Thursday, August 25, 2016

starting at the end

I am just starting out on a major new project. It will consume the next 6 weeks of my life. Immersed in the design stage, I already feel the pull of The Resolution, the conclusion of it all because I - we - can see the finished thing: there is a drawing, materials have been selected. The endless chatter from design and detail and process has started, and sleep is broken.

PROJECT PICTURES? EMBARGOED FOR NOW… That doesn’t matter, this is all about the emotions of making stuff, less about the stuff itself.

There is a cute meme that floats about on social media, regarding the artist’s relationship with a piece of work over the course of making it. In short, feelings go nuts and change a LOT, and it’s OK to stop reading now.

Or… Come on the journey. 

I’m talking mainly about creating something new, possibly unknown to me, maybe completely out of my comfort zone—lots of different processes all needed at once, or maybe I just don’t yet have full mastery of a particular skill. 

There are a lot of problems to solve in order to make something new—I think that’s part of the attraction, and definitely part of the reason I (we) end up on a massive emotions-rollercoaster (and possibly an unwelcome voyage of self-discovery). 

The makers flow has a dynamic all of its own. For me, it seems to go something like this:

1. This is going to be awesome, I am going to love making this!
2. Wait… I need to design more.
3. Can I actually do this?
4. I think this might suck.
5. I’m sure I have been working on this for too long…
6. Not sure if this still sucks and I am working really, really hard trying to make it suck less.
7. Hang on, I like how that bit looks.
8. Wow, this really could be awesome…

Commissions seem to be no more affected by this than new things I am trying to make for myself. In fact, commissions may be easier because at least there is a shared vision for that special something. Of course I really want the person to love their piece—I pour heart and soul into the job and it will definitely be couture, Made By Me, in the end. But on the maker-journey that series of steps often seems to spread out and loop over… Until I reach The End:

9. This really needs to be finished. How do I know that it’s done?

Sure I’ve designed and laid out material specs, and I can almost reach out and touch the piece in my mind, but there is this intangible quality to constantly asking yourself as you work whether every detail has been developed appropriately, congruently… Enough. Has all that process resolved—finally—into The Thing?

I’m at the top of the ride. Sitting in the little car, at the apex, no breeze.
Hold on…

10. What did I just make?

I’m not always able to understand what I have made, even if it looks just like the design.

When I talk about this with other makers and performers (including some very senior and established artists) they report many of these same feelings, except they seem to experience more evenness or “flow” in the process. Or, some say, they get a lot better at hiding their own feelings so that they can guide the team through their sucky bits and complete the trip.

But some things seem common: if you or I are going to make and challenge ourselves to get better then it’s going to be hard, it will feel strange, and we will travel on the make-and-doubt emotions-rollercoaster a lot.

I have noticed the stages in the roller-coaster journey emerging over time, my life-time, as a maker. And somewhere in there, I also started to sense that those sucky steps might provide information, some cue for my sensory skills that could guide my hands as I make, working towards that finished thing.

Practical tips:
I often resort to the camera - I act as if I am documenting process or a finished piece right from the start. I really scrutinize all the angles - it’s very helpful to have that dispassionate lens provide a different perspective. And it gives me a way to ask for feedback.

Sometimes I will just put the piece away and ignore it for a few days so that I can surprise myself all over again, it’s about learning to see differently over time.

And maybe I will phone a friend to talk over whichever step I’m on… And they phone me too—it feels great to help someone else with a “this sucks!” moment. And maybe to hear that we’re not alone on the rollercoaster.