Fear the Creative Process, Then Do It Anyway
That was the mission on my recent vacation to beautiful San Diego where I was fortunate enough to land a spot in Portland artist Sally Jean’s workshop, “Totally Tiara.”
I’ve been designing and creating jewelry for the past five or six years as a hobby. In my recurring fantasy, I quit my day job, liberate my 70s Bohemian skirt and peasant top (again in style, I might add) and set up a table selling my handmade wares at the Farmer’s Market.
But then Carolyn, our bookkeeper, reminds me that payroll is Friday, so I get back to work. (My good friend, Sue, says, “Why do you think they call it work? If it was fun, they wouldn’t pay you to do it.”)
There were about 20 of us aspiring artists in this class. Besides me, two others had traveled great distances to study with the Queen of Silver Solder. One woman flew in from Hawaii, another was from upstate Illinois. All the rest were from up and down California.
Besides trekking home with my very own tiara, my other objective was to master a new skill that used an entirely different section of my brain. As The Database Diva, I spend a lot of time thinking about the best way to present complicated relationship-building tactics to my clients who want to leverage their customer databases.
Burning Brain Cells vs. Skin Cells
You burn a lot of brain cells mastering the creative process for email or drip marketing campaigns. You must think of exactly the right words and offer such compelling ideas that your readers are entertained or educated enough to buy what you’re selling or ask to stay on your list. (Or at least not opt out). Very. Tough.
With soldering there’s a specific hand-eye coordination required–while holding a soldering iron that’s 100-plus degrees Fahrenheit.
I sat across from a woman who had taken Sally Jean’s class 13 times. She owned many crowns. I was in awe of her prolificness. Her pace was brisk as she added spikes to the base, and she was very fluid in her work, even though she was conducting 7 or 8 simultaneous conversations around the room. I thought I was a multi-tasker. I was truly amazed.
Within the first few hours of the 3-day class, I had dripped molton solder on my index finger. It was so hot, I didn’t even feel it at first. (Just a flesh wound, as Monty Python used to say.)
Within 5 hours I felt like a dismal failure. Everyone was soldering much faster than I was, and my iron was operating on the scorched earth principle. Instead of beautiful shiny charms, I was cremating my pieces (or inventing the Goth look of the technique…never one of my favorites).
I burned a lot of skin cells in that class. I could not get the hang of Sally Jean’s loving command, “Melt and Flow! Melt and Flow!” I had soldered precisely zero times before this. Why did I think I could show up and master it in a mere 3 days when almost everyone else had been a Sally repeat offender?
My fellow artists were encouraging. “Keep going, you’ll get better; it takes practice,” they all said. “When you get home, solder something everday,” said another. I doubted this advice as I pushed yet another ashy charm off to the side and picked up my next victim–with a death grip on the pliers.
How much longer would I have to endure this ego bashing (which hurt more than my finger)? And, surely, Sally was not serious about taking a group picture with all of us wearing our crowns. I guess I could hold up my iron as a lightsaber. Darth Diva.
“Done Is Better Than Perfect”
But then a miracle happened. I realized I was trying to be perfect. I was totally out of my comfort zone–where I typically live everyday. I was being tentative because I didn’t want to ruin my expensive stash of class supplies. I didn’t want to wear a Goth tiara or put it on display as evidence of my vacation at the art colony. I was putting a ton of pressure on myself expecting to produce first-class craftsmanship, while the reality was I was a soldering virgin! And I was failing anyway.
(Ironically, Sally had also taught “Soldering for Virgins” a few days before, but I couldn’t attend. Even if I could have, I proabably wouldn’t have signed up. I assumed it was the “beginner’s class.” I wanted a challenge–until now that I had one.)
With the realization that there was no way I was going to produce jury-level art, I relaxed. I breathed. I ate some chocolate (not on the low-carb diet, but, heh). And I created my first beautiful silver-soldered charm. It was magnificent. I didn’t care that I had 45 more charms to go.
So, success. I got my new learning experience. But I did not finish my project in Sally Jean’s class. I did not fly home wearing a tiara. But I did turn on the soldering iron as soon as I got home. The solder amazingly “melted and flowed.” I am now a soldering addict.
You can see my finished masterpiece, entitled “Inspiring Divas” above. It features pictures of the wonderful line of women in my family tree that I am lucky enough to descend from. The spool of thread is from my great-grandmother’s Marshall, TX, dry goods store. It’s close to 100 years old. The brooch in front was my grandmother’s.
The takeaway: Your art could be your career, your writing, your marketing, your tiara. How committed are you? Only you will know where all the little flaws in your crown are. So to some degree, you must suffer for your art if you care about it and you want it to someday be better. The secret is to fear the creative process, and then do it anyway.