’ to the gentle taxi to the runway and the gathering of speed as you open up the throttle.

You put in all the work, but Lisa acts like a traffic controller helping you find a clear route and allowing you to see and avoid obstacles. Then you remain accountable to her checking in as you need to keep you on course.

The individual calls to Lisa in ‘the tower’ are personal and tailored to the destination you set for yourself.

The class calls and material are like generalised information for all artist-pilots equipping you to fly high and safely.

And you are not flying solo but are supported by a close community of others all working in their own way to take off in their own art careers. There is daily support, sharing and socialising via the Facebook group. For classmates who left after the first year that has continued on a more occasional level on an alumnus group.

When you reach your first destination the process can be repeated, stopping you crash landing but rather guiding you to refuel and regathering and take off again for even more exotic climes.

In the two years I have been in the Masterclass I have been supported and equipped to go from wanting to be an artist to being taken on by a gallery for my first solo show. I have learned about the business of being a professional artist and I have been aided to overcome significant obstacles. I cannot now countenance being without a coach and my classmates.

~Helen Conway, UK

Wrap Up

Do you have on operations manual for you business?



Enrollment is now open for the 2016 master class (through end of February – or until it is full).

Learn more about the master class.


Don’t forget the Love



I’m going to be honest – I have a hard time sticking with a “traditional” gratitude journal.   You know – that list of 3 or 5 things that we are supposed to write down each night so we can stay focused on the beautiful and positive.

My lists tend to look something like this

  • my daughter had a friend over and they were silly – I love seeing her happy!
  • I saw a double rainbow – so pretty!
  • dinner was really yummy.  I love fish!

I get bored with it.

How many variations of “my kids”, “my cats”, “my friends”, “nature”,  “my house” can I really come up with each night?  It stresses me out and feels forced to me.

Maybe I’m doing wrong but I just can’t see the point and can’t keep up the habit for an extended period of time.

Instead I prefer to focus on a more concrete list of ways I see that what I’m doing is making a difference.

I write a nightly list of affirmations and accomplishments.


This is a list of everything that came my way during the day as an affirmation I’m on the right track.  As an artist my list might be things like this:

  • Someone buys my art.
  • My work is accepted into an exhibit.
  • I get an email thanking me for my workshops.
  • I get a thank you from a collector for adding beauty to their home.
  • A friend likes my work.
  • A gallerist shows interest in my art.
  • Someone smiles at me.
  • My workshops fill.
  • My artwork receives an award.
  • I over hear a friend telling someone my artwork is awesome.
  • They said YES!

While I’m indeed grateful for these things – it is a more tightly focused list.

I see these things as signs the world loves me.  They are generally actions other people are taking that have a positive impact on me.


In addition to the affirmations I also keep a list of my daily accomplishments.  This isn’t just crossing things off my todo list.  I write down in my journal a summary of the things I did during that day that moved me forward.

Writing it down connects with the power of my actions.  It reminds me I AM making a difference.

Some days the list is big and impressive:

  • I worked in the studio 5 hours on work for my upcoming exhibit
  • I wrote 2 blog posts
  • I helped 2 artists during our coaching calls – one had an aha moment about what is blocking her.
  • I updated the sidebar of my blog.
  • I handled a challenging email exchange with grace.

Some days the list is less active:

  • I took a day of self care to rest – I got a massage, a pedicure, took a long walk in the sun and bought some tickets to go see my favorite performer.  I did think of a great idea for a blog post which I wrote down and I’ll write it another day.

I see these things as signs that I love myself and am moving towards my dreams.  They are generally actions I took that have a positive impact on me.

Wrap Up

One of themes I see over and over in my coaching is clients that have no connection to their own power.  Or recognition that they are growing with their artwork.

They tend to focus on what went undone.  What failed.  The rejections.  They lack confidence.

When clients start focusing on their actions and the affirmations they are receiving the result is confidence.  And with confidence – they become unstoppable.

How do you stay connected to all the good coming your way and all amazing things you are doing?

I invite you to become a fan of MakeBigArt on facebook where I share additional tips and comments about thinking big about your art.



Art Education – Form and Content – It’s time for Content!


Form and Content

Art is a combination of form and content.

Form is the physical manifestation of the artwork.  It answers these types of questions:

  • what is it made out of (the medium)?
  • what techniques are used?
  • how were the design elements and principles used?
  • what is the style (abstract, impressionistic, etc)?

