We've all been there... flying high after landing a new commission, jumping head over heels about an email from an exciting new client, or just surfing the waves of satisfaction after completing your latest masterpiece. At times like these, it feels as though life and career just couldn't be going any better. You've got everything figured out!
But that's not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is: failure. Those moments when things don't go your way. For most of us, 'failure' is a dirty word, but what I would like to propose, is that we take a moment to re-evaluate our conception of failure, and instead of treating it as the enemy, start viewing it as our mentor or guide, because without it, we would never be in a position to grow, as people or creative individuals.
I recently spoke to a few S6 artists about experiences they could recall from their careers where things didn't work out according to plan, yet upon reflection and with hindsight, valuable lessons were learned.
Illustration 101 - Natalie Foss (Artist / Illustrator)
Once upon a time, in the very beginning of my career as a freelance illustrator, a musician approached me. He wanted me to make a series of illustrations for his new album. "I don't have a budget", he said. "But you'll get great exposure!" As it was one of my first requests, I naively accepted it I spent a lot of time working on the illustrations. When the finals were ready, I emailed the low-res versions to him. Days went by without response. Days turned into weeks. Then I realised I would never hear back from him, and I had wasted a lot of my time and energy.
What I learned from this experience, was to never do a project without signing an agreement. I also learned that working for free is not a great choice. You shouldn't work for free, unless you really want to do that very special project, or it "pays" you in other ways. Exposure can be good! But remember; no matter how great that exposure is, it won't pay your bills. Working for free does not only affect your own economy and future possibilities, but actually the whole industry.
I fail a lot, and I know I will continue making mistakes in the coming years. But I see failing as something valuable, because I know I will learn from it!
The "Everyday Failures" - Beeple (Graphic Designer)
Just about every single day I sit down to do my 'everydays', things don't go according to plan. Many times I'll have an idea in my head and when I go to implement it, it turns out like shit because I suck ass at whatever I'm trying to do, or I quickly realize it really wasn't that good of an idea to begin with. Those daily fails are actually extremely valuable for two reasons. Firstly, they get all of the shitty ideas out of your head. Unfortunately most of your ideas are shitty. The quicker you can work through awful ideas, the quicker you can find the ones that have some meat to them. Secondly, they help show you the areas that you're technically weak in. These fails might not be the most 'epic' ever but many of them over time will really help you grow as an artist, so that when it comes time to really step up, you can have an epic WINNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!
Realigning Your Expectations - Kirsten Rothbart (Illustrator)
I think the most crucial learning experience of my career so far, is the one I'm going through right now. I majored in Illustration lately and ever since, the only lucky-strikes I've been experiencing are the ones that I love to draw into my illustrations. The jobs I got while studying always kept me assured that I was heading down the right path. But now job offers are scarce and it's started to make me feel a little weary and frustrated, because I am here, I'm ready. I have so much energy to put into my work. I feel like a hungry panther, crouching in the underbrush and waiting for its prey. I could go on a whole lot more about how not having jobs at the moment worries me financially. But oh well, there's no use whining. Drawing is what I love. It's the one thing I have been, and always will be, passionate about. And that's why I refuse to give up. Instead - I'll keep going. And this is yet the most important lesson for me.
Trust Your Instincts - Boris Pelcer (Artist / Illustrator)
During my creative career thus far there have been many instances where projects didn't work out according to plan. In regards to my personal work, the notion of failure is much more subjective to me. It's usually based on how well the work reflects an emotion or a thought that is the focus of that particular piece. I've noticed that maintaining focus on the main concept while creating that piece is essential in ensuring that every mark and every decision regarding color and composition will synchronize to communicate a cohesive feeling, or a thought.
In regards to my commercial work, failure for me is an instance when the work fails to add another dimension or a layer of meaning beyond what is revealed with information that accompanies my artwork. For instance, I worked on a project for a very exciting big client, and the project revolved around a particular musician. I was commissioned to visually represent the essence of the musician's sound. I was so excited to work with the client that I overlooked the fact that the music I was to represent evoked very little in me. In essence I wasn't inspired by the music. The final work felt like it lacked something, and that's because while creating it, I wasn't inspired by the music, but I was already committed to the project and it needed to be finished.
With all said, the main lesson I learned regarding both my personal and commercial work has been to trust my instinct. If I am losing interest in a personal piece and completing it feels forced, I simply let it go and move on.
Learning the Hard Way - Kevin Russ (Photographer)
I spent an afternoon in a holding cell in Butler County jail, Kansas and the biggest lesson I learned was to always stay hidden. Riding a freight train from California to anywhere east and everything was good for a few days. We then rolled into Whitewater, Kansas where our train suddenly came to a stop. Suspecting we were seen, we hopped off and hid in the bushes to wait it out. The sheriffs pull up and inspect the train and it's nearly dark at this point so we keep waiting and the train eventually leaves. Stuck in Kansas for the night, we get on the next train we can the following day. The cops must've been standing by because we barely got started rolling down the line and we hear vehicle doors close and boots climbing up our train car rungs.