Listen to the episode:
On this episode of the Autonomous Creative, I’m joined by metalsmith, Victoria Lansford. Victoria specializes in old world metalsmithing techniques, like Russian Filigree and Eastern Repoussé, and passes these skills onto others through her many workshops and videos.
Victoria calls creative problem solving her ‘ultimate superpower’, and she’s hardly exaggerating. Whether she’s developing new ways to teach during a global pandemic, or redesigning her studio to be ergonomically friendly, Victoria has a knack for finding clever workarounds.
During our conversation, Victoria shares the source of her superpower, and how being adaptable has been the backbone of her career and creative practice. We also discuss the highs and lows of being multi-passionate, including how to manage Idea Debt when there’s just so much you want to do.
More from the episode…
- Victoria debunks the “impossible, improbable, ridiculous” career model she was taught in art school, and shares what worked for her instead.
- Victoria reveals how she turned 2020 into one of her most financially successful years, and why she’ll never return to in-person teaching.
- Victoria opens up about dealing with chronic pain in a physically demanding field. What steps has she taken to prioritize self-care?
- How did Victoria’s website help her land an incredible commission doing large-scale metalwork on a bespoke super yacht?
- “I moved past the sense of rejection and said ‘this is freedom’” — Why Victoria chooses to focus on making art she loves, and not only what sells.
- Why does Victoria hate the ‘J-word’?
- “Good metalsmiths are people, not who don’t make mistakes, but who learn how to fix their mistakes.” — How creative problem solving became Victoria’s ultimate superpower.
- Victoria offers advice for aspiring metalsmiths: “Sometimes you just have to make a whole bunch of work that isn’t amazing.”
More from our guest:
Victoria Lansford is a sculptor, metalsmith, Russian filigree and Eastern repoussé and chasing expert, illuminator, and calligrapher (a veritable polymath). Her work ranges from small, precious jewelry pieces to a 5-foot by 7-foot copper relief on a bespoke super yacht. She created the metals program and served as head of the Metalsmithing Department at Spruill Center for the Arts, Atlanta, was an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and is currently serving on the Board of Directors for Metalwerx, Inc. Through her sold out workshops, videos, books, articles, and apps, she has mentored other creatives around the world. Her newest major project is the ground breaking, animated ebook and print book Giving Voice.
Connect with Victoria Lansford:
Click here to read the transcript
The Autonomous Creative with Victoria Lansford
Victoria Lansford: There was this idea that you graduated college and you got with a gallery and the gallery sold your work for you and, and you showed up and acted fabulous at the openings. And that’s how you earn a living.
I mean, talk about an impossible, improbable, ridiculous model.
AC intro3: what does it take to become a successful writer or artist?
There are some destructive myths out there about what a creative career is supposed to look like.
And we’re kept in our lane by the undermining belief that, as artists, we’re somehow incapable of building autonomous, sustainable careers– if we choose the work that’s closest to our hearts.
So we’re going to tear down those myths and get the truth by going to the source:
Incredible professional creatives who’ve followed every path but the expected one to success on their own terms.
I’m cartoonist, author, and coach for creatives, Jessica Abel.
And this is the autonomous creative
My guest today is a metal Smith and teacher at Victoria lansford.
Victoria specializes in mind bending metal smithing techniques that go back to the bronze age, like Russian filigree and Eastern Repoussé. In addition to making her own gorgeous work, she passes these skills on to others, through her many workshops and videos.
Her work ranges from small precious jewelry pieces to a five foot by seven foot copper relief on a bespoke superyacht.
She also created Giving Voice. And award-winning manuscript that combines ancient Egyptian art, medieval elimination, metal, smithing, digital animation, and jazz. I invited Victoria on the show today not only because her work is so fascinating, but because I’ve had the pleasure of watching her creative practice evolve over the last two years.
Victoria is an alum of the Creative Focus Workshop and Authentic Visibility. And she’s currently a member of the pilot cohort of the Autonomous Creative business Incubator that we hadn’t launched, that when we conducted this interview.
She’s been extremely honest about her creative struggles, at one point sharing that "I was caught in an endless loop of checking things off and closing loops about my work, but not actually doing my work in any way that it felt meaningful or interesting."
So I’m so excited for Victoria to share how she broke that cycle, gained a deeper understanding of how she became so burned out in the first place. And built a new creative life that is designed around her needs and unique practice.
Let’s get into it with Victoria Lansford right after this.
What does it really take to make it as a creative? This is the burning question that’s driven me for– forever, really. I used to have to try to ferret out the answers one by one, when I got a chance to hang out with a fellow artist or writer. And when I judged it safe enough to ask that delicate question we’re all dying to know the answer to: how do you make it work?
Every guests I’ve interviewed so far has mentioned this. One of the secrets to how they’ve gotten as far as they have is that they’ve asked every creative pro they met, every chance they got asking the question often enough is a game changer.
We learn so much each time. Starting with the fact that, whatever we thought was working for that person? We were probably wrong.
We each imagine the other person has some kind of secret and that they’ve made the leap over the giant chasm between beginner and pro and feel safe on the other side. And inevitably, neither person feels that way at all and as amazed to realize that from the outside, they seem to have it all figured out.
I’m pulling that seemingly taboo conversation out of the shadows on the show. It’s also the conversation we take further every day inside the community of Authentic Visibility.
Authentic Visibility is our group coaching program designed to help dedicated creatives who are very reasonably wary of marketing and promotion into powerful advocates for their vision and their work, setting the stage for huge career growth and a major role in the larger cultural conversation.
Got a major project dropping soon, and you’re determined not to let it founder? Get the support you need to create a reasonable promotion plan that aligns with your goals and fits your life.
Don’t know how to talk about your work without squirming? You’ll practice and refine your messaging in a safe, supportive space inside Authentic Visibility.
Hate or fear social media, and dunno what else to do? There are lots of options, and you can workshop solutions that suit you and your approach with your peers.
You can learn all about Authentic Visibility and get a sense of my teaching philosophy in a free 90 minute class, specifically for creatives called "how to get people wildly obsessed with your work" and in it, you’ll get a headstart on developing clear, compelling language for sharing your work with your audience so that they get it and they want more.
If you want your work to make its mark in the world, check out the free wildly obsessed class and supercharge your ability to connect with new fans in just 90 minutes.
Go to Jessica abel.com/wildly and join the free class now.
That’s Jessica abel.com/wildly.
Okay, let’s start the show.
victoria, Welcome. I’m so glad you could be here with me today.
Victoria Lansford: Thank you, Jessica. I am so excited to be here today.
Jessica Abel: So let’s just start off with getting a little picture of what your work life looks like. I have not interviewed anyone who is a maker of physical of things yet in this series. So I’m really interested to hear, what does your work life look like? What do you actually do all day?
Victoria Lansford: Uh, well, it’s very different than it looked two years ago. I’ll say that. I get to spend way more time in the studio, which is fabulous. And I get to teach online now instead of having to drag my toolbox around the country, which I love and will never go back.
Jessica Abel: You’ll never teach in person again?
Victoria Lansford: Well, you know, I say never say never. I can imagine doing some in person things like, you know, demos or, or trunk shows, book signings, things like that. But, it’s actually, it’s been good for everybody. I actually see the students do better online, faster. Because they’re working in their own studios and they’re really committed and they’re, they level up faster. A lot of people who do what I do now are seeing that in our field. So I’ll just say I have no plans in the foreseeable future to go back to teaching in person.
Jessica Abel: Okay. I have one little side question. While before we move on from this, how heavy is your toolbox?
Victoria Lansford: Oh, you know, most of it, I actually would ship ahead of me so that didn’t have to worry about the airlines getting it there.
Jessica Abel: So heavy is what we’re saying. Very Lots of tools.
Victoria Lansford: Lots of tools. I, I don’t travel light. I like to have all of my things I’m comfortable working with with me. And, um, and I’m, I’m 5’2 and getting that bag in the overhead bin got really old, really fast.
