Most people have very romantic idea of what it means to be an artist or designer. There is often times the misconception that we get to hang out in our studios all day and make things and people just magically come and buy them or that we are somehow independently wealthy and we don't need any money or we get to travel the world and show and sell our work. I wish that was the case, any of the above, but unfortunately that is not the reality.
I often hear comments like, 'you're living the dream' or 'oh wow, you get to do what you love' and while this is true it’s by no means easy. I know I've already addressed the subject of artists suffering for their work so that is not what this post is about. It's about all of the other things that go into being an artist or a designer. The reality is that we have to put ourselves out there often. We have to allow ourselves to be naked and vulnerable to the world on a regular basis.
Here's the latest example:
This past weekend I made a trip to London to attend an open call for designers at Liberty London. A very well know and very high end eclectic department store featuring items from well know designers like Oscar de la Renta and Stella McCartney to some lesser known but equally as beautiful and high quality. They carry everything from clothes to jewelry and shoes to fresh flowers and couches, their own fabric, bath products, kitchen and home ware, and even chocolate.
To be perfectly honest, I had never heard of Liberty London until a few weeks before the open call was announced. I was working in my studio one day when a very nice British woman popped in and told me how wonderful my work was and that it looked like something that you would see in Liberty London and that I should contact them and find out how I could sell my work in their store; Literally two weeks later, I saw the announcement for the open call.
It was destiny, right? I mean, seriously what are the chances? All I had to do was send in two photos and they would tell me to show up on the day. So of course that's what I did. I received an email with the registration and all the details I needed for that day.
I was told that I would have three minutes to pitch my items to the buyer and that I should expect to wait in line between 2-3 hours. I was so excited. I thought that this was my big chance, my big break and I was finally going to have my work seen by the right people.
For six weeks I worked on new pieces and perfected some of my favorite designs and best-selling items. I recorded my three minute pitch 8 different times on my phone, timing it down to the second. I arranged a photo shoot and had a new portfolio printed. I didn't take my usual summer vacation with my husband to southern Italy to visit his family because I needed to stay behind and work and I was sure that this was it and it would all be worth it in the end. My hopes were high and I felt confidant and proud of my work.
I bought my plane ticket, booked my hotel and flew to London. My flight was delayed and I arrived in the middle of rush hour traffic with a pounding headache from dehydration and lack of food. I finally arrived at my hotel after a two hour bus ride (usually one hour without the traffic) and trying to navigate the immense London Underground before finally giving up and getting a taxi to take me the rest of the way. I was shattered, as the say in England, by the time I arrived. All I wanted to do was eat and go to sleep.
The next morning I woke up as early as I could possibly manage, which ended up to be about 6:30, I got dressed, did my make-up, gathered all of my work and headed over to Liberty London. I got there at 8:00 and the line was already all the way around the building. Yikes! I knew it was going to be a long day. But I had no idea just how long.
I met some very nice people in line and received some great comments about my work. Many people told me how much they loved it, especially the piece I was wearing, the big green leaf and flower necklace, and how they just knew they were going to love it and how they could definitely see my work in the store. Of course this was encouraging and made me feel even better and more confident about my three minutes.
After 6 1/2 hours of waiting in line with no food or water (because then I would have to find the loo and I was by myself with all my stuff) I finally made it upstairs, 4 floors, and into another waiting area. 30 more minutes later and I still managed a smile and I still managed to stay upbeat and positive. I was finally, finally in to see the buyer.
I took out my work, placed it on the table and within 30 seconds of her looking at it, I could already understand from the way she was talking that the answer was ‘no’. I didn't even get to use the pitch I had prepared so precisely. The new portfolio wasn't even opened. And just like that, my dreams of being sold in Liberty London were crushed right before my eyes.
