The Life-Affirming Cringey-ness of Past Failures

rainbow clay
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

I got it in my head several years ago that I fancied myself a sculptor of sorts, or at the very least, a kitschy clay artist.  I spent some money, bought some Sculpey (a weird, Costco-esque bulk block of white clay), and spent a lot of time crafting some charms.  Charms that I sculpted, baked, painted, and deigned good enough to photograph and put up on StoreEnvy for sale.

Before the store ever went live, though, things in my life got hectic and complicated, I got pregnant, and most of my creative hobbies got shoved to the back-burner until fairly recently.  It’s only in the last few months – probably around five years later, at this point – that I began to become interested in clay work again.  I asked for and was gifted new Sculpey tools and glaze for Christmas, and started work on several projects just after the new year.

Now, in the intervening years, despite not working with Sculpey, I’ve watched videos of other artists creating art using clay, I’ve scoured Pinterest boards and read how-to articles, and recently have even found some books on the subject.  When I finally sat down after a week of preliminary sketches and brainstorming, the end result of my first attempt was a reflection of several years of absorbing and processing that information and those techniques, and it showed.

I was so dang happy with how my project turned out, I got online and logged into my old StoreEnvy account, and hey, what do you know, there were all my old projects, photos and listings just waiting to go live.

Oh… my God.  How did I ever think those thing looked good enough to sell??

Now, let’s backpedal a bit.  The things weren’t atrocious.  They were recognizable for what the were supposed to be (cupcakes, in this case).  And in most cases, the ideas – and even the designs themselves – were solid.  Like, yes, these were good concepts.  Even my overly critical, knowing-what-I-know-now self could recognize that.

But the execution was very, very emblematic of what I was talking about in a previous post – the mad rush to produce, at the cost of the quality of the product.

I admit, I had a moment of embarrassed realization – oh God, I plastered pics of these things all over Facebook.  I showed them to people, proudly.  I gave a few as gifts.  Oh, man.  Don’t even look at me.

It took me a few days to really process it, but eventually I realized a few things.

  1.  I am my absolute worst critic.  I nitpick and analyze and overthink everything.  I am/was likely the only person to notice all but the most egregious flaws.
  2. Part of the reason I am judging myself so harshly in hindsight is because I am looking at my creations through the eyes of someone who knows so much more.  I know more about using tools, about texturing techniques, about tinting and shading.  I am judging work done by someone who wasn’t privvy to any of that knowledge, and who was doing they best they could with what they knew at the time.
  3. That I can look at my past work and be able to ennumerate the aspects in which I could improve, and explicate in specific detail how and why I would make those changes is a very real testament to the fact that I have grown as an artist.
  4. The very fact that I can look at my work – despite my own hypercritical tendencies – and see value in the concept proves that my ideas, even in the nascent stages, have value.
  5. However embarrassing I find the photo evidence of my past failures, I now have a blueprint to create new and improved versions, should I chose to do so;and if not, I have the skills to move on and develop new, fresh ideas.

I’ve always been told, usually with reference to writing, never to actually get rid of your work, as you never know when you’ll use it.  What usually isn’t said (maybe it’s meant to be understood?) is that the further along you get in your creative journey, the less likely you are to use any of your previous creations in their original form – you will outgrow them, you will move beyond them, and they will seem embarrassing and inelegant to you.

But they will remind you that, once upon a time, you had this thought, and maybe it was a good thought, and maybe it’s time to revisit it with all the things you’ve learned in the interim.  Maybe this time you can get it to work.

And if nothing else, at least it reminds you of how far you’ve come.

Author: Jessica Cross

Writer, maker, geek, feminist, mom. Not necessarily in that order.

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