Jessica Abel: Mm. Yeah. Um, so okay. You’re spending time in the studio. You’re time spending time doing what in the studio?
Victoria Lansford: A lot of the time I spend in the studio now is painting. The illumination work I do, the miniatures, some of the calligraphic work, um, handmade artist books. That work. And, uh, I actually had to back off a little bit of the metalsmithing because I had such rampant tendonitis partially from all of the travel and it’s systemic and it’s all over.
So it’s not, you know, like if I give my wrist a break I’m okay. So I spent a lot of last year redoing the metal part of my studio, making it more ergonomically friendly to what I need at this point. You know, plus I’m not exactly a spring chicken and I plan to keep doing this for a while. So really had to delve into how to make that work.
And then most of the metalsmithing work has been doing the recorded demos that I use for teaching because I, I prerecord everything so it’s super high res um, nobody’s waiting on the downtime bits and it’s, and still teach live with those. But they’re an enormous amount of work.
So my day, I found that my day goes better if I start with paper journaling, which I never thought I’d do. But have been for a year and a half now and a little bit of sketching. And if I can hold a paintbrush or a pencil in my hand for the first couple of hours, I am a saner, happier person, whatever the rest of my workday looks like.
Jessica Abel: That’s awesome. I love that. I love that you have discovered these new ways of working since the pandemic, since working with the Creative Focus Workshop, since various other things that you’ve done really. And the ergonomic thing is so, it’s gotta be so key, you know, because the, you work with your body more than many artists do.
Not, I mean, many artists do, but there’s, there’s lots of artists who just sit in front of a computer and type things or whatever. Also, you have to take, take that into consideration, but it’s a much bigger deal when you’re banging on something really hard , you know, and have to stand up. And like there’s a lot of heat and carrying and heavy tools.
I mean, there’s just the, the demands on your body must be just so much more intense.
Victoria Lansford: They are. And it’s kind of a toss up, whether working on the larger scale things is more exhausting and physically demanding or sitting in one space, working on little, teeny, tiny, intricate, fussy stuff that I have to wear magnify like, like serious magnifiers, not, you know, drugstore readers to work on.
It’s, it’s the opposite kind of intensity, but it is very physical and working on those big things really. Um, yeah, it, it, did a number on my body because I was under so much pressure. The last large scale commissions I had, um, they kept messing with the timeline and you can only hammer so fast and not, you know, just hammer your fingers instead.
So, and it, as I said, being a petite person, working on a large scale like that is, um, I, I have to be smarter about how to do it because I don’t have the same kinds of strength that, you know, a six foot tall blacksmith would have. And, um, it, it, I have to pause a lot now when I am working in metal and say, okay, you can’t do this the way your muscle memory says, just get it done.
You know, what’s my posture like? Where, how am I sitting? What are all my bad habits I’m doing? Undo them. And so in a lot of ways, my body is relearning how to do the things that my hands and my a brain can do on automatic pilot.
Jessica Abel: Right. And for context here, when we talk large scale commission, can you tell us what is this large scale commission that you completed? I believe last year.,
Victoria Lansford: Um, actually, it was a few years ago. I, and there were two for the same client. I did two large scale copper installations for a super yacht, a 69 meter super yacht. You could put my house in this boat, like eight times. I don’t- it’s all the different decks. It’s just huge. And, um, and so I, the first project that they first contacted me about was a room divider to divide the main, um, they call it a saloon, cause this was done in, in Europe.
We, we would call it a salon, but I always think it, you know, sounds like double doors in the old wild west.
Jessica Abel: That’s your room divider, double doors you push through.
Victoria Lansford: Right. No, it was, it was um, over a hundred panels of copper that were hung mathematically precisely. And I don’t, I don’t really do mathematical precision very well, but it had to be hung perfectly so that there were even spaces in between them. And they were etched on both sides to create this seascape that you could see. And then they were hung on in this curve formation to divide like the, the more of the eating area from the hanging out area or, or the multiple hanging out areas in this boat. And then the, um,
Jessica Abel: And I’ve looked at pictures of this online. It’s amazing. I mean, it’s a beautiful thing and it’s just like this incredible, I mean, you must have come up with the design, right?
Victoria Lansford: I, you know, actually, no. I tweaked the design a whole lot. And when I first looked at it, I was somewhere between, oh, I can totally do this with my eyes closed. And I don’t know if this is gonna work the way they want it to. But, um, it was actually the interior designers that said, we want a room divider, we want copper panels and we want them hung like this. And there wasn’t really anybody else that could pull it off that they could find.
So that was flattering.
Jessica Abel: Well, there you go. Right.
In a category of one.
Victoria Lansford: And, and you talk, you know, you talk about the SEO. Um, I, I discovered on a later trip to England that, um, where, where I could be as anonymous searching as possible. I, I put in the technique they were looking to have this done in and I ranked number three. And the first two were industrial places that didn’t really do it.
So, you know, longtime website, longtime, SEO, key. That’s how they found me. And so, you know, once that project started going well, um, just in the design phase initially, or the, the, I should say the technical aspect of the design phase. Then they said, well, you know, there’s this other project we want done and could you use the same techniques?
We want these double doors, these sliding doors, that will cover this media screen. And, you know, for most of us, we think media screen. It’s a lot big- you know, it’s, it’s like bigger than, I don’t know, probably one of the walls in my house, at least across. The doors closed, measured, 61 inches high by 82 inches wide and they’re electric.
So they didn’t have to worry about the weight and everything. And so they said, can you same technique? And I said, no, but I could hammer them in this other technique and they would be amazing. And I was saying this on a call, totally thinking off the top of my head, you know? So the voices in my head are like, "can I really pull this? Yeah. There’s no reason I couldn’t, well, nobody else really, well. Yeah, I think it would work." But I’m saying yes, yes, I could totally make it work. And fortunately, you know, they were having me, uh, paying me to do sample pieces so they could see a, a one foot section of how these things would look. Uh, in, in place and make the client happy and, and all of that.
So there, there was a little bit of R and D that went into it, but for the most part, it was really gratifying to discover that what I knew worked on a medium and small scale really did work on a big scale.
Jessica Abel: Right. And then medium and small scale, we’re talking jewelry
Victoria Lansford: Yeah.
Jessica Abel: To and specifically very- art objects, but the small things that you need magnifiers for, we’re talking about things with, you know, beautiful granulation and filigree and extremely delicate pieces, right?
So it’s just, This is a, a scale, you know, it’s like copper, massive, five foot tall, giant panels to the tiniest, you know, little delicate ring with filigree and
Victoria Lansford: Yeah. Yeah. And well, the technique that I used on them is called Eastern repousee, which is a free hand hammering technique. So there’s a history of it being used on larger objects. Like the classic one is King Tut’s mummy mask, or all the sections that make up the Statue of Liberty. It’s, it’s basically the same technique, but nobody does it on this huge scale, um,
Jessica Abel: Well, okay. The statue of Liberty is kind of big.
Victoria Lansford: Okay. But, but there, you know, when I say huge, yeah. Okay. Yeah, you’re right. But it’s been a couple hundred years, right?
Jessica Abel: Yeah, maybe not today.
Victoria Lansford: Yeah. People in the past did use this, um, technique, like Tutankhamun’s coffins, the, the one that’s out of beaten gold. It’s very similar to how these were done. And so, but I do typically use it for jewelry, which people didn’t use to do that very much in, um, the last century.
And, so yeah, magnifiers and working really with little tiny tools and itty bitty little hammer marks, but it’s a free hand hammering technique. So there’s no mold. Um, there’s nothing that hammer into to get that shape. It’s just a way of hammering the metal from the front and the back alternately to produce the designs.
And so yeah, all this I, and I’m doing it way bigger than I am and being really grateful that my, um, all of my theories to how it should work actually worked.
Jessica Abel: Good good opportunity to test, to stress test.