So, I gathered up my pieces as quickly as I possibly could, put them back in their bag and headed down the four floors worth of stairs where the designers who arrived after me were still waiting. I didn't, I couldn't, make eye contact with any of them. I walked back out into the street and walked as fast as I could through Oxford circus, by this time full of people, though the streets of a city I had never been to before, not looking at anyone, trying as hard as I possibly could not to let one tear drop from my eye. They were welling, I could feel them and I held on until I reached my hotel room, a 15 minute walk from Liberty and then I lost it. The flood gates were open. London bridge had fallen down…
…Or at least that one had. I was devastated, defeated, disappointed, disheartened, frustrated, hungry, thirsty, tired and alone. I sucked, my work sucked, what was I thinking? How could I ever possibly think that they would want me? Some people may say, 'come on, it's not the end of the world' but it was the end of my world in that moment. And unless you've been in that situation, where everything you have ever wanted and everything you have ever worked for feels like it's just been swept out from under your feet, you don't know how badly it hurts to hear the word 'no'
For me, and for most artists, their work is like their baby. It's the most important thing. (Unless of course they have a real baby, then I imagine that is more important, but I don't have a real baby) this is what I do every single day of my life. I put every ounce of emotion I have into my work. Maybe even too much, if you ask my husband. And even if it's not personal, because in the end it's really not, that doesn't change how hard it is to hear. And not just once. If this was the first time I had heard no I would be very lucky. And you would think that it gets easier the more you hear it. But that depends. It depends on who is saying it.
This one was pretty rough for me. There are many factors involved as to why it was so hard, I flew to London, for one, I was exhausted from the day before and that day of waiting in that crazy line, my emotions were on overdrive and all the stress, tension and anxiety was released when it was all over and I could finally let it all out. And it was going to be one or the other. It was either going to be extreme joy or extreme pain. Unfortunately, mine was the later.
I'm not crying poor me, I'm not trying to get anyone to feel sorry for me, I'm not fishing for compliments, actually to tell you the truth, I don't want compliments right now. I don't want to hear that they were crazy for not taking me or that my work is great and that there is something better waiting. I need to sit on this a while, let it resonate and understand the lessons I learned from this experience.
I do know that my work is not the right fit for their store. After it was over and I had my cry alone in my hotel room, I went back over there and went into the store for the first time. Of course my work was not the right fit. Their jewelry is gold and silver and encrusted with precious and semiprecious stones, even the colorful costume jewelry. Maybe had I known that before, I wouldn't have been so upset, who knows, or maybe I would have been just the same, who knows.
But it turns out that I was ruined for the rest of my time in London and I am still feeling less than great. Some people may think that I'm overreacting but feelings are feelings and hurt is hurt and I just couldn't shake it. I was shattered in every way possible, physically and emotionally.
I spent the rest of my time in London wondering around the streets aimlessly. I had no idea where I was or what I was doing. I didn't see anything other than Big Ben from the window of the bus on my way into the city.
You may be thinking, ‘come on, they're just necklaces'. For you they are just necklaces, for me they are my life and everything that I have worked for, for the past 15 years between studying and practicing art. You may think, 'well you don't have to do it, you could just go get a job,' and you're right I could, but that's like telling a mother when she is overwhelmed by her child that she didn't have to have a baby.
I don't know what else to be. I am who I am and I do what I do. And the thought of giving up is even more painful than all of this combined. I don't know why, I can't explain it, it's just how it is. I would like to think that if there weren't people in the world with this kind of passion for what they do then we would be living in an even more miserable world than we already do. I would like to think of my work as a ray of hope, or a moment of peace, at least that is what it is for me and how I feel when I am making it and sharing it with the world.
I'm sorry that I didn't get to enjoy London like I had hoped I would. I know that it's an amazing place and I am definitely not judging it based on this experience because I'm sure that I will love it when I get to go back under different circumstances. But for now my London bridge has fallen down. Perhaps there are other ways or different bridges that will help me to arrive at the same destination but for now, I am still trying to find my path.
So if you're wondering what it's really like to be an artist, I hope this helps to explain, at least a little bit. I hope you will also understand that for now, I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to repeat the story over and over again. I have a lot of thinking to do right now and some important decisions that I need to make.
Thank you for all of your support, confidence, encouragement and belief in me. It means more to me than you know. I'm sure that I will be more comfortable talking about it in the coming weeks but for right now I'd rather not.
I already have plans for writing another post about the lessons I learned from this experience in hopes that it may help others who plan to pitch to Liberty, or anyone else for that matter, in the future.