Content is the essence of the artwork.  It answers these types of questions:

  • what is the subject/theme?
  • what is the context?
  • what is the meaning/intention?
  • why was this artwork created?

Art Education

Most artists seek out instruction and education to hone their craft.  Outsider artists are an exception – they are truly self taught and have no formal education.  Of any kind.

The rest of us – we look for help.  Some artists attend formal education and obtain a degree.  Others (myself included) take workshops and night classes and do a lot of reading.  We patch together an art education with bits and pieces.

The majority of workshops and classes available outside of the formal education system focus on form.

A large portion of independent workshops teach medium/technique.  Indeed, if you don’t have the skills and craft to make your artwork, you can’t begin.  These classes are essential.

Another focus of these workshops is style – learning to make landscapes in a certain style, or learning how to create abstract artwork.

A smaller portion of these classes focus solely on design.  Design elements and principles are an essential tool for a visual artist.  They aren’t a set of rules on how to make art – they are insight into how artwork is viewed.  And once you understand how your choices on the canvas impact the way your art is viewed – it is much much easier to make impactful artwork.

Teaching Meaning

What about content?  Where are the privately run workshops that focus on the meaning of your artwork?

I’ve never found such a workshop although in our post-impressionist work content and meaning are a strong focus in formal art degree programs.

The topic of content is most often assumed in private workshops.  The subject matter in technique classes is generally a given:  the subject is a landscape, or a still life or an abstract.

But where is the why?  Why are you doing what you are doing?  And what does it matter to know why?  What does it even mean to ask why?

I’ve decided it’s time to teach such a workshop.  One that addresses the content side of art – Finding Meaning in Your Art – Find Your Voice.

This workshops will cover some of the formal aspects of content and its relationship to art (aka be prepared for some powerpoint presentations – I do believe in rigorous university style lectures where you learn something).

It will also explore the more personal side of content.  And this is where my training as a life coach will be leveraged.  This class is about you – not just art theory and history.

The assignments include both studio work and self exploration.

Are you looking to go beyond “I do it because I want to – it has no meaning” or “I just like making beautiful things”?  Do you want to find a deeper meaning behind your artwork?  Do you want and artist statement that talks about your ‘why’ and feels authentic?

If so please consider joining us in my latest workshop – Finding Meaning in Your Art – Find Your Voice.

Class starts on February 14 and runs for seven weeks with six assignments with your first assignment due February 21st.

Wrap Up

Do  you know your why?  How did you discover it?

I invite you to become a fan of MakeBigArt on facebook where I share additional tips and comments about thinking big about your art.



PS – Not sure that knowing your Why can bring to your art?  Check out this video – it’s pretty amazing what the right Why can do for you.


Learn more about Finding Meaning in Your Art – Find Your Voice.


How I plan to win the ongoing battle with email addiction

How I plan to win the ongoing battle with email. ©Lisa Call and MakeBigArt - Empowering Artists to Think Big

The Email Trap

Well it happened again.  I sat down Monday morning to check email and I realized I have dozens of emails from the previous week that I didn’t answer.

Email is the life line of my business – ignoring it is really not a good idea.

I’m checking it several (okay LOTS) of times every day.  How can I have so many important unanswered emails?

Thing is I’m only checking it.  Mostly because I’m in the middle of something else when checking and I’m just distracting myself.  Or I’m out and about and looking on my phone to fill in the time.  Not a good time to respond or take action.

So in all that checking of email – I’m not actually doing anything important.

Except for the really really easy ones.  If I have to look up something, or do something that will take more than 10 seconds, or answer a longer question, I pass it by and think “next time I’ll deal with that”.  And honestly even some of the easy ones I ignore.

And of course every next time I’m right in the middle of something else.  So again I don’t respond.  Ditto for the next time.  Very quickly the email I was for sure going to respond to gets lost in a sea of dozens more like it and I forget about it.

A whole lot of checking of email and a whole lot of not responding equals a full inbox packed with people waiting for me to respond.

The Addiction

So right – this is not big news.   And probably many of you are doing something similar.

Here’s why: Why We are Addicted to Email

Addiction.  My little rat brain loves getting new emails – reward reward.  “Look someone is writing to me!”

I’ve known this for years.  We all know it – checking email is an addictive time suck.

Lots of people have solutions.

I’ve tried many.