Victoria Lansford: You know, I, I find creatively that I’m really happy when there’s this little bit of tension. Like if it’s too easy, I’ve been there done that, made a gazillion pieces. I it, it’s hard for it to hold my attention and it can’t be so hard it’s impossible, but that sweet spot between. I think it’ll work. It ought to work. Let me see if it works is, um, it’s not a recipe for good sleep and a calm lifestyle, but in short bursts, it’s creatively energizing.
Jessica Abel: I identify with that so strongly. I realized recently for myself that, not necessarily I’m not beating copper or anything, but the kind of work that I do, when I’m doing work that I’m really enjoying it’s because I’m pushing my limits and working at the bleeding edge of what I’m capable of. Sometimes that’s been in the context of time and energy and that’s not great, but sometimes it’s in the context of my skillset, my abilities, what I’m aiming for. Like, can I reach that thing?
And, um, I thrive on a certain amount of risk and a certain amount of, uh, that that’s what gives it excitement to me. That’s what puts me in a flow state where stuff that feels comforting and calm and- it’s just, it bores me. I’m sorry. I wish it true, but it’s true.
Victoria Lansford: You’ve called me a bit of overachiever. It takes one to know.
Jessica Abel: We are very similar in our basic makeup, I think. Uh, so yes, that I noticed when I was doing research again, something similar to this, you would say how you’re driven to work in media. I mean, going from this to medieval style illumination, you know, things that, that require media that require immense commitments to learning process, to tools, to going through a long process of mastery.
And what you just said gives so much, makes that makes sense for me, that it’s, it is about putting yourself in a situation where you’re reaching for something and you, you’ve built up, you’ve built up this whole, uh, array of skills that mean that this is probably possible for you, but it’s still not immediately, like you have to push through. And that feels good.
Victoria Lansford: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it doesn’t feel good when you go without sleep or food and, you know, the, the deadlines are too insane, but yeah, it does feel good, I mean that. When it, when it works, um, when you hit those challenges and, you know, it’s, it’s like the stakes are high, you’ve got to find a way to make it work and the payoff of, and the satisfaction, of when it does is so incredibly rewarding.
Jessica Abel: Yes. And I think that that’s, you also hit the nail on the head there in terms of dividing that feeling of like, when you get that excitement where you’re heading towards that goal, it can cause you to forget your ergonomics, you know, standing properly taking care of your body, but also sleep, rest, you know, taking breaks, all those other things, because this excitement kind of takes over in some way.
And I was wondering too, I mean, again, uh, reading through some, some of your bio and some stuff like that, you, you said something along the lines of growing up, you spent a lot of time making art, doing things that were creative while your parents worked. And part of it was avoiding boredom cause your parents were working and you called them workaholics.
So that’s interesting. But then also you said it was great cause it made me, gave me a sense that I was doing something constructive. It gave me a sense of purpose. And I’m like, hmm.
Victoria Lansford: Cause every eight year old needs that, right?
Jessica Abel: Right. So I just wanted to bring that back to you and see if you had any thoughts.
Victoria Lansford: You know, people often ask me, did I grow up in a, in an artistic or creative family? And, and I did. I, I was lucky in that respect sort of, but the way I describe my family is they were seemingly ordinary people who did unusual things exceptionally well. And, you know, that’s not at all a recipe for rampant, perfectionism or workaholism growing up.
I, I learned absolutely no boundaries about when it’s good enough, you know, when you say, okay, I have worked my backside off, practiced so hard, you know, it’s time to deliver. There was always this a of nothing is ever really good enough. If I just had more time, if I just, you know, whatever. So it’s, um, I don’t know if I’d grown up with, you know, accountants who thought what I did was weird then that might be the polar opposite.
But ironically people in my family do think what I do is weird. They don’t really get the, the metal thing very well. My, my favorite story about that briefly is my grandmother, my paternal grandmother. So I, I grew up in the south. I don’t have near as much of an accent as my grandparents all did.
And I went home for a visit when I was in college. And I was just so happy to have found a program where I could learn this and, and get really advanced within that program. And my grandmother says, I can’t imagine why in the world anybody would wanna do what it is you’re doing, but I’m so glad you found something that makes you happy. That sums it up.
Jessica Abel: Pretty much.
Victoria Lansford: It, it does. Um, but I was also-
Jessica Abel: My grandparents also had that exact same accent by the way, they’re from Georgia. So, just so you know.
Victoria Lansford: Okay. All right. You get it. I was also really, really fortunate that my godmother, who I started spending a lot of time with when I was about eight, um, she was a, an abstract expressionist painter and sculptor. And, um, just an amazing force of nature and force of art making who taught me so much and taught me, taught me the value of, um, learning all kinds of techniques so you could and choose what you wanna pursue and pursue the mastery of, but, you know, have this array of things to draw from. So, you know, circling back, that’s really where I got that piece of it.
Jessica Abel: Wonderful. Okay, so let’s talk about how this turns into a career, because I think that a lot of kids would be attracted to goldsmithing and, you know, it’s beautiful stuff, but how does that, uh, turn into a career? And then, um, and I mean that from a financial point of view. I mean, how do you make a living at this point?
How does creative work fit into making a living living for you? Did you have a day job ever?
Victoria Lansford: Oh, yeah. Um, not in a long, long time, but then I’ve also found ways to use the creative problem solving that is inherent in being a good metalsmith. I’ve found ways to use that in other ways now that, um, also generate income, um, that I’ll get to, but-
Jessica Abel: Wait, wait, wait. Before you move on from that.
Victoria Lansford: Okay. Yeah.
Jessica Abel: What is it about metalsmithing that is connected to creative problem solving more than some other art form you might be involved in?
Victoria Lansford: Oh, well, because if you’re working with precious metals, and the things take forever to do, it is high stakes. I mean, if you do a sketch, it doesn’t turn out, you do another sketch. You can do lots of sketches, but in metal, you know, you’re either gonna scrap it and try to get the scrap value out of it or you have to make it work.
And things always go wrong. I mean, things melt when you don’t want them to, they break, they crack. Good metalsmiths are people- not who don’t make mistakes, but who learn how to fix their mistakes. And that is such a skillset that you have to develop along with whatever techniques that you want.
So there’s always this, you know, let down of when things don’t go the way you want. Okay. Well, how do I go about fixing this, changing this, or altering the design to now accommodate what’s going on with the piece and so forth. And I think that’s part of what drew me to metalsmithing in the first place, but then doing it for over 30 years, has made creative problem solving my ultimate superpower.
Jessica Abel: Awesome. I love that. Yeah that, I can totally see that, that there’s the process of creating any one piece is so demanding. It takes so much time. And of course the materials themselves are really expensive and you’ve got to figure out how to way to, figure out a way to salvage something. I can think of other situations and other media, other fields in which that could equally be a factor, like filmmaking and your star dies in the middle of a, you know, I mean, things happen, right? Like, and you have to figure out what to do. But yeah, I think in general, like that idea of the higher the stakes are, and the more constraints you have around the work, the more creativity is going to be, is gonna be a result of that.
Victoria Lansford: Yeah, exactly.
Jessica Abel: Very cool. Okay. So how do you make a living?
Victoria Lansford: So, I’ll say pre pandemic. My income was always roughly divided three ways. And for, um, most of the two thousands, it was pretty much equal thirds. So there was the work that I make that I sell, there was teaching, and then also I, in the early two thousands developed a series of videos, instructional videos that were DVDs back then and tools and supplies to, to do the techniques that I taught in those videos. And, um, what’s interesting is, you know, if I talk to muggles as I- laypeople, ,they’ll say, "oh, you know, you-"
Jessica Abel: You mean non-metalsmiths or non-
Victoria Lansford: non, non art, non-working artists. You know, they’ll go, "oh, well you, you know, you’re oh, you’re teaching, you’re jetting off to Albuquerque to go teach. So, so you really make your living teaching."
