Wednesday, September 4, 2013

If you aren't making mistakes, you aren't trying hard enough

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Thomas Edison

People hate to make mistakes. I'm pretty sure there is a negative physiological response to making mistakes dating back to ancient times when a mistake meant the difference between life and death. Sure, there are some mistakes we can make that result in maiming or death, but it's good to try to have a teensy bit of perspective about it.

The very first bead I ever made, made into the first every ring I ever attempted. It's not an attractive ring or a particularly stable design. 

As someone who learned the basics of lampworking by reading websites, books, and watching a couple DVD's, and then spent the time making ugly beads, I am sometimes surprised. Surprised that others want to know how something is done. And they want to know it now. See, here's the thing. Unless you put in the time making mistakes, you can have the information handed to you in a gorgeous full color, hand bound book  on a silver platter, and still not learn much. 

Some other first time beads I ever made.)

Fact #1: If you make ugly beads or ugly jewelry, no one will die. It may FEEL like it, but really, that's just having a flair for the dramatic. 

Fact #2: Instant results would be awesome. Like losing weight. Or learning a new technique. But people don't become "experts" the first time they are shown a technique. 

Another ugly bead, and one of my first attempts at florals. 

Fact #3: Take classes to learn specific new techniques for the sake of learning and taking that home and assimilating it into your suitcase of knowledge. But don't expect your class samples to be perfection. Or be like one person I met, completely shaken to the core about humanity because someone "stole" a class bead they made that was special because it was heart shaped and this person was positive they could never replicate a heart shape again. Class bead are usually butt ugly. Ask me how I know. I've made loads of those things. 

Let's use lampworking as an example. I was/am happy to give tips. While I was at Bead Fest, I had people ask me how I get such great results with the glass color called Dark Silver Plum (it likes oxygen). Another lamented that they can't use murrini because it smears so badly (turn the heat down and melt it gently, tapping between hits of heat with a marver). These are all tips I share freely and with joy to help my fellow lampworker. 

But a person really cannot fully understand how the glass behaves if they don't use it and make mistakes. For example, other than the flame, gravity is the most important tool a lampworker has. If you don't understand how gravity works on molton glass, you will have a blob of glass on the bench rather than on the mandrel. And the best way to understand it is to work with the flame and with gravity to see what happens. 

It's like anything else. How about making jewelry. Have all your pieces turned out perfectly the first time you laid out the components? Or all your wirework been flawless? What's the worst that could happen if it doesn't turn out perfectly? Maybe you have some silver scraps that can be recycled for $ or credit. Maybe you feel like you wasted time? But any time "wasted" is also time spent learning what doesn't work. But I do encourage practicing with copper before you get out the silver. 

I've been sprinkling this post with some of the first (ugly) beads I ever made...about 8 years ago...beads that are actually some of the best of the worst. Now I'm going to show you something more recent. 

I dreamed up a new technique one night. Here was my first try.

first try bead experiment

The glass is horribly scorched, the red and the white didn't like being reduced, it just had all kinds of problems. It took me an hour to create this hot mess of a bead. An hour of my life gone, with only this ugly bead to show for that hour.

But as I practiced and practiced the technique, it morphed into something like this:


and this:


Have a great week!

-Jen Cameron


  1. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post Jen! I have taken a lot of project based classes, and it's frustrating. I've picked it because I loved the project and it would be nice to go home with that lovely piece of jewelry. But, really, I want to go home knowing how to use a lovely new skill. When I can keep that in mind, it's the best!

    PS- those butt ugly beads aren't really so butt ugly :-)

  2. Some of the my most prized pieces began as disasters. When you try to "save" something you've become attached to because you've worked on it for a while, you are forced to think outside the box, and for me, I end up creating something I would have never thought of if I weren't trying to "fix" a mistake!