  • I’ve turned off every notification of every type. I never get interrupted with email.  No dings, no popup messages, no little icons in the system tray, no messages on my phone screen.  No notifications of any type at all, ever.
  • Email does not arrive at my computer or phone automatically – I have to go get my email intentionally – only when I want to read it.
  • I’ve shut down my email program so I don’t see it at all so I’m not tempted.
  • I’ve made a commitment to check it only a couple times a day.
  • I’ve refrain from checking email first thing in the morning.

Sadly none of these things work for me consistently.  Email never goes away.  The reward for checking email is never gone.

When I’m really diligent I can beat the email addiction.  But it never lasts long.  A few hints at the reward and rat brain takes over and I’m checking more frequently, again.

While – yes – I am more productive when I’m not checking email often – the consequences of checking frequently really aren’t that high.  I still get most of the things done I want to.

I find that the effort needed to beat the email habit is a bit out of proportion to the value it brings me.

So basically I’ve caved in. I admit to having a rat brain when it comes to email.  I’m addicted to “checking email” and well, so what.


So what?

Well – the what is: I don’t want to be the lame person not responding to emails in a timely manner.  I teach online workshops – email is my connection to my students.  Timely emails matter.

So here’s my solution…

Three times a week I now have this item on my todo list:  “spend 30 minutes responding to email”

This means that I’m actually processing and responding to email.  Not just shuffling it around like deck chairs on the titanic.

I have no rules about not checking often – because I have better things to spend my discipline energy on – like not eat huge piles of crappy sugary food in the afternoon.

So what if I’m “checking” email often!  I’m now addressing the real problem – unanswered emails.

Lower the Clutter

Until a year ago I had a goal of getting my inbox to zero at the end of every month.  The months I was successful at this  I did keep on top of my email.  The lack of clutter made it easier not to forget important things.

And I liked having an empty inbox so I did deal with things rather quickly to keep the inbox clear.

Unfortunately that fell by the wayside a year ago when I started traveling and my inbox has been a mess ever since.

With my new plan of actually responding to my email the last few weeks, my inbox has gone from over 300 emails that needed a response to fewer than 50.

The back log is clearing, and magically – I find myself “checking email” a lot less frequently now that the clutter has been reduced.  No discipline needed – all I need is a todo list time 3 times a week giving me permission and the space to respond to the longer emails.

Decluttering – it’s not just for rooms.  It works magic on email also.


Wrap Up

What is your relationship with email? Do you have any tips for staying on top of the inbox and either functioning with the addiction or beating it once and for all?

I invite you to become a fan of MakeBigArt on facebook where I share additional tips and comments about thinking big about your art.


The Guest Book – Gathering Information at Your Art Exhibit


The Guest Book

Mounting an exhibit is a huge undertaking.  I believe building repeatable systems is one of the keys to managing the huge list of tasks.  One of the stresses I had every time I held an exhibit of my art was figuring out how to gather visitor information.

It’s a small detail yet it always seemed to loom large in my head. I couldn’t sort out a good solution to the problem.  I had no system!

They make lovely guest books for weddings but they are just not appropriate for an art show. I’ve seen a few smaller ones that are a bit more generic yet they never feel right.  Too formal and creamy colors with a bunch of flowers.  Or the fields provided don’t make sense.

I want it to be clear that I want email addresses so I can add them to my mailing list.

At first solution was to find a notebook laying around my house at the last minute and hastily hand draw in a few lines.   This was generally a rather unprofessional looking book with pages torn out and hand drawn lines.

Next solution as to print out sheets of paper and use a clip board.  It worked but was really ugly and corporate looking.

At my last show I finally sorted out a solution that was quick and easy and looked great (almost).


Handmade Book

The solution was, of course, a hand made book.

This first time around I went with a very simple solution.  I printed out pages with the information I wanted and used a manila folder for the cover.  One quick line of stitching from my sewing machine held it together.

I glued one of my rejected compositions to the cover to tie it to my exhibition and tada – a book that matched my exhibit and requested the information I cared about.

I was in a bit of a hurry when making this first book (as is evidenced by the scrawled exhibit title on the cover.  Next time around I’ll spend a little more time on the book to make it a bit more classy.  Maybe even hand stitch the pages to the cover.

I was thrilled to have finally hit upon a solution to my guest book problem.  Next time around it will be just one more task in my system of exhibit preparation:  make guest book.  No stress – and instead a fun creative project making a book that matches the style and theme of my exhibit.





Some Tips on Successfully Gathering Information

Unfortunately just having a place to gather data doesn’t mean your guests are going to provide you with their information.  People and their email addresses are not easily parted.

Here are a few of my tricks that seem to  help.