I’m like, well, I make part of my living teaching. And you know, "oh, well you make tools so that’s how you-" you know, no. It’s so intertwined because, I quickly learned that if I didn’t make the hard to find, or back then the couldn’t find them anywhere, tools and supplies to support the techniques and the videos of the things people wanted to learn how to do.
Then, you know, people didn’t wanna take the classes or, or buy the videos. And if I wasn’t putting work, and this is still true, if I’m not putting artwork out that people find inspiring and intriguing from a maker standpoint, as well as a collector standpoint, then they’re not, you know, what does she teach?
What, you know, what, what is that? I don’t, you know. And so everything worked together to support, you know, the other aspects of, of.
I couldn’t stop doing one or drop doing one and have the other two be completely viable and enough to earn a living. So now what is interesting is, um, I, well, let me back up a second and say that in college, and I was lucky to find a program that had what I wanted to learn.
I do not think for an instant that that is a requirement to be an artist. It just was the path I took and really the only path that was open to me at the time, but we’re talking the late eighties, things are different now. And there was this idea that you graduated college and you got with a gallery and the gallery sold your work for you and, and you showed up and acted fabulous at the openings. And that’s how you earn a living.
I mean, talk about an impossible, improbable, ridiculous model. Uh, I getting with the gallery’s great. Then you gotta get ’em to actually sell the work and support them doing that. And that, um, is we, we could do a whole four hours on that very dysfunctional model, but fast forward by about
Jessica Abel: Which still exists by the way, which is still basically the way fine artists are taught. The future will lay out. They know that it’s not true, but they don’t know what else to do for the most part I find.
Victoria Lansford: Yeah, no, that is absolutely true. And you know, we don’t go into this because we’re born salespeople and that’s our dream is to sell our artwork. Our dream is to make a living on our artwork or to not have to do things we don’t like in order to support it. I mean, that, you know, is often the, um, the goal. But I, I did work with galleries for a number of years and it was successful as one of those three components to how I earned a living.
But my customers were boomers who loved to collect, not just handmade things, but handmade things of certain quality and design and they’ve aged out of buying stuff. So, you know, by 2017 it was like the younger generation does not have the disposable income yet, and there’s not enough arts ed- education for them to understand why they’d want this stuff.
And their parents are now saying, you know, we’re spending our money on experiences and we’re not buying more stuff. And so it was getting a little weird. Fortunately, that was around the time that the, uh, super yacht projects were coming on. So I went, "yeah. Okay. That’s fine. I got, I gotta go do this other thing and it’s going to make me more money anyway."
But, well, it’s a wrong way to put that. I’m going to earn more money through blood, sweat, and tears anyway. Um,
Jessica Abel: And a super interesting, different thing to do that you hadn’t done before. A big challenge.
Victoria Lansford: A big challenge. Big, big cha- literally big challenge.
So as the gallery thing kind of fell away, you know, this, this, the yacht set sailed and the gallery thing fell away. And I was really looking at, okay, you know, now what? And then flash forward to 2020, and everybody saying, we don’t know how this is gonna go.
Obviously we’re canceling your workshops, which was fine because I was saying I’m not leaving the house. And, um, some of the organizations I had worked with were looking at pivoting and I, um, around that time, I got asked to serve on the board of directors for Metalworks, which is a teaching studio out of Waltham, Massachusetts.
So, you know, I was both helpful to them and how that pivoting panned out. Um, cause they were already starting to do it when I came on board with them. And also, you know, able to continue teaching for them because I used to go up there and teach every so often. Um, so it was like I provided insider knowledge and had insider knowledge to how people were starting to navigate this thing that we’d all talked about doing, but nobody had he done except for a few people like me who’d done instructional videos.
And lo and behold, without killing myself last year, I ended up making more money than I had in 19 and 2021 looks better. And so the, the demos that I talked about creating are an enormous amount of work and physically demanding in a whole other way, because I’m in these contorted positions to get my hands on camera a certain way, which I shouldn’t be doing.
And then there’s all the editing and so forth. Um, but then once I have them, I have them. And um, if I teach those classes again, I can utilize that material. So in terms of, of literally um, what I’m earning per hour, it’s better than all the prep work, and all the traveling and all the down days, and all the recovery time to run around and teach. And then I can do it more often because I’m not having to pack up and leave or um,
Jessica Abel: Or even do the demos. I mean, you’re you, you know, it’s leveragable once you have it recorded. You’re able to reuse those recordings for years.
Victoria Lansford: Yes.
Jessica Abel: You can create new ones to fill in gaps, but it’s, you’re still teaching live. So there’s still a live component of showing up, but it’s not, uh, yeah, no, it’s a very, very different thing.
I’ve witnessed this. I had already been, you know, I run my programs online, The Creative Focus Workshop, Authentic Visibility. They run them online and I’d already figured out a lot of things over several years about how to prepare materials to, to work this way. Now I’m not teaching techniques, so I don’t have to do demos and things like that so it’s different.
I teach also at an art school and when we all went online at the end of 2020, most of the peop- you know, it was fairly easy for me as an illustration teacher and somebody who’s experienced with this just to pivot and do what I needed to do. But man, there are people who are teaching, like figure drawing , uh, with models and, you know, we canceled foundry that didn’t, that didn’t fly, but like a lot of, a lot of classes, people were recording demos and all this stuff.
And what’s interesting now is as we’re back to in person, many of those faculty are continuing to use those demos, those materials, even if they’re teaching in the classroom, they have them as backup. They have them as sort of, you know, they can do more critique, time more in person time just talking to students because they have prerecorded materials.
This is, I think one of the things that’s actually going to improve arts education in terms of technique is having had been for forced through this process of thinking about how do I transfer just the information part, not the critique part, not the, not the critical thinking piece, but the information piece. That’s the part that you can capture and you can leverage.
Victoria Lansford: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And everybody’s got a front row seat.
Jessica Abel: Hmm.
Victoria Lansford: That’s most of the studios I teach at have a, or taught at in person, have a camera system in the studio so you can see up close. But having that control over, um, exactly how the shot is and being able to edit that and take out all of the wait time, the downtime, cause there is a lot of that in metalsmithing. It’s such a game changer and for people to be able to see in, you know, 4k resolution
Jessica Abel: And pause and rewind.
Victoria Lansford: And, and I’ll, and there’s another thing that is now, um, now happening that’s really awesome in the accessibility realm, which is kind of something I’m, I’ve, I’m always aware of. My son and my husband both have hearing loss and wear hearing aids and you know, when everything pivoted to Zoom, it was like, oh my gosh.
Okay. I gotta make sure I know what everybody’s saying, but, but now it captions live. So, it’s not something I have to spend time adding back in that I might not have time to do with those demo videos in the live classes that are also recorded, you know, that people can read it, which is a big deal, cuz that’s an issue for a lot of people.
Jessica Abel: And physical, uh, uh, disability as well. If people are, have a studio set up for mobility or something like that, they may still be able to take these classes that they could never have gotten to. And the studios wouldn’t been set up for them. And yeah, no, I think it’s huge. It’s huge. I there’s so many advantages that come out of this hybrid, uh, model.
Victoria Lansford: Yeah. absolutely. And I, you know, the DVDs are what now is, um, 720, in resolution, which is not great so it, it’s okay that I’m going back and, and redoing some of those original techniques and, and projects that helped get my name out there. And now 4k, I figured that’s gonna last for a while.
I mean, you know, if the first one from 2006 looked good for quite a while, these should look good for a while. So when I am not able or choose not to teach live, I still have all of that, that I can then put together a different way. And that be comes a passive income stream at some point on, you know, something like Teachable or one of those kinds of, Mighty Networks, um, one of those kinds of platforms.
So it really, it has legs, which makes me happy, cause it means more people can learn the stuff that I do like teaching.
Jessica Abel: Yeah.
This episode of the Autonomous Creative is brought to you by Authentic Visibility. I work with a lot of committed mid-career creatives who struggled to get their work seen.
