Two Steps Back (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Blunder)

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Now I know why Tony Stark builds all those suits…

It’s said to “err is human, to forgive–divine” and, let’s face it, the best things we humans seem to know how to do is err. Alot. Often. And usually on the things we are putting the most of ourselves into. Personified, in this case, by our cosplay costumes and props.

I don’t think there’s anything more frustrating than a mistake during the creative process. It’s far less of a blunder to make one while we are writing–we simply hit the backspace button and go again. In fact, we do it so often we don’t even think about it anymore….yet when we make one while sewing? That’s a half hour of pulling a thread out before we can even reevaluate where we went wrong and start again.

This very afternoon I experienced a blunder, and it came with all the usual symptoms. I panicked. I had some music playing and had to shut it off, as if it would help the situation at all. I felt my cheeks flush a little bit with something that is both embarrassment and rage. Rage at everything. Myself, the fiberglass, the helmet. Then I looked at my mistake probably a hundred times. I sat down with it, stood up with it, twisted it around in my hands; as if trying to convince myself that me thinking I had made a mistake was a mistake.

Nope. It was real.

Then I went through all the other symptoms. Denial was the first. Then anger. Then the old “let me break it apart to fix it” idea before the whole “maybe I should start all over” /rage quit. And, honestly, it looked like I really did have to start all over. The fiberglass had dried and shrunk the helmet in a way that it didn’t fit anymore. At all. I had also become misshapen in some places, so much that doing it over would have caused it to look better. Instead of tackling my problem head on, I was looking for solutions that would bring me away from the project–including doing it again. Because I didn’t think it was good enough the first time, and all because of this (third) big mistake.

I don’t think this is uncommon for any of us to encounter. I see alot of costumers and prop builders quit when they run into a wall, when they are holding a piece of their project they have to go backwards on, instead of moving forward like they anticipated. Like they expected. We place these expectations on ourselves and on our projects to move a certain way and have a certain outcome: but they don’t. Ever. So what do we do? Maybe we should put it down, come back to it another time. Maybe we should start over, because practice makes perfect, right?

I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or a wrong answer for this. To me, all I can do is quote our loving old grandpa Alfred..and consider the question…

Why do we fall?

It may be that you pick yourself–and your project–back up after a time to let the heated embarrassment and frustration of a mistake boil off and cool back down to a temperature that is new to you all over again. It may be that you pick yourself up best when you do start over with a clean slate, built on the rubble of your practiced attempts. Or, like me, perhaps you pick yourself up best when you simply wipe off the fiberglass residue of a really hard, long and complicated sanding process that only could have ended in more failure; but instead ended with a helmet back on your head where there couldn’t be one before.

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The bottom line is that you DO it. Don’t put it down and forget about it. Don’t start over again unless you have too, because its too easy to stand in your own way. It’s too easy to be so critical that you wind up with four iron man helmets instead of one (true story).

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Goldilocks has nothing on me

Don’t punish yourself. Don’t punish the art. I often feel as if stage of my piece is like a stage of its life. You have its inception, its birth; you nurture it through the adolescence of rough drafts and paper models and fiberglass skeletons. You’ve seen it look messy, you’ve seen it broken, you’ve visualized its potential and seen it’s maturity long before everyone else. You believed in it. You believed in yourself. I often expect these life cycles of production to move forward without looking backward, without falling behind–but it does. It’s up to us to correct our work without blame, without self-criticism. Because, really, what’s the real point in falling?

We learn.

Sure, duh. We all ‘learned’ this in first grade. Learn from your mistakes, right? While working on Iron Man and, most recently (and with greater impact) while working on costumes for other people, I found out how difficult it was to actually learn anything from my mistakes–outside of how many walls I can run headfirst into.

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Fiberglass Matting: The Friend you Hate to Love, and Love to Hate

But there is something to be said about being the mother (or father) of your own creation: don’t be scared of it. Don’t be scared to cut it, to alter it, to modify it. Don’t be scared to think of something new, to research, to ask, to push the limits of your materials. Most importantly of all, don’t be scared to go slow. We love to get wrapped up in the fruit of our labor that we forget the most exciting part of all isn’t the con, or the costume, or the beautiful smiles of the people who see us–it’s the journey of what it took us to get there. 

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