Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Company We Keep

I am writing a check today. That check is to renew my membership to IDAL, the International Decorative Artisans League.  You might think I am writing this check because I am obligated to do so-I am Vice President of the association after all.  Or maybe, it is out of duty. How can I expect you to pony up, if I don't ride the horse?  Possibly to build my business? Sure. That is a reasonable assumption and certainly a hoped for outcome.
All of these are valid reasons to rejoin IDAL but they are not the main reason. Let me share with you how a chronic UN-joiner (that would be me, by the way) found herself not only pursuing membership but championing an Association.

My history of non-participation in group activities is long.  I quit Girl Scouts because our leader insisted we complete badges as a troop.  I watched the school nurse while the other kids watched a movie because I refused to sell wrapping paper for the PTA. I played a "team" sport...

but as a goal keeper where you can be in charge of your own plot of sod. Sorority? Just long enough to wear a polka-dot sundress during rush and learn the game "Thumper" at Sigma Nu Casino Night.

This pattern of being an extroverted outgoing anti-social loner served me OK well into adulthood.

So what changed and how does it relate to IDAL?  There is a point to this post beyond revealing my character flaws!

The Small Picture:

It is lonely. As finishers, many of us work by ourselves. How many times have you come home and vented to your partner about your day just to have them say something "logical" ?  I didn't want logic, I wanted someone who understood why seeing 100 small pieces of blue tape dotting a wall made my eye twitch!
In my quest to be successful, I started to feel paranoid.  Who would see what product I was using?  Was someone under-bidding me or taking my work? Ugh!  All this thinking did was make me unhappy and isolated.
As my business matured (and probably me as well) it became more important to have friends rather then "fans" and colleagues instead of competitors.  So I changed.  Through Surfaces, I decided we would be a hub for our decorative arts community.  Now I take the time to know my artists personally-keep up with their lives and not just their business. How can you not treat someone's business with respect once you share a meal, understand their struggles (because they are yours as well), and get to know them as people?  I mended fences. Accepted and granted forgiveness. I became closer to people that I never thought I would talk to-I guess Hell did freeze over!
I am grateful to have real relationships beyond our shared worked. These are the relationships that have saved my business.
And how does IDAL fit in with the new me? Once I opened myself up locally, I thought I better start participating more globally. IDAL gave me the chance to experience these relationships on a national scale and become connected to artists outside my Kansas City Classroom.
Blame it on the Bayou
So, my friend Marti asks me to teach at her IDAL Chapter,  Bayou City Artisans in Houston. And to her surprise I agree (remember I've been standoffish with IDAL-before the "new" me). Last February I head south, which was the perfect time of year to head south, and teach two days of classes for this wonderful group.  Wow.  Was I ever impressed. Everyone was so eager to learn and excited about class. I really enjoyed getting to meet the members and it was very rewarding as a teacher. All I could think was, "wouldn't it be great to have more chapters like this?" The Bayou City Artisans won me over!

The Big Picture

My experience with Bayou City Artisans confirmed for me some undeniable truths about our profession as well. I'd had a sense of it for a few years at my own studio but it really hit home when I traveled to other parts of the country.  These were not just local changes but industry trends that could not be ignored. 

*  Our artists are aging-we already skew to an older demographic since finishing is often a 2nd or 3rd careers.  But we are not getting younger finishers in classes or buying product. as our experienced finishers are cutting back or re-tiring.  How will we mentor a generation of new talent? How do we support our finishers going through the realities of taking care of parents, kids, grand kids, and their own health/well-being?

* Finishers are looking for ways to stay in the business longer even as our backs are saying "I am not doing one more damn ceiling!"  How do we assist our artists to have longevity and a successful retirement?

*  The housing crash, credit driven consumers, cheaper labor, and changing tastes are all realities for a small business in the decorative arts. How do we educate the consumer and business partners about our profession so they make better informed decisions?

* Social media is a blessing and a curse.  Some of my best finishers are being left behind because they don't understand or have time for Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.  They need an organization that wants to promote quality and provide content. 

These are the type of issues that are best addressed by a Trade Association. These are the issues that effect the artists, the school, and the product manufacturer. For better or worse, we are in this together. Addressing these things is (should be) the basis for membership benefits.

I got "Farkased"

My head was full of these ambitious thoughts when Lyna Farkas called me to talk about IDAL. She  noticed some of my "Norma Rae" posts about decorative painting and thought I might want to put my energies toward something more productive then Facebook rants.  Since this is the new me, I had a great experience with the Houston Chapter, and I had become a Faux Revolutionary-well, I couldn't really say no. Plus Lyna is super nice.  First I started with the Building a Better IDAL Facebook group and then when I saw the enthusiasm (with a huge side of doubt), I agreed to run as a Board Member. Then I taught at Convention for the first (but not the last) time! I am happy to say that the other board members are wonderful people and I met so many new friends through IDAL!

"C" is also for Community

In my last post, I shared that Bruce has Stage IV lung cancer.  Our world has been turned upside down. He has begun his treatment and we are in the process of selling our home. This is for his safety and to help me manage his care and our business better. I should be a wreck and on some days I am. Thank goodness I gave up that whole anti-social thing a while ago because our family and friends are incredible. But they know us well.

What is amazing is My Community-My IDAL Community which has been a huge source of help and comfort.  Everyday, we receive a token of support. It might be a note or message. A gift, often hand-made.  A quick phone call or text.  A prayer. And donations. We have received so much help to pay for the painters-it has lightened my load and stress in ways you will never know. And many of you are people that I have only met briefly. Some of you I have never met in person. I also know that several of you have your own struggles and business concerns.  We are truly humbled.

Just last week I received a gift from my friends at the Bayou City Artisans. And I cried.  I cried with gratitude but also because I knew I had made the right choice to believe in the special people that make up this (My) profession.  In the  midst of my pain, I have discovered the joy of  connecting.

And that is why I am writing my membership check. Because right now I am the recipient of all that greatness.

My hope is that my work with IDAL will pay it forward. Someday, you may need the support of a community. Our Community which is made up of people you may never met but who share your passion and your dreams.

My commitment is to help the hard-working IDAL Board in creating something that will be there for you and future generations.  Currently, my fellow board members are carrying much of my load.  Many of you will never know how much time and effort they have given on your behalf.

My belief is we have the talent to take IDAL into the future and make it an important association. 

I look forward to working with (or should I say "joining") you on this journey. Please judge me by the company I keep. Because I could not be surrounded by better folks.



  1. I see some of myself in you...although I did stick with Camp FIre GIrls! You simply didn't stick with those things because you are a leader, not a follower. It is an honor to know you and work with you on the board. This really makes me want to cry in a good way!

  2. I am also not a joiner. (In that way working alone is a blessing.) I joined IDAL for the insurance. Then an amazing person (Tracy Wade) invited me to join the IDAL chapter in Seattle. I hesitated for about three years. Then I finally went to a meeting, thinking if I didn't like it (or they didn't like me) I could always quit. It's a small chapter, but what lovely people! They have been together for 20 years give or take, and I was very hesitant, thinking there wouldn't really be a place for a newcomer. I was wrong.

    So thank you for this post. Here's to the un-joiner joiners!