It feels crappy to put so much love and effort into making something, but when you introduce it in the real world, there’s a whole lot of nothing, as far as reaction. It’s truly awful.
And they’re not looking for attention because they’re, egomania. Art and creative work in general, exists to communicate some set of ideas or thoughts or emotions from you from inside your head to inside someone else’s head in as intact form as possible.
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But the truth is most creatives in their natural state are frankly pretty terrible at telling anyone why they should care about the work.
Why should someone show up to get a pretty balloon?
It’s not their fault though.
It’s how we teach people to create their best work by digging deep inside ourselves, to come up with wonderful, original new ideas. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The problem is that’s where the process typically ends. Creating, not communicating.
Virtually all the training and practice of making creative work focuses on the first half of the core mission of communication, getting those ideas out of your head and into some actual form that people can see. But that’s missing half the picture.
As a creative, it’s your job to build the whole complete connection to build a bridge for the audience that they can use to easily cross over and understand the value of your work to them.
And this kind of clarity and audience focused language, doesn’t come easy to creatives.
And that’s why I put together a free class specifically for creatives, ridiculously named how to get people wildly obsessed with your work.
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Now let’s get back to the interview.
And so what percentage then now is your teaching, because what I’m assuming is that as a result of this online accessibility for these classes, that the DVDs and books are kind of reducing as a percentage of what you’re doing.
Victoria Lansford: Yeah. A little bit. I mean, there’s still people that… it’s not much less than it was in 2019, um, because it had, you know, it had started to, um, go down a little bit, just because so many people didn’t have DVD players anymore and, or they’d say, and this is still true.
I think when you, when things are completely self-paced people go, "oh, I’ll, I’ll sign up for that or I’ll buy access to that when I have time." Or they buy it and then they don’t have time to try it, you know? So, um, it it’s. They still trickle along. I still sell a lot of the tools that I produce and the supplies that I produce because that’s, you know, that’s part of it.
So I’d say it’s, I mean, definitely original artwork, not so much, which at first was really painful, you know, cause it’s like, okay, I put my heart and soul into this and people love it. People, lots and lots of people want to have made it, or learn how I do what I do so they can do their own thing with it, but not as many people want to spend the money to live with it.
And that was, I, I won’t get around. It was devastating of for a while. But I’ve always been at a little bit, at the whim of the economy, right. And the culture and what’s going on. I don’t have control over that. So what I realized was that if I don’t have to be in this race to make sure the galleries all have enough work for the holidays and, and, and all of that stuff, if I just need to make work because I need to make work. And I need to put it out there digitally, where people can find it to support the other things, then I get to make whatever I wanna make creatively to a certain extent. And
Jessica Abel: Right, because you’ve talked before about this idea of feeling compelled to work on client commissions, client work, before your own personal work. So, uh, this must be flipping that for you, right? And maybe that flip is actually painful cuz you think, oh my God, I’m, you’re losing something you had before.
And that sense of loss is something that would be very vivid for a while. But then after a while, I mean, you already said that you have so much more time in your schedule. Now this must be what that’s about, right?
Victoria Lansford: Yeah, no, it, it really is. And at first it felt like a lot of rejection and it, I, you know, I could tell myself all the rational things like, the economy is changing, times are changing, there’s, you know, my, my collector base has aged out. All of these things, but it didn’t take away the sting.
And I never, I’ll say I’ve never been any good at all whatsoever at making things to sell. I make work and I sell work, but I’ve always had kind of a Donna Karan, um, attitude about the jewelry. I make things that I would wanna wear. I don’t make things because I think they will sell. I suck at trying to figure that out.
But you know, when I moved past that sense of rejection and really said this is freedom. I, and you know, even a year ago I was looking at the miniatures and the things that I was doing and saying, okay, but how am I gonna put this out in the world beyond my own website and social media? How do I get this out there? What, you know, what, what is its legacy? What, where does it, does it need to go somewhere? Can I handle just making it for me? No.
And now I, I, I have ideas about what to do with this stuff in terms of long term projects, but I kind of don’t care if, who, or if people fall in love with it, as much as I have, because, you know, I have had fabulous feedback about it.
I mean, I, I have gotten that, you know, kind of scratch behind the ears, uh, which is nice, but I no longer feel caught up so much in the, um, that praise loop or quite so worried that, you know, this has to fly in order for me to feel like I am a professional artist, tons of people have to. Buy it and who cares?
You know, I’m, I’m doing a lot of stuff that I love and I’m doing things that are definitely passionate adjacent, as you would say, to the things that I love. And I’m, I feel like I’m making the world a little bit better place by what I put out there.
So, you know, and I get to live indoors. So but you know, I mean, I joke about it, but we’re living in a time when a lot of people are not safe, physically safe, or have a safe place, or enough groceries, or heat as we move in in the Northern hemisphere into winter. And so I’m, I’m really fortunate that I can continue to make it work.
Jessica Abel: Yeah and with your work, with what you do and the expertise that you have built and the body of work that you have spent so much energy and time creating both as a teacher and a as a visual artist, which kind of brings me to this question I really wanted to dig into of where reading through, again, reading through articles and interviews and things, frequently hear that you cannot stand being pigeonholed.
Victoria Lansford: No.
Jessica Abel: Okay. So I have two questions about that basically. One is what does that, what does that mean to you? Like what does it mean to be pigeonholed to you? And number two, is, are you less pigeonholed now that you are not, that your work is not something that you need, you feel like you need to make financially the, a, a base of your life?
Victoria Lansford: Interesting questions. So, I feel less pigeonholed because I have to be out there less dealing with those muggles I was talking about. And, and that’s strictly a result of, of, um, being a voluntary hermit at this point. Um, you know, it’s funny.
Jessica Abel: Wait, you’re just talking about like encountering people, like at a gallery or something and then them thinking
Victoria Lansford: I’m, talking about, you know, I’m a, I’m a plus one for a work thing my husband has to go to and you know, what do you do?
And this is the south and this is why I, I struggle with the J-word as I call it, right. "Oh, you make jewelry?" And all of a sudden, I don’t wanna have anything to do with- or, or my, my, my really least favorite, "Oh, you do jewelry. My friend, she’s an artist, she’s a painter, but you do jewelry. And I’m like, how, how the heck do you do, what I, what does that even mean?
Right. But then once a year, I used to go to Albuquerque, New Mexico and teach at a, a place there called Rio Grande, which is a supplier. And they used to, um, bring in artist to do guest workshops and so forth, and they’re also my vendor, right. So I work with them on a number of levels. And there is sort of this awe kind of, "oh, you’re a jeweler" because it’s New Mexico and there’s such a reverence and a history of that among Native Peoples and a kind of mystique around it that we just don’t have here in Atlanta.
And so people say," oh, you’re a jeweler." "Oh yes, yes I am." It’s fine. And I don’t
Jessica Abel: Okay. So yeah, so it’s contextual. Contextual, muggles.
Victoria Lansford: It is, it is. Yeah. Contextual muggles. That’s um, that’s the buzzword of this episode.
Because it doesn’t suddenly feel like the, the Southern thing of needing to pigeonhole you for who you are, and who you’re related to, and how it is I know you, so we can kind of put you down. Right. And it’s not that there aren’t other subcultures in the world where that’s a thing, but it’s definitely a thing here.
And, um, we joke about, you know, the Southern genealogy. "Oh, were you related to the Lansfords that blah, blah, blah, blah, blah" and "oh, I knew your great grandmother." You know, just nonsense. And it always feels like it’s aimed at, uh, diminishing people rather than saying, oh, you do this really cool thing. You make this really cool thing, or you, you are part of this really cool field or tribe or, or whatever.
And so, you know, in New Mexico, I don’t feel like I have to go. Yes and I’m also a painter and I also work on a large scale and I, you know, whereas here it feels like once they see the sparkly stuff, if I am in person, then it’s kind of the end of the conversation until they just start talking about the jewelry they own and this piece they, you know, had made for themselves. And I, I’m Southern, I’m raised to be polite, but there’s this speech balloon over my head that goes, I don’t care.