  3. Ahhh, Miss Jennifer - a woman after my own 'do ti til you get it right' heart. :-)

    I can't tell you how many times I repeat this for people. It always baffles me that folks not only want it all, right now - they *expect* it. They berate themselves as adults so harshly for a learning curve that they would never in a million years think should be visited on any child. They forget that when we are trying to learn, we channel the child in ourselves - because that mindset is the only one we have experience with that actually WORKS to help us learn.
    As far as learning is concerned, the only real differences between who we were then, and who we are now is perhaps the amount of time needed, and as you have pointed out, our perception of the consequences. Children see mistakes as part of play - and try again to 'get it right' with clear and open hearts.
    For whatever reason, many adults see that as a luxury they cannot afford. The reality is that what our inventive minds cannot afford is the mistaken impression that mistakes are 'failures.' In fact, they are the bridge between inventive thought and the reality of creativity.

    Thanks so much for your insightful, gentle, yet firm parenting on this issue. The child in me loves you for it!

  4. I agree wholeheartedly! You have to put in a LOT of time just trying stuff, over and over and over (and not be afraid to cut it up or throw it out, and start over--ah the beauty of copper! You're bang on, there! It's like trying to perfect a freethrow shot, you just got to keep doing it even if you miss.)...And if you're not going to take classes, you have to spend a LOT of time scouring the Internet for resources (cheaper and more thorough than books, in my opinion). I too have encountered people who have seemed to want me to spoon-feed them magic information (on rather complicated questions like "how do I make jewelry?") that is already all over the Internet. I have to explain that I've been flogging away at this for 5 years, just trying stuff, and have spent hundreds of hours tracking down learning resources online. They often seem crestfallen (maybe they're just looking for human interaction more than anything, I'd rather just look it up). I don't know what to tell them, except you have to be relentless in searching online, and then put in the time trying it, it's the only way to learn, like you say. You have to be almost obsessed with something in order to keep at it hard/long enough to master it--and too obsessed to be embarrassed, like you say. I think many people like the idea of making jewelry, but they don't have enough passion for it to put the work in. (I'm like that with other things-I love the idea of being able to play the guitar, but I'd rather get a bikini wax than practice.)

  5. Great post - something I can relate to. I've spent hours and hours perfecting a pattern to find that I might have one colour wrong. The beauty of handmade - is nothing is perfect, there will always be some small unique quality about a design or piece that will make it special.

  6. Thanx for sharing Jen. I appreciate your advice. It take courage to show mistakes. I don't see your mistakes as ugly but I am just starting out.

  7. So true, no matter what you like to do. (I've talked to people who are shocked that you can't just read a book about writing to become a better writer, but that you actually need to write!)

    My class projects almost never turn out to be something I actually want to wear. It's good to keep them anyway, just to see how far you've come.

  8. Thanks for the reminder! We can be our own worst critics.

  9. Your "ugly" beads are gorgeous! I totally feel the pain of mistakes BUT you're right, I learn from them and do better next time. Thanks for the post. x

  10. One of the hardest things I have had to learn in my jewelry making journey is that mistakes are not the same thing as failure. I have had to overcome the perfectionist in me and the critical self-talk, while giving myself permission to play and experiment. That's been the personal journey behind the technique and design journey. Thank you for this wise post. (btw, someday I'll have to show you my first lampwork glass beads-much worse than yours! lol).

  11. True true!
    ....I love the class bead that you think is butt ugly! Lol

  12. This really resonates with me. Thank you for the pep talk! I am one of those people who hate to make mistakes and want to get things right first time. Because of that, I tend to over think projects before I even start them. I try to visualize the whole process from start to finish and that just doesn't work. Some of my best pieces have started off as one thing and ended up as something else because I let the original idea go and went with the "mistake".

  13. Funny I love this post but the strange and funny part for me is that although you say they are "ugly" beads I see the heart and beauty that flowed from your ideas and they are more than gorgeous to me! And once again thank you for letting me pry the red bead from your hands I still play with it in my fingers and it is a work of art to me! You are right though if you do not make mistakes in any learning process you are not really learning and growing!

  14. I read somewhere that in order to become accomplished at anything, you have to invest at least 10,000 hours. So I look at any "failed" project as another hour (or 10!) invest in my progress. :-)


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