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The Art of Failure

No one enjoys failure. Frankly, it sucks. A lot. It’s something that everyone avoids as much as humanly possible.Living a life free of failure isn’t at all possible. As much as failure sucks, it can be an extremely good teacher. Even if the lessons are hard to completely understand.

One of the many things that I like about being an artist is that it’s taught me to be okay with failure. I have no problem failing at getting an idea to work. Sometimes, the failure is an incomplete understanding of how the materials will work, or work together. This kind of failure is small. It takes place on my desk. Where no one is watching. So no one ever has to know. My failures can remain just between me and the failure.

Social media:

I create a lot of artwork. My husband describes me as ‘prolific’ when it comes to creating my artwork. During the past three years, social media has become in increasingly important part of the overall creating and marketing of my artwork. I post every day on social media sites like Instagram. And a little less often on sites like Imgur. I have come to rely on social media to advertise when I have new items in my shop, new blog posts to read, as well as when I have a sale.

My main Instagram page is dedicated to showing my art creating processes. Even though I show a great deal of my creative process, I never show everything. These photos are curated to a certain extent. Thought given to exactly which photos I think will show my artwork or artistic process in the best possible light before posting.

I have several different series of pieces going right now. A series of brooches that have tiny dolls in them. Another small series of four 12 cm dolls that will be displayed in small niche-like frames. And a series I’ve simply been calling ‘the bottle dolls’, which are larger, and more complicated paper mâché dolls, with lots of moving parts. Of the three series, I’ve been seeing the brooches as a creative failure.

What initially went wrong:

It’s not that one big element during the creation of the brooches went wrong. Rather, it was a series of smaller failures that, as they began to accumulate, began making me interpret them as a failure. Each of the failures required me to create a solution that would either fix or hid the failure.

Right out of the gate, the first failure was a design flaw. Originally, I wanted to have the lids of the brooches swivel on a wooden peg to open and close. Laminated carton board was what I planned on using for the swiveling lid. The carton board was too thin, even when laminated to five layers thick. It just tore apart when I attempted to put a hole in it for the wooden peg. The key problem was that even when laminated, the carton board wasn’t strong enough at .5 mm width.

I changed the design of the lids to a lid with a lip that would be more secure. It’s second nature to me to leave about .2 mm between moving elements of my paper mâché artwork. So this is what I did for the new lid design for the brooch. But, I had absolutely no intentions of using paper mâché on surfaces of the brooches. I was only going to use gesso. The finished lids were too big. They wouldn’t stay on the brooch base.

Fixing the problems:

Okay. I needed to fix the lids so that they would stay on the brooch. Initially, I didn’t think this was a big problem. My first solution was to simply attach a thin (.2 mm) strip of felt to the inside of the lid. With this added, the lid should have stayed on the brooch.

Well, that didn’t happen. The lids just kept falling off. With no lid, the teeny- tiny dolls inside the brooch just fell out. This problem was insanely frustrating to me. I set aside the brooches for more than a week to think about possible solutions. There was only one option; I had to remove the felt that I had glued inside the lid.

I used new X-acto blades, a pair of tweezers to remove the felt and glue from the inside of the brooch lids. Doing this created another problem. There were bits of felt that I couldn’t get off of the painted surface of the lid, no matter how much I scraped and tweezed. Sanding would have been an option, had the plastic window not already been attached to the inside of the lid.

Quickly multiplying problems:

At this point, the insides of the lids looked like absolute garbage. I was seriously ready to make a tiny bonfire out of the lot of them. Part of me thinks it was sheer stubbornness that kept me from doing exactly that. If I were to give up at this point, I wouldn’t have learned anything from the mistakes. And there was the time and materials wasted. That all just chaps my butt something fierce.

My next solution was to glue in thin strips of paper, where the thin strips of felt had been. The paper and glue would add a little thickness and hopefully the lids would stay on. Nope. Didn’t work. The lids still fell off. And the glued in paper looked so absolutely disgustingly horrible that I thought I might actually cry.

