When I get client feedback, there is an identifiable structure to a request for changes. Sandwiched between a compliment and an apology is the edit; the request to do it again. There are two reasons this nice-guy approach happens with such regularity. The first is that I'm lucky enough to work with nice people. The second is that these people recognize from their own experience (or the past complaints of others artists) the pain of repetition.
We fear repetition because it is so unpleasant, especially if the last iteration wasn't successful. Many many humans have tried something once, twice, failed, and quit. After all, if you couldn't get it right the first time, what guarantee is there that you'll get it right ever? We are programmed to take each iteration as a self-contained experience, separate from those that preceded and those that may yet proceed. It makes sense to the left-brain way of thinking;
Deep down, we just really want to get it right the first time. We want to be good at things. We need to be good at things.
But if we the creatives are going to persevere, we need to adopt a healthier attitude towards what we do. We can't see changes as a painful flaw, but an opportunity to take a step closer towards the ultimate goal. So what is the ultimate goal?
Whatever you want it to be.
Some artists just want to get it done, some are looking for the highest level of technical expertise, some want to connect the world through visual beauty and usher in an era of bliss through creative expression. I have been all three at various points in my life and will no doubt return to these ideas many times. But whatever the goal is, I think the one change that can make the biggest difference is to pull back the camera, and take in more of the field at once. Maybe this drawing isn't a lonely image that can be singled out, bullied with critical attack, and dismissed into memory best forgotten. Maybe this one drawing can be more, a single step in an entire dance.
I had been working on this soldier for a couple days when I arrived at the above image. Seeing things clearly and in color for the first time, I was excited. Here in front of me was more or less what I had been working towards. But was it more or was it less? How far along was I? Was I done? I knew that I had become too wrapped-up in the process to be able to judge it objectively. I can feel when a piece crosses that dangerous line and becomes precious to the artist. I needed some distance, some direction, some real feedback.
Lucky for me, I know a guy.
Mike Linnemann is a being from another planet, constructed from pure electricity. He assumes human form for the sake of our collective sanity, but any time spent in his company will get you unreasonably hyped up about everything. He has a contagious passion for visual art and an arguably encyclopedic knowledge of the subject. I've had the pleasure of knowing and working alongside him for many years. I sent Mike my soldier, knowing that his eyes would catch all the things mine could not.
He did not disappoint.
When I got a response, I was surprised at how much he had caught, but pleasantly so. This is where that long-term view comes into play. I was thinking about my image as a step in the process, and it was able to shed it's sacredness. No hurt feelings, no apologies, no drama, just good honest feedback and the path forward laid clear.
More importantly, Mike made me think about not how I was working but why I was doing it in the first place. I kept drawing, scanning, asking, redrawing, scanning, asking more...
Full disclosure: this part was not easy. Going back and forth was frustrating, conflicting with my 'just get it done' mentality. But there was reward in the repetition, watching this figure inch his way closer towards clarity and sense of completion. I stubbornly refused to give in to the temptation of those dreadful words: good enough.
It's in this moment of discovering the true image that my mind goes to the story of the lion and the mouse. With the thorn pulled from his mighty paw, the lion spared the kindly mouse who risked everything in the lion's moment of need. It's the very moment when I step back from the monitor, smile, and breathe; I am the lion, and my relief is palpable.
I'm slowly learning to embrace my foundations as a graphic designer. Big chunky geometry and bold colors are the letters of my language. Only when I let go of my need to make work that looks like everyone else's can my work can truly come to life.
I'm not showing you this image because I think it's perfect. I know there's room for improvement, and I'm excited by the prospect. Just like the individual drawings that paved the way for this image, this project as a whole is but one of many repetitions.
This image represents a snapshot of who I was at the moment of completion.
Even a few days later, as I write this article, things have already begun to shift. New projects are in process, new experiences have shaped me in different ways, and the path continues on. For my part, I will do my best to continue with gratitude and joy at the opportunity to do it again.