Jessica Abel: Hmm. So yeah, this is something I can actually really identify with too, because as a cartoonist, a lot of situations you go into people say, "Oh, you make comics. Like Superman?" You know, or like, like The Peanuts or the, there’s several like go-tos, you know?
Did, oh, do you do this? Do you? And the, it’s not the genealogy piece, which I also understand actually having been going through my mother’s stuff, like from her house, like clearing out her house and whatever. So many genealogies from so many relatives. As I said, she’s Southern. She’s from South Carolina and, you know, Georgia roots. I’ve got like 18 different versions of our genealogies of different family trees. And I’m like, what do I do with all of these? I don’t know. But yeah, so I hear ya. I hear ya. But, um, regardless of the, the, or in addition to that, who’s your family and what do you belong to and how can I stick you in a box and understand you?
I think for non, for people outside the arts or outside of even your field of the arts, I think it’s scary. I think people who are artists are a little bit scary cause people wanna feel like they have something intelligent to say and so they’re connecting you to whatever they can connect you to.
And I can run into people at a party who are like, "Oh, that’s so great. Have you read Julie Doucet? Have you read blah, blah? Like name, all these obscure, awesome cartoonists. And I’m like, oh my God. Yes, let’s talk. You know, but that’s my New Mexico experience. And then my Atlanta experiences, the, "have you seen Dilbert? I think it’s so funny" you know.
Victoria Lansford: People just, they wanna attach what’s familiar, yeah so they can feel comfortable. And so if they can figure out what box to put you in, but then that’s about them feeling comfortable and not in a, uh, make it about your audience sort of way. Right.
Jessica Abel: Okay. But then let’s get back to this thing of like, this is in your, like in your bio about yourself, this is like, you know, all about Victoria. Who are you talking to when you say that? I mean, are those people on your site reading that thing?
Victoria Lansford: No, no, no, no, no. I’m, I’m, I’m literally talking about when I’m a plus one, it’s something where people say, what do you do?
Jessica Abel: No, no, no, but I mean, when you write this or when you talk about the, the problem of being pigeonholed it’s it’s just interesting to me, because it feels like most of the people who in your world are not, when you’re a plus one at your husband’s work party, they are people who deeply care about what you do,
Victoria Lansford: Yes. On the international level, online, uh, when I would travel, or when
Jessica Abel: your Students, you know, your, clients, your galleries, like of the, and I’m just, I’m just interested to know whether you, you feel the same need to push at the sort of boundaries of how people think about you with those audiences, maybe differently, but make sure they understand also, like, even though when I was asking you earlier, I said something and I was about to say the J-word and you’re like pieces and I’m like, yes pieces.
Victoria Lansford: Oh, you can say jewelry. It’s okay.
Jessica Abel: No, but I mean, you know, you do all kinds of things, but it’s like, like how do I say this so that I don’t trigger Victoria? They’re really gorgeous… earrings.
Victoria Lansford: No, no, it’s fine. I, I, I own that it’s, it is, it is art you can wear, which is, uh, the short one word for that is jewelry. That’s fine.
Um, so my son is an aspiring politician. Um, he’s a policy studies major in college and my husband works in the field of local government law. So when I talk about having to interact with people, it is very often on the, the non-art, nonprofit front, on the NGO front, and public entity, local government, where, you know, and I think people are a little bit intrigued about, you know, what’s Chris’s wife like? What’s Skylar’s mom like? You know, cause they’re unique people in their own right. And because I am starting to have to get back into those worlds just a little bit, as things ease up or we feel pushed to just have to be out there a tiny bit
Jessica Abel: Well, if he’s gonna get into, if he’s Gonna get into politics, he’s gotta get, that’s like
Victoria Lansford: well, They have their thing, but you know, now I’m being pulled back into it and, um, slightly kicking and screaming because I could just live in here, online and only be in that world where people are interested in some part of it, or all of it and, and respect it, um, where I’m literally preaching to the choir and, you know, with my tribe, but the rest of the world starting to knock at the door for better or worse and sometimes I have to answer.
So I realized there’s no perfect elevator speech that’s ever going to, you know, end in a, some kind of ultimate sale in, you know, they’re gonna go on my website and then buy something in those situations, or that’s gonna make me feel like, oh, I did that really well. They, they asked me what I did and I skirted the question. I mean, there’s just no good answer and
Jessica Abel: Mm-hmm. Again, I feel like it’s, it’s a feeling that you’re always burying the lead. Like, whatever you say, you’re missing the thing that might be interesting to the person.
Victoria Lansford: Yeah. And, I think because maybe what’s interesting to the person is just this anomaly of having an artist at the table. That’s everybody else is completely at the, the other half of the brain. Um, completely it, cause so often the answer people say, you know, "what do you do?" I say, "I’m an artist" and they go, "oh, I can’t even draw a straight line."
Jessica Abel: Yeah. Heard that one too.
Victoria Lansford: This is not about you.
Jessica Abel: But no, but I wanna get back to this thing cause I, I hear you about this, that it is really frustrating, but do you feel the same need within art, arts circles to push at the boundaries of your, your other people’s definition of you?
Victoria Lansford: Yes. A little bit. I mean, I wanna say no, but, but I’m hearing the rest of the voices in my head go yeah, you do that all the time. Um,
Jessica Abel: I mean, You did it with me, so I’m just
Victoria Lansford: Fair enough.
Jessica Abel: When we met you’re like.
Victoria Lansford: Well, okay. I will own that it is exceedingly difficult to market being a, um, what is it? Multi passionate is one of the terms, uh, a Renaissance person, unless that’s what you’re marketing is, you know, "Hi, I’m Leonardo," which is not true and, um, not really appropriate. But I get, I think I’ve gotten okay with, with leaving it as a little bit of a footnote, because most of the time it doesn’t matter, you know?
Okay, students. Um, from a standpoint of they’re interested in the person that they’re learning from, right? Or they’ve looked up to me and my work and they wanna know more then, yeah. That’s maybe interesting from the standpoint that they are there to learn how to master this particular technique, know they don’t care that I’m also a painter, right.
And unless I show how one technique helps me work in another. Because there are plenty of people that, that I don’t think any of us really just do one thing. I mean, you’re classic example. It might all be around this one thing, but nobody can really pigeonhole you either.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, which has been, I think a plus and a minus for me. Like I have followed my own instincts in terms of what I wanted to work on, but having an unfocused body of work as a cartoonist, for example, you know, fiction, non-fiction, genre, non genre has, has not helped me build one particular audience. You know, I have a bunch of different audiences and from a marketing point of view and a sales point of view, that’s not ideal.
I’m not sad I made any of the books I made, but I could have made different choices and, uh, developed more focus if I had thought that was a thing when one needed to do, which I didn’t know at the time.
Victoria Lansford: Yeah. I, I love the way you described that. You know, I, I thought if I, if I make it, they will come and no, that’s not what happens at all. But I’ll, I’ll flip it around and ask you if you had done those things, and not done any of the things that you’re doing now in this vast array of things that you do and making, making things better for people like me, would you be as happy?
Jessica Abel: I don’t know. I mean, I think that if I’d swapped out, like my young vampires in love book for like another fiction book that was non-genre, that would’ve been fine. I would’ve been fine with, you know, it’s, there’s, there’s choices and then there’s choices, you know.
Uh, I think that there are lots of things, lots of ways I could imagine my life going that would’ve been interesting and cool. And I’m thinking about this too, also in context of, uh, this interview that I did with Sarah Firth a year or so ago, which we just released in the live podcast so I was just re-listening to it. And she talked the value of being multi passionate, in a really interesting way that she sort of uses it experimentally where she’s thinking, well, what do I have?