I had mixed a lot of the paint colours for the brooches in air-tight containers. I decided to use the paint to hide the lumpy, horrible looking paper inside the brooch lids. After three coats of paint, they started looking better. I think that each lid needed between four and six coats of paint before I was pleased with the look.

Tiny windows:

Originally, the plastic window of the brooch was designed to be sandwiched between layers of carton board. I put this aside with the swivel lid design. Instead, I had cut the plastic sheeting to size and simply popped it into the underside of the brooch. Part of me thought that perhaps it could be free-floating inside the lid. But I soon saw that I needed to permanently attach them with glue.

I chose Gorilla glue to attach the windows into place. It was so, so, so the wrong choice! As the glue dried, it formed tiny, frothy, orange-tinted bubbles that I could see! It looked disgusting! While using the paint to try and hide how horrible the glue and paint looked, I accidentally smudged some of the paint over the plastic. The horrible glue mess was covered up! It looked pretty okay. So I painted over the plastic to hide the ugly glue on all of the brooch lids.

Problems with plastic:

Again, I feel as though I was going from one problem to another with these brooches. When I cut the plastic for the brooch lids, I made sure that each piece of plastic fit snuggly inside the lid. Once each lid had a piece of plastic, the Gorilla glue was added and the plastic popped-into the lid. It should have been easy.

What I didn’t realize until the Gorilla glue was already set, was that in about four of the brooch lids, the plastic didn’t lay completely flat up against the lid opening. This meant that the lid would sit crooked on the top of the brooch. So now, I had crooked plastic, weird, frothy, orange-tinted glue visible, and the lids would still not stay on the brooches.

What the in the cinnamon-toast-hell do I do now?!

Honestly, I just was so mad at myself. I made so many extremely stupid mistakes with these brooches. There were parts that looked great. The dolls were super-cute. I liked how the inside linings in felt looked. Decorative elements on the surfaces of the brooches I drew in coloured pencil looked exactly how I wanted them to look.

Those stinkin’ brooch lids though! They looked so amateurish to me. Somehow, they didn’t feel up to the caliber of my previous artwork. But as much as the brooch lids were frustrating the hell out of me, I just kept working on them. There had to be a solution to the problems that I had created myself.

The first stage is acceptance:

I accepted that there was no way to completely solve all of the problems that I saw in the artwork. There are flaws in all of my artwork that only I see. I had to allow myself to finish the ten teeny-tiny doll brooches and then to move on. Otherwise, I was going to trap myself in a negative feedback loop.

Yeah, the lids do not look like I planned them to look. On the positive side of things, the part that I feel doesn’t look great is on the inside of the closed brooch. And after all of the problem solving I went through, all the lids stay on the brooches now. That was the biggest problem I was solving for after all.

Lessons learned:

As I said at the very beginning of this blog post, failure sucks. No one likes failing. Especially when it’s in front of a lot of people. Perhaps on social media? It’s embarrassing. These mistakes made me feel like I knew absolutely nothing about how to create artwork. But, perhaps that’s a good thing. We all need a little dose of humble pie now and again.

Each of the problems, failures, etc., that were made during the creation of the teeny-tiny doll brooches taught me something about my materials and techniques. And also a lot about the questions I need to ask myself while still in the early design phases of any new kind of construction technique.

I also had to try and cut myself some slack regarding some of the specific problems like the plastic.  I haven’t been using plastic for very long in my artwork. There is still more to learn regarding its’ use. In retrospect, I should have used at least one layer of newsprint and glue on the surfaces of the brooch and lid as well. This would have made sanding a must, giving me a smoother surface to work on. Giving myself some slack sounds easy, but it’s harder than it sounds. I’ll get there, eventually.

Shop worthy?

I’m a working artist. My artwork needs to be sold so that I can pay my bills. The time, energy and materials that went into creating the teeny-tiny doll brooches would be wasted (in a monetary sense) if they were not to be put into my shop. Knowing that there was one element (the underside of the lid) that still makes me roll my eyes while sighing heavily meant that I had to come up with a middle-of-the-road solution.