  • Ask your guests to sign the book.  I’ve found that when I make a direct request “I’d love it if you could sign my guest book” I’m much more likely to get them to sign up for my newsletter.  If I just leave it to fate I can come away with no information.  Don’t be afraid to ask your visitors to sign up – they may not know it’s an option.
  • Clearly state the information you’d like them to leave.  Do you want just names?  Comments? Postal addresses? That said don’t be surprised when people leave only bits and pieces of the requested information.  I used to have separate boxes for each bit of information but found people tended to ignore the headings.  I now just provide 1 big box and let them go free form.



  • Create a beautiful space for the book to live.   Flowers, a nice pen holder, and have the book at a comfortable height for your guests to sign.  
  • Prime the pump.  It’s not a bad idea (this is kiwi speak for “it’s a good idea”) to ask a few close friends to sign the book at the start of your opening, to demonstrate what a nice entry looks like.
  • Include Opt-In language for email addresses.  If you will be adding collected email addresses to your mailing list be sure to let them know that is what they will be getting.  Anti-spam laws in some countries require this.  Plus it is just polite and good business.
  • Make it clear what the book is for.  I put my name and info on each page so guests didn’t have to flip back to the beginning to figure out what they were signing.


Wrap Up

What is your experience with a guest book at your events?  Any tips?


I invite you to become a fan of MakeBigArt on facebook where I share additional tips and comments about thinking big about your art.


Bigger Than Buying Underwear – and the return of MakeBigArt

The Money Conversation in the Head

This is a story about how a comment about underwear revived MakeBigArt.

Last week I was having a bit of a panic over money.   It is workshop enrollment time for my new session of online classes and I was freaking out that I might not get enough students enrolled which in my brain turned immediately to thinking I might have to go get a job.

Eeek!  Panic.  I don’t want a job!  I just got rid of one!

So lets back up a bit.  In the 2 years (wow – 2 years!) that MakeBigArt has been on hiatus my life has changed dramatically.

Big change #1: I quit my day job as a software engineer.  This happened in April 2014.  On my birthday.  Best birthday present ever.

Big change #2: I became a trained co-active coach and am a few months away from getting my CPCC – aka – certification as a co-active life coach.

Big change #3: I fell in love.  With a guy in New Zealand.  I’m in the process of exploring what it means to leave the US and live in New Zealand.  I’m starting to try on the word expat.

Each of the above events have impacted my relationship with money in big ways:

  • The days of a steady (and quite lovely) paycheck are gone.  Ditto for amazing health insurance coverage. Instead I support myself solely through sales of my art and my teaching and I am thankful for the affordable care act.
  • I have added life coaching to my stream of income generating activities (yay) and I am still in the process of paying for my training and certification.  The year long program was about $12,000 (ish) and worth every penny.
  • In addition to normal living expenses in New Zealand, I am still a home owner in the US.  I’m still paying for my health insurance, car insurance, cell phone plan, etc.  So basically I have living expenses in 2 countries now instead of just one.  Much to sort out here as I’m still on a visitor visa in New Zealand.  Once I have a work to residency visa I will be able to drop such things as health insurance in the US (imagine!! wow!!)

Anyhow – the result of these changes brings us back to my first sentence.  Having a bit of panic over money.

And the fabulous conversation that resulted with my coach.

Track It

First a bit of tactical nuts and bolts as an aside then we’ll get back to underwear.  If panicking about money (or anything – like say not putting enough time into the studio) one thing that can help is to put a stake in the ground and declare “here I am today”.  It gives us a place from which to peer into the future and see what changes are needed.

Which was a bit of a problem as I had ignored my bookkeeping for the entire year.  I really had no idea where I was.  How much money I was spending or how much I needed.

Right?  This is so natural. The money thing was causing panic – why would I want to look at it?

Yet I knew I needed to untangle the mess and last week I bit the bullet and I got my accounting records caught up. Having some concrete numbers helped a bit in easing the panic.  I now know exactly where I stand and what is between this place and the ideal.

The other thing this allowed me to do, besides ease the panic, was make some beautiful donations.  I gift 5% of my gross income to things I care deeply about.  I believe that money flows in a circle and to receive I need to be giving.

This energy of the cycle of money became blocked the last 7 months and it’s now flowing as it should.  And yes – within hours of giving a big chunk of money away I had more workshop signups.  I don’t give to receive – I give because I love knowing my art makes a difference in this world (someone in Nepal will have a house, someone in Africa will have clean drinking water, the art museum can purchase beautiful art, the organization can stay afloat, etc)  – but it is amazing to see the connection between the two.

