No matter how long we've been at anything, whether it's an instrument, a craft, science based research, sports, etc etc there comes a time when we get stuck. It might be a learning curve, stagnation, frustration, outside influence, repetition compulsion and hopefully not, boredom or burnout. It hits all of us, and when it does it's the most frustrating experience as it always seems to hit at the worst time.
You're under the gun, deadlines are coming up fast and you're running behind, you have a million pieces to get done for customers and the clock is in fast fwd, time just seems to fly past you and you can't work fast enough to make progress. It never hits when you have extra time to figure it out in a calm mind so it only makes things worse. Mistakes happen, leather patterns hit the trash, things just keep going wrong and since pressure isn't our friend we just power through, pissed off, stressed out and completely unhappy with how our work is turning out. So at that point there are 2 options, throw it out and start over, or shrug and finish it off to ship out. Well, if there is a bone of honor in us we'll throw a fit, have a smoke or 2, and start over after the explosion has passed and we can think.
For some people , this is alien territory since they're not in self competition and striving to reach new heights every day , they've settled in and robotics has taken over. But for those of us who strive with each piece settling feels like dying, its depressing to just think about , its not how we're made, we're made to keep getting better, and we do. But.... With each new breakthrough, each new level of professionalism/perfection we reach there is a cliff up the road with no sign of warning. And since reaching new levels is soul food and so energizing we rarely think about the cliff and how we struggled to get over it last time until we see the road drop off and the parachute is in the trunk, laying there in knots with the jack stands on top of it and a quart of oil with a loose cap oozing onto it. We can do our best to dodge it but the only way out is through. So please let me try and work the way through this with a bit of sense.. Grab a drink sit back and have a good read for a bit.
As we progress and make improvements we apply them, they become part of our memory , both in our minds and in physical action. Whether this applies to our drawing skills or leather working skills, the way it happens is the same, repetition , commitment to mental/physical memory and the ability for recall to apply new skills. When this happens there is peace in the world, all is incredible from start to finish and things are flowing with ease. Now, as this happens and afterwards there are small and some large discoveries that are put in a the side file in our brains, we are always recording new technique that we see as we work and move forward. These things aren't immediately applied and part of our usable repertoire in the moment unless that is purposely done, most of them are sitting on the side , stored for later use. This is constantly happening without the need for taking notes.
As time goes by the comfort we found in the past year or so with new skills starts to become a bit stale , our work is becoming familiar to us. You see, as creative humans we're always evolving and changing, our taste in music may change, our taste in clothing, our preferences in food change, we re paint our rooms in the house, things become to familiar. The same thing happens when we look at our work and the stage its in at the present moment after time goes by and we've been using those newly acquired skills , tricks and techniques we began to apply last year or last month. The active thought of wanting to improve hits all over again, then the dive into how and where starts up and we feel a bit unhappy with what we see.
Not because our work is terrible and over night it slid back to looking like we just started yesterday, but, all of those small Notes that are stored in the side file are starting to become visible . When we look at our work in its current state our mind is overlaying the improvements that are stored up and not yet applied to what our eyes are taking in. Think of it as holding tracing paper of the newest sketch you've done, over the very first sketch you ever did of the same exact image. Your mind sees where the improvements that need to be applied should be , but we aren't conscious of it yet so our eyes are missing it. So at this point we're trying to apply 2 methods at once , one is the familiar and the other is the stored improvement, one we're aware of one we're not. This creates a feeling of being disconnected and frustrated. Our mind knows, but our brain is set on working and getting work done. Those are the ingredients for disaster and a long over do meltdown about whats going on...
So, how do we deal with this and get through and over ? Well its complicated yet simple at the same time. Remember to recognize it , that is the most important step. Recognize that feeling and step back, not to the other side of the shop but step back behind yourself and Look "in" at whats going on. Try and see where You and or your work need improvement. Sometimes we get satisfied with where we are and happy with what our products look like. And , we don't want to lose that place or feeling. Its great to be in that space, but it breeds stagnation.
It might be how we're approaching our work, maybe we're not in the best spot in the shop, move your bench, paint the shop if it needs it, recover shelves, light bulbs play a HUGE part in this, be sure the bulbs you use to work leather are at least 4000 Kelvin and have a CRI of 85 minimum. A CRI of 90 and above is ideal but tough to find unless you want to pay a good amount for them. Leather is skin, and it will allow light in and then back out effecting the surface appearance of it. Im sure you noticed it looks different in every room of the house, each corner of the shop and outside. Every where you go the Kelvin in the room changes and the CRI seriously drops. Regular Florescent bulbs are some of the Lowest rated Bulbs for CRI and can make your leather look green . You'll never get the right dye color / hue if you're using terrible light. LED with a 4000 K rating and a CRI of 90 or above are best. You can get them in Tube and Bulb style.. They'll save money, create less heat and give a reliable light source for your work space.
If this is all where it needs to be, we might be in repetition compulsion, repeating for the sake of repeating because it feels safe and the results are good. Ever notice how your work for a certain period of time all looks the same? This can keep you on the wheel of tunnel vision, with tunnel vision results. A good way of seeing if this is happening is , lets say you're used to doing large work, Like Bags, Wallets, maybe some furniture, or large wall hangings. So you're used to hammering away , not worrying about stretch, over walking, crushing edges , or starting out with a portrait piece and ending up with something that looks like summer roadkill. When work is BIG, its easy and we get used to that process and amount of detailing. So, Draw out a rose, inside a border of 3 inches high by 5 inches wide and tool it in your spare time. Tool it as you normally would .
Then do the same rose inside a border of 2.25 x 2.25 and get the same amount of depth, detail and realism in it. Then do the same rose inside a border of 1.5x1.5 . This will tell you where you really are. If this ends up being impossible... Practice doing miniature works. Start with a letter and work up to a portrait.. Not only will this free up a side of your work you havent expressed yet, but it will install all of the upgrades sitting in the side file which you can then apply to larger work and the results on large work will be astounding! to say the least this will blow you away, but you have to put in the time. Practice, practice , practice, we're never to old or too good to put in practice on new techniques.. Also, practicing with no particular goal is a proven way to have the upgrades in the side file come out and get installed .
Pulling it apart to put it together .... Creating art is like writing music, most don't see it this way but it's identical. When we begin a piece we start with a sketch, Music begins with a groove, This is our foundation. Once the foundation is correct and feels natural from all angles, we work on embellishments, Time change, tempo change, and experiment with sounds on a the drum kit. This is where on leather we decide where our depth changes will be, smooth VS texture, hills and valleys , and the overall feel of the piece before color. Then comes the flavor and spice, writing fills, switch ups in the groove, playing over the bar line, etc etc.. this is where on leather we dive into detailing, shading, color and assembly decisions. Once these things are decided we have a complete song ready to be written and played with the band and recorded.
This is a short but brilliant example of how one person does it. Gavin Harri