You know, what do I, what am I interested in? What do I wanna do? And where’s the audience for that? And what’s the matchup? And is that something that I wanna test? Does it sound fun to me, I wanna do that? And you know, as she gets older and she’s younger than we are, she’s started to narrow in on a set of things that are gonna be her thing, but that’s kind of how it works.
I, I see, uh, where early on in my career, I was kind of like all over the place. And gradually narrowing in by saying like, yeah, I’m gonna spend more time on this and the other things kind of fall away a little bit.
Victoria Lansford: Well, I think early in our careers everything is possible. There’s this, you know, young pre-kids, um, less responsibility, so many more options because there’s this sense of this whole life ahead of you and, and lots of time. And so,
Jessica Abel: Well, and nothing has stakes,
Victoria Lansford: yeah,
Jessica Abel: you know, nothing, you don’t have customers or clients for anything so
Victoria Lansford: So make what you want.
Jessica Abel: What the hell, you know.
Victoria Lansford: You know, I, in that interview with Sarah, I love the way that she went through that thought process of this is a great idea, do I really wanna, let’s think this way, do I really wanna do that work? And, um, I found that really helpful because it kind of, condensed my own thing of, I, I am like an idea generator, like, you know, where you can, those websites where you put in a name and it generates your Jedi name.
I can generate a gazillion ideas, long term projects, really cool things. Most of them, I can envision them being things I would like or like to have done. And one of the things that I learned in the Creative Focus Workshop is that, you know, I learned about the idea of Idea Debt, which is liberating, but I also have realized, okay, you know, some of the, those ideas, I don’t need to beat myself up that I didn’t do them or scrap them. I just need to say if at some point I feel like doing all of that detail work, that would be an awesome thing to create. I’ll, I’ll you.
They’re in your green room.
There were many. It’s a big green room.
Jessica Abel: I know I got one too, man.
Victoria Lansford: It’s huge.
So there, there is one other way that I have generated income in the last few years that we haven’t talked about. That is so indirect in how it comes about, so direct in terms of bottom line. And that is that, um, my husband and I met in 2007 through a mutual friend who is hugely smug now, still to this day that she was so Cause he’s really my best friend, but, uh, two weeks after we, I guess it was like two weeks after we got married, he got downsized. And this was 2008. June of 2008. There were so many unemployed people, literally thousands of unemployed lawyers in Atlanta. And you think, you know, artists never gonna make a ton of money. Lawyer always makes a ton.
That’s completely not true because there are plenty of artists who make a good living and are superstars. And, and just because you have a law degree, you’re basically a, a freelancer with with a really expensive degree, kinda like an MFA. And, um, he couldn’t find a job. I mean, it, it, and so now instead of, oh, yay, two incomes in the household, cause I was a single mom. It was okay three people to take care of and three mouths to feed and the pressure’s on and it was quite the recipe for burnout. But what happened was I said, I know how to do this entrepreneur thing. If you can’t find a job, you gotta make one.
He’s like, I never wanted my own shop. I never wanted to be out on my own. It was never my goal, you know, a year goes by and he is like, yeah, okay, fine. And he fought me tooth and nail. I tease him about it now because it was like, no, this is.
Jessica Abel: Oh, I got one of those
Victoria Lansford: Can’t, you can’t do this crazy website, you can’t put this on a website. Law firms don’t have this on a, and I’m like, you know what, we’re gonna be outside the box here. And I need plain business cards with the white linen background. I’m like, no, we’re gonna be outside the box here. We’re gonna flip it around and make the background dark and the text light. And you know, now he’s, um, oh, I saw these hologram business cards. Do you think you could design something like that? He’s total
Jessica Abel: On the bus.
Victoria Lansford: He’s on the bus, but more than just being the graphic designer or the entrepreneur person, those creative problem solving skills I developed, literally, uh, just, you know, he’ll be VEing about a problem, like this morning. It was a, a situation where, um, misinformation is getting out there that’s impacting the client’s ability to do what they need to get done. And, and I was like, well, seems like maybe you could create this situation to contact these people at the same time you’re releasing this information in the public. So the misinformation on social, social media, isn’t happening in the first place and blah, blah, blah.
I mean, it’s like, boom, I just come up with answers and it’s all very behind the scenes. It’s not like you could tell his clients that it was my artist wife’s idea.
Jessica Abel: Right.
Victoria Lansford: But when he implements them it, it’s a two income family so that is hugely gratifying. And, you know, I mean, it does take some of the pressure off of me. Really when things started go well, for him, my family was like, can you please stop being the workaholic? It’s not all you anymore. You need to take time for yourself. You need to take time off. And I’m like, no, no, no. I, worked too hard to build all this up. Can’t, can’t back down. Can’t. No. Mm, no. Gotta keep going. Um, we’ve compromised a little.
I’m not quite so hard on myself since I can teach online, but the reality that is the only way I can do that work and not have it be left brain soul sucking for me is I have to go paint a mouse. I have to go do a little creature from an enchanted world that has nothing to do with anything else that people will think is cute.
And maybe I, never sell a print. Maybe I do. Maybe it ends up in a book. Maybe it doesn’t, but I physically have to go do work that puts me in a flow state. And then I’m able to give these ideas to him or to other people in organizations that make a difference for them and their bottom lines. And so, I joke my dream job is a think tank where, I don’t have to follow through with all of the details. It’s not entirely true, but
Jessica Abel: Well, I, I, where, where did you learn these entrepreneurial skills? Where, where did this come from, and was it a hard road to get there, to learn, to apply them yourself?
Victoria Lansford: Yeah. I learned them because the night my son was born and I was told that he might not make it, I became a single mom, and uh, my first marriage completely fell apart. And so it was do or die, um, and literally, physically
Jessica Abel: that is awful. And that’s why you learned them. That’s not how you learned them.
Victoria Lansford: Well, what I was gonna say is, is it was do or die to figure it out. And the thing that I figured out, it took me a minute, but the thing that I figured out is every time I figure it out, it will change. Right? So it’s like, I figured out social media for a while. It helped. And then the algorithms kicked in and you know, all the things we complain about now, and then it didn’t help at all.
And I learned that just when I have all the answers, the circumstances will change and I, I have to go find more answers, but that flexibility, that creative problem solving, that flexibility made me willing to try things and to take risks. Where, you know, it was time and technology and, um, slugging through putting together a website that really had a functional shopping cart.
And, you know, those kinds of things, they’re not fun. They are a little bit soul sucking, but they have been enabled me to do what I do and make a living at it. So being willing to try things. And I always say, it’s this weird combination of putting myself out there as best I can, where I think I ought to, and then the rest of it is 50% luck, like the interior design company finding me because of all those years of good SEO.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. Having the fundamentals in place, making it possible, sort of creating the path that allows people to find you, and identify that you are the right answer for them.
Victoria Lansford: Yes, absolutely.
Jessica Abel: There’s also the structural stuff, you know, there’s the interior stuff about how do you, your processes, and how do you deliver your work, and how do you, uh, build relationships with clients and schools and students and all those things, right? So those are all things you must have learned over time, right?
Victoria Lansford: Yeah, good photography which, which I didn’t always master, but I mastered enough to have enough good images out there that people noticed it. And, um, and I, you know, there’s a conference, a metalsmithing conference that I used to go to every year, and the relationships that I developed in those in-person days were certainly invaluable.
I mean, a lot of fabulous friendships forged, but also just the, um, was often where I would meet people who had schools and, you know, they found out what I did or they’re like, oh, we we’ve been hoping to bring you out. I wanted to talk to you in person. And so it made a difference. I don’t know what that’s gonna look like going forward. I mean, I’m clearly riding a wave of all that work I did for all these years. But, you know, in a couple years it’ll be a different conversation and a different economy and a different set of circumstances and
Jessica Abel: Right. Well, as you said, every time you get it mastered things changed, but on the other hand, these relationships are real, and you’re continuing to build them. And so it seems to me that that’s something that’s going to remain a support structure.