Cultivating a mindset where I can do the giving without panic (5% of 7 months of income was a pretty big chunk of the spare cash I had on hand last week) is something that took me a while wrap my head around and every time I do it I am grateful for the practice.

So step one – do the tactical work – check.

Claim My Value

Step 2 was/is a bit harder.   I was having a little freak out about finding students that will want to take my classes.

I know when I spiral into this place it isn’t good.  And my coach was brilliant at helping me identify my limiting beliefs and find a better way to look at it.

There is a lot more competition in the “teaching online workshops” space today than there was 4 or 5 years ago. Many of them are a lot cheaper than mine.  Eek – queue freakout over pricing.

The key to overcoming this was reconnecting with what I know to be the true value in the classes I teach.  Going back and reading pages and pages of testimonials from students that have said my classes have changed their lives and art is helpful.

Reconnecting with what I know to be true and what I have to offer was huge.  My mindset completely changed.

Yes – my workshops are not $37.  Yes – my workshops are worth every penny I charge.  And infact when I look at what students are getting I’m under charging for the value.

So now we are getting to the underwear.

When I explained my workshops were bigger than just a simple art class my coach said (most enthusiastically I might add)

They are bigger than buying new underwear!

Yes yes yes!  She got it.

The aha lightbulb moment – I am PROVIDING BIG VALUE.  And it is not about making money – it is about helping other artist do exactly what I say here – “think big about their art, their marketing and their lives”.

Yes – I knew this.  I just forget.  This is why I have a coach.  I need help remembering sometimes.  The gremlins in the brain refuse to stay in the back of the bus sometimes.

So check – item #2 is done – new mindset.

Instead of feeling like I am grasping and trying to GET more students I know am much more relaxed and am trusting that what I have CREATED will attract exactly the right people.

This distinction between getting and creating is a big one for me that I have to remind myself of occasionally.  Its about the value I put out in the world and attracting those folks looking for that value.

Hello MakeBigArt

So how do I attract them?

I could go totally law of attraction here and just assume they will appear.  But I’m just not that woo-woo spiritual.

I’m a firm believer in the type of coaching I do – “co-active” – which can mean co=being and active=doing.

Yes – I need the right mindsets so I’m not undermining myself and putting out the wrong energy.

I also need to do the right things – like behave like a business. Aka – I need to do some marketing.

Yes yes yes!  And I need to tell people what the value is that my classes provide.  I forget that not everyone knows the history of my classes or how they are set up.  That I keep them really small and that they do transform lives.  I need to actually write this stuff down and share it with my people.

And much bigger than this I want to write about mindsets.  I want to write some of the things that I share in my workshops. Because this desire to help other artists isn’t just about money. I want a forum/community where we can have these sorts of conversations.

So I told my coach I used to have this website called makebigart but I broke it a year+ ago trying to stop hackers from destroying my web hosting account.  Makebigart was created specifically for this sort of stuff.  For inspiring other artists.

I have been wanting to write articles about mindsets and they just don’t fit on my art website so it was getting all jammed up and muddled and going no where.

Solution: at the end of my phone call with my coach I committed to fixing makebigart THAT DAY.  And I did.

So here we are – makebigart is back (I even added an about page!)

I look forward to reconnecting with everyone.



PS – Barb – see – I told you the first article would be titled “bigger than buying underwear.”

PSs – in addition to my usual line up of online art workshops this fall (see them listed in my course catalog) – I am launching a small coaching group for beginning artists called the artist cartography group.

Please let me know if you have any questions.


Is Your Art Blog Boring?

Tell a Story

Do you wish you had more blog readers?  Do you wish you could inspire your readers to take action?

Try this format for a few of your posts:

1) Watch this TED video , The Secret Structure of Great Talks by Nancy Duarte.


2) Remember that you are the mentor.  Make your reader the hero.

3) Resonate with your audience (who are they? what do they care about?)  I find that transparency is a key component of resonating.

4) Start with what is and then move to what could be.

5) End with what could be and a call to action.

Want to learn more from Nancy? Her book Resonate is an excellent resource.

Wrap Up

Who is the hero of your blog?


I invite you to become a fan of MakeBigArt on social media where I’ll be sharing additional tips and comments.

MakeBigArt on Facebook
MakeBigArt on Twitter

In addition you can also find me here:

My Blog
On Twitter
Lisa Call – Textile Paintings on Facebook


Thinking Big about Art