Article written by Cindy and Gerald Ingram, published in NewsStar paper June 4, 2017
To be a successful artist, you need to learn and develop skills outside of the usual creative bent, according to local artist Lora Lee.
“You have to be either good at or learn photography, marketing, branding, advertising and website building," she said. “ I've learned so much over the years because I had to and because I needed that knowledge to continue to grow in my craft as well as advance my business.
“Your photos have to be eye catching on your marketing sites, but it's worth putting that extra effort in,” said Lee. “I created my website which I run myself. I had to learn to do that on my own. It's been a fun and frustrating journey to where I am today, but if you’re going to run a business, you have to do more than just create.”
Despite the age-old imagery of a “starving-artist,” most creative people quickly learn that it's one thing to create, but you have to move beyond that, if for nothing else to buy more materials in which to create other artistic works.
That’s where Lee found herself some years ago.
“I had started working in metal and creating some jewelry pieces,” she said. “I posted some pictures of my work on my Facebook page and friends began asking about the pieces and wanting them for themselves.”
Since they were friends, she would often just give the pieces to them, as my goal was to create beautiful pieces and didn’t think much beyond that. Then she realized that it required significant resources and materials to keep producing her art. So, then she started selling the pieces, and her business grew, mostly from word of mouth and her Facebook page.
As Facebook grew in popularity, her page wasn’t as effective as it had been initially, so she decided to venture into different marking venues.
“I love Instagram because the people on there really engage with the posts. I get more comments and interaction with people on there than I have on the Facebook business page in years.
“I create because it fills my spirit and makes me happy. I believe we should help each other find that passion and encourage the curious minds. I believe we should freely share our knowledge with anyone that wants to learn. I understand we all have to make money to survive in this consumer-driven world but helping people learn and grow with love should not cost money. This world would be a better place if we helped each other grow.”
When asked how she stays so calm, she said “I beat metal. Seriously though, doing what I love keeps me happy for the most part. I get lost for hours out there in the shop when I am working on a new piece. That joy washes away any grumbles I might have. My art has helped me work through anger, sadness, illness and loss. I think the world needs more of that.”
Lee is a firm believer in developing the talent and creativity of young people.
“If more teens were given an opportunity to see artists of all kinds creating things hands on. Blacksmiths, metalsmiths, jewelry designers, screen printers, glass blowers, potters, etc. These are all fascinating and yet seem to be brushed aside when we talk to our children about careers and 'working' and usually focus on how to make money.”
Lee said she introduced her children to what she does every chance she gets. She said she always encourages them to find that one thing that creates that spark and lets them be creative and express themselves.
She is a firm believer that many of our society’s problems and ills would be better served if more people had healthy ways to express their emotions.
“If you want to do something, you’re going to have to take chances; fear will come up with every excuse in the book why you can't do what you love,” she said. “ You have to let all that go. If you want something you are going to have to sacrifice for it, fight for it, and lose sleep over it. If you’re not willing to do that, you'll find yourself years down the road wishing you had taken the chance. I don't want my children to have regrets. I want them to live fully right now, hopefully doing something that brings them joy.”
One of Lee’s children, 17-year-old Raven Decee is developing her artistic niche.
“I started learning pyrography (the art or technique of decorating wood or leather by burning a design on the surface) about three years ago just for fun," she said. “But then it turned into something more. Learning pyrography has taught me how to have patience. When you are burning the wood, you have to take your time and have a steady hand. It has helped my drawing skills and helped me to learn how to be more creative with what I'm working on.”
Raven recently began to work more in metal.
“Mom taught me how to do the enamel, use the jeweler saw, hand stamp coins and how to use the rolling mill," she said. “When it all boils down to it, you need to take your time with what you are working on, so you don't mess it up. I enjoy working in both metal and wood. I hope to keep creating with my mom on new works, and hopefully, this will result in future income to put towards a vehicle and then maybe later a college fund.”
Lee’s house is filled with artwork, which has helped to develop her children’s appreciation for art.
“My dining table is wonderful," she said. “When I was down with a chest injury I could only draw. So I learned to zentangle, which is a method of creating beautiful images from repetitive patterns. My table is one huge zentangle design. I have a huge copper octopus, my elephant painting over the fireplace and another huge painting in the living room. I have VW bug art in my kitchen from all my girls. On my birthday, Andrea May did a painting party with us. So I have all my daughters and my painting hanging together. But my art is on every wall in almost every room of the house; I even have a painting of our dog Steve in the guest bathroom.”
Lee said she has learned over the years to stop, refocus her thoughts and actions, to put them towards positive things instead of the negatives.
“If I can't control it, I’ve learned to let it go. I can't control anything but myself. I am in charge of my actions and my thoughts. So it's up to me to change how those things affect not only me but also the people around me. I can't make money fall from trees for the needs in my life, but I can do what I love, sell my jewelry, keep learning how to better my product and improve my work and improve myself. Those things I can do.
“I can keep my house clean which makes my mind calmer, grow things in my garden which makes my body stronger and healthier, take care of my animals which bring me joy and laughs. I can do those things. I can set goals and work towards them. I can eat healthier. I can learn new recipes that use vegetables. I can change my work habits to include down time for my body to rest. And I can take more time to listen to my friends and family and to connect with them. I’m learning to love and appreciate the amazing people in my life.”
Raven told her mother recently she had shown her more about tools than her father ever did.
“Now, her comment did make me smile, but then it made me sad,” Lee said. “I thought about how many parents are not passing on useful skills to their children and how many adults never even learned how to use a drill or skill saw.”
Lee said she will gladly teach anyone who wants to learn how to use power tools.
Some recent health problems have led Lee to modify some of her desires.
“I have Stickler syndrome, which affects my joints and connective tissues,” she said. “And when you dream of doing blacksmith work in steel, it’s quite the letdown to realize that you are just not going to be able to do so. So instead of missing what I can't do, I am concentrating on what I can do right now, that will let me express myself creatively without stressing my body more than necessary.”
Because she wants to be doing metalwork for many years to come, she can usually only work a few hours at a time.
“I take long breaks all thru the day,” she said. “Hammering steel takes a lot of heat and force, so I chose to stay working in copper, which requires less force and I can use a handheld MAPP gas torch to soften it as often as I need. I love doing cut work with jewelers saw, but I can't hold the metal with my left hand as I need to anymore. I am trying to work smarter so that I can continue doing what I love.”
Lora Lee’s work can be found at loraleeartist.net or on Instagram @loraleeartist
She will soon offer private metalsmith lessons for ladies. These will be small, two-person classes to learn enameling and metal fold forming. Attendees must be at least 15 years of age.