Victoria Lansford: Yes, yes, no, that’s absolutely true. And I think it’s going to remain whether or not I leave the house again or get on an airplane again or not, you know? Um,
I mean, I’ve, I’ve had a ton of students that I’ve known in person and then I’ve had a ton of students that I’d never met before who said things like I’ve always wanted to take one of your classes. I would stalk your website and your newsletter, but I could never work at the dates or I couldn’t travel or, or whatever.
And I don’t know what the artwork sales side of that looks like, but I expect at some point I will figure that out again, too. And you know, in the meantime, I’ll, I’ll still keep making work and it’s, it’s a very odd thing.
Nobody really talks about it enough in our field, but that the, the art speak version is where does her work exist? Does it a gallery? Does it exist in museum? Does it exist in her studio? Does it exist online? I mean, that’s, you know, the, the BS version, but honestly we’re talking about digital images of three dimensional objects, or even the paintings are dimensional because they’re, um, they’re, they’re raised Gesso gilding, so there’s there’s metal on there, of course.
And they’re a little bit 3D, even though they’re on a flat surface. And a two dimensional digital image is never going to be the same experience as holding it. You know, on the other hand, you can blow it up and look at it closer than you ever could in a museum, Or a gallery, unless you’re a serious buyer trying it on.
So, I don’t think we’ve quite figured out where that’s gonna go in the metals field and where those sales are going to be. And are people really ever gonna be that thrilled to go back to in-person craft fairs, which I did not do. It was not my happy place.
So I was a bit of an outlier in that way too, but, uh, yeah, I think- there’s, I listen to your podcast and, and other things in the field looking for that one perfect answer of, oh, if I just do this one thing, right. But, but that one thing is experimenting and trying things and taking small risks where they’re, they’re time risks, but they’re not financial risks.
You know, newsletters, blogs. I’ve been blogging since 2003. And it’s, it’s morphed into its a whole thing. Sometimes I write it about art. Sometimes I write about all kinds of crazy stuff, and it makes me happy to do it, and maybe one day I’ll spin it off into something more, um, income producing.
Jessica Abel: There’s that entrepreneurial brain.
Victoria Lansford: Yeah, and, and you know what, she never shuts up because even when I’m like, I don’t have to care where this is gonna go. I’m just where working on this to be in a happy flow
Jessica Abel: Then you’re like, hmm
Victoria Lansford: This would make a cool book. Yeah. Even as a little kid, when I was constantly making stuff, there was this part of me that just thought surely there were people out there that would buy it. There weren’t. I was eight. It wasn’t great work, but somewhere was that faith.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, my, uh, 11-year-old yesterday, we taking, we were walking someplace, and he was telling me about this idea he had for a t-shirt and how he was gonna sell it. And I was like, well, how are you gonna sell it? And he’s like, well, uh, I’m going to put it in, what did he say? I’m gonna do ads. And I said, well, how are you gonna pay for the ads?
And he’s, and we went down this whole road where, he’s like I want to put it in Macy’s. And I’m like, I don’t think Macy’s buys from individuals. I think they buy from big distributors. What about local stores? Yes. I’m gonna go to local stores. No, I’m gonna open my own store. I’m gonna find a little tiny storefront and then I’m gonna have a popup and then I’m gonna have a great, and he,, by the end of dinner, it was like this entire business plan.
Victoria Lansford: But that’s so awesome because he learns that there are all these different ways of doing it and pulling it off at all of these different levels. And it’s not just, you know, that, that record industry model of yeah, you find the guy who wants to sign you with the label and then you’re set and those bands weren’t set. They lost money. You know, like they never made any money until like the third record or something. Most of the models we live by that we think are out there don’t work. But, you know, your son is seeing all of the options and it’s not diminishing his enthusiasms to still make t-shirts.
Jessica Abel: Well, he wasn’t actually talking about making, he was just joking around, but that was the best part. Is that because there were no stakes, he was like, sure, I’ll do this. I’ll do that. And he was just inventing, like he had an open mind about it. When we got to dinner, my husband was like, hey, another business idea. What are we doing? He’s like, I’m just riffing. I’m just doing the thing.
Victoria Lansford: I, he’s brilliant.
Jessica Abel: It was good. It was good. I love, I love this, that, you know, this perspective though that first of all, that that brain doesn’t shut off, but that’s okay. You’re just going to, you can always store those ideas, and maybe they’ll come up again in the right moment.
Is there any one thing you would want, if not a younger you, uh, your students who are serious about this, the ones who are really committed, what’s the one thing in terms of the business that you would want them to walk away with?
Victoria Lansford: You’re gonna have to cut out this long pause. Um, oh, that’s a really good question.
Jessica Abel: Maybe I’ll leave it in.
Victoria Lansford: One thing. I mean, I can think of so many things. I, you know, well, one thing… it’s not business, it’s counterintuitive to business, and maybe that’s part of what makes it important. One thing I have really been trying to get a cost to my students in these last few years is practice, right? I mean, you, you can practice on cheaper metals or you, um, not everything you make is going to be this amazing finished piece of art. So while we talked earlier about the stakes being high and that developing the creative problem skills to push through and get it done and, and make it look great, sometimes you do just have to make a whole bunch of work that isn’t amazing. I mean, I got work that nobody’s ever going to see.
I started melting it down so it’d never end up as some, you know, retrospective.
Jessica Abel: Retrospective.
Victoria Lansford: People know I made that at the beginning of my career. That was horrible. But it’s OK. And we live in a world where you’re not allowed to make mistakes. And, and some, and maybe that’s, maybe that’s the business advice is, is those risks I was talking about out, you know, you, you try things and you don’t stick with them when they don’t work, you try something else.
Um, and you try to be smart about not killing yourself doing it, not wearing yourself out, when you, when you are the risk, your time and energy and, and, uh, future tendonitis are the risk rather than the financial.
But being willing to practice at what you make to develop mastery and being willing to go with the flow of don’t expect just cause you figured it out, this is what you’re gonna be doing for the rest of your life because that’s as successful as sticking to that college gallery model.
Jessica Abel: Mm. Yeah.
Victoria Lansford: change.
Jessica Abel: Well on that note, that was pretty perfect. Um, where can we find you, and find your work? Find both your classes and find your artwork?
Victoria Lansford: So I have a very comprehensive website. That is my name, victorialansford.com. And the good thing is I’ve been doing it so long that even if you misspell my last name, it will still pop up the correct website or lead you there.
Jessica Abel: And of course we’ll link it in the show notes.
Victoria Lansford: I, I met somebody at a conference years ago who was like, Oh, I I’m so excited to meet you because you know, the university where, um, where I I’ve been the studio manager, there’s so many students who have, uh, you you’ve been their class project of a contemporary artist that they have to profile. And your work is all over the studio that the walls are just plaster with pictures of your work.
And I said, oh my God, thank you so much. And he said, yeah, with every possible misspelling of your last name that you could even imagine.
Jessica Abel: Oh, well.
Victoria Lansford: All PR is good PR.
Jessica Abel: Exactly. well, we will attempt to spell it correctly in our show notes, um, and guide people in the, the right path. But of course the SEO, is there to help if need be.
Victoria Lansford: Yes. And I, I, I get tempted by social media from time to time, but, um, definitely my website is the way to go.
Jessica Abel: Okay. Sounds perfect. Victoria, thank you so much for your time today. It has been so much fun to get to know you better and hear all the backstory of how you got where you are today.
Victoria Lansford: Thank you so much for having me on here. It’s really an honor, cause I am a huge admirer of your work and all of your efforts and it’s certainly made a difference in mine. So thank you very much for this.
Jessica Abel: Thank you so much for joining us today for the Autonomous Creative.
Our show is produced by Matt Madden. Our production coordinator is Lousine Boyakhandjyan, and our production assistant is Rhiannon Sunday. Music is by Matt Madden. And I’m your host, Jessica Abel.
You can find all our takeaways as well as the links and extras we mentioned today, Plus transcripts in the show notes. Find everything you need at acpod.show.
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