In Defense of Ugly Children

In Defense of Ugly Children

by Tara Brannigan on February 17, 2012

It’s late at night in the workshop. I’m really too tired to continue working, but I’m so close to finishing that I can’t quite make myself shut down yet. There’s less than half an hour of work left, so I rationalize that it’s best to just push on and get it all done in one go. I fire up the torch and go to work. The silver heats uniformly and the piece is about to fuse.

At the last second the silver ring surrounding the brooch gaps slightly, sighing open under the heat and leaving an irregular, visible gap around the edge. By the time my tired mind registers this fact, the brooch and the surrounding ring have fused. Since they’re effectively one piece of metal now, separating them would take more effort than the project is worth. The brooch is now ruined: I have created an ugly child.

Frustrated and exhausted, I throw the piece into the ‘fail drawer’ and start the process of shutting down the torch. I berate myself mentally and stomp away, irrationally angry about having wasted valuable time on a piece that ended in such an ugly fashion. I have very little free time, so spending it on something that ends badly is always disappointing. During the frustrating aftermath, it’s easy to get caught up in the negatives surrounding these ‘ugly children’.

However, there is plenty of value to be found in these disappointing projects! While it’s easy to sink into a negative mindset about these setbacks, it’s important to remember the positive lessons these ill-formed projects provide. They may not be the pretty, well-polished projects that you want to show off to the world, but they’re still your work and there’s still value to be gained from the process of their creation!
A few of the lessons that can be learned:

Discovering Your Limits
If I hadn’t continued working while I was tired, it’s likely I wouldn’t have made such a simple mistake. I make a point to put down the torch when I get tired these days. It’s not safe, and the work produced while tired is rarely up to my standards.

Learning More About Your Medium
I was working with a new type of sterling silver alloy for this project (Argentium sterling silver). I wasn’t fully familiar with how it varied from a traditional sterling silver alloy, and therefore didn’t account for certain differences in the way it behaves when heated. In later projects, I’ve learned to use this ‘relaxation’ in the metal to my advantage. It’s now one of my favorite materials!

The Wrong Way to Create the Right Thing
As Edison once said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Sometimes you need to create something ugly in order to create something beautiful. While it would be fantastic if every project came out exactly as I planned, I’d lose out on not just the learning experience, but on the inspiration that comes from experimenting and learning what doesn’t work. Many of my favorite pieces have risen from the ashes of failed projects, after I’d taken the time to step back and re-evaluate what I’m trying to accomplish.

The Fail Drawer!

Your lessons will likely vary from my own. Each medium and process has its own lessons to be learned! It may be that horrible poem from high school that you can’t quite bring yourself to throw out, but will never show to anyone. Or perhaps a piece of pottery whose glaze became warped and discolored in the firing process, ruining the elegant sleek aesthetic you sought to achieve. Whatever the medium, there will always be creations that are not up to your standards.

It’s also important to remember that even the most skilled makers still produce the occasional dud. Some of the most talented artists have painted over failed pieces in an effort to reuse the canvas. The vital lesson is that they learned from their failed creations and moved forward. While you may never want to shine the spotlight on your ugly children, it’s important to remember that they’re yours, and learn to love them for the lessons they provide!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

gert rasmussen February 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Oh yeah, guess we all been there, but as long as we learn from our mishabs, they are not wasted. Actually I do believe that one can learn a lot from fumbles on the way, just keep an open mind, and remember that rainy days are good for the strawberries in the long run.


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