My solution is to reduce the price. You can see each of the brooches in my shop here. They are each one-of-a-kind, tiny pieces of completely imperfect, handmade artwork, based on specific objects, people, history and culture that goes into all of the artwork I create.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Friday.

 

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Wanted: Art Criticism

Last night, my husband and I were talking about artistic criticism. Specifically, the types of criticisms that come from outside the sphere of creative peers. During my time as a graphic design student, I learned how to critique my classmates work, and in turn how to receive artistic criticisms myself. Even when feelings were bruised, I knew that the critiques were coming from an informed, experienced argument of a peer.

In time, my graphic design work became a means to an end. A designed grocery ad meant that I would get paid. The design work that I was creating wasn’t meant for any greater purpose than conveying pertinent information as to what items were on sale at a specific place and time. After that, it was chucked into the recycling bin, or used to line a bird cage. I exchanged a service for monetary gain.

Simple truth:

There is some great graphic design work done by some fabulous graphic artists out there. But mine was not, and would never be that. Time and experience taught me that. Over the last twenty years, whatever graphic design or illustration work that I created was simply an exchange of goods and services for me. While I might derive a degree of enjoyment in the creation of the occasional graphic design freelance work. It’s not my only creative art outlet.

My creative ego is now not dependent upon it being a spectacular success as a graphic designer. Having it bring me loads of money or heaps of praise for my unique and innovative work. No. I’m no Neville Brody. And that’s a good thing. Because we already have one of those, and he’s pretty good at Neville-Brody-ing.

The struggle is real:

The difference between my graphic design work and my personal artwork, is that I’m extremely emotionally invested in my personal artwork. My personal artwork is part of my identity. Receiving positive feedback regarding my personal artwork is great, but doesn’t always translate directly into increased sales. I wrote about this almost a year ago in this post.

Personally, I felt as though I was just being a big, fat, whiny baby because the thumbs up, or hearts or nice words were not being reflected in the sales of my artwork. This is something that I am in some way, shape or form always struggling with right beneath the surface.

Sometimes, I think that if I were an artist fifty or seventy years ago, when there was no computers, internet or social media like we have today. I would have been one of those women labeled a spinster. Who worked some day job, and made a lot of personal artwork in her off hours. Only to have a horder-like apartment full of my artwork discovered by my nieces after I keeled over and my cats ate my face.

What?!

There is a point to all of the above backstory. Recently, I decided to step outside of my (somewhat) predictable positive artistic criticism chamber to post my artwork in a completely different environment. I wanted to see what people who don’t know me, or perhaps who are not creators would say about my artwork.

Let’s say, I don’t think I’ve handled it well. I don’t think I approached the posts and my comments correctly at all. In the echo-chamber of positivity mentioned above I think the only weird critique I’ve ever received was that some high school kid thought that the arms and legs I made for some dolls looked like cat poops.

Over the past few months, I’d begun posting more of my artwork on a platform. There wasn’t a lot of feedback being generated. Sometimes I would get some nice bits of feedback. But nothing specific. Then today, I just totally stuck my whole foot squarely in my mouth.

Digging for a compliment much?!

For whatever insecure reason I attached some rather sad-sack paragraph of whiny-ass-ness to a set of pictures I posted. And someone, quite rightly, jerked a knot in my tail about it. Suggesting that I was just digging for a compliment. I had mentioned that some of my previous posts had been down voted. Apparently, my posts were not as down voted as I had thought. Or, they had been up voted since the last time I looked.

Regardless, I feel like a colossal boob for the post and my poor-pitiful-me up-vote-grubbing ramblings. I’ve resolved to edit the post. And make clear what I’m really looking for: critiques of my artwork from people outside my peers and affiliated groups.

My husband isn’t quite sure why this matters to me. There’s some logic to his argument. Someone who is not an artist, or even interested in art probably isn’t going to give me any kind of critical feedback that I would necessarily take to heart. However,  it might possibly help me in discussing (explaining?) my artwork to all kinds of different people.

Now what?

Well, I’m going to do some more thinking about what I will post next. It needs to be clear and to the point. No Uriah-Heep hand-wringing and aw-shucks-ing about it.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday.