Earlier this year, I did a piece to submit to Abney Park for their CCG/Boardgame. Capt. Robert—the lead singer, founder, band visionary, and spokesperson for the band—had put out a call asking for some steampunk art from fans to use on cards in the game. One of these was to be called “fog” and he left it more or less at that.
This was the piece I did:
It’s crap. The airship itself had promise. I fused a pirate ship with a dirigible and I liked the overall feel of it. Nevertheless, the tree lines were shoddy, the lighting effects were mediocre, and the whole thing lacked any life or pizazz. The dismal wash of fog looks more like laziness rather than haziness. I’m not surprised it didn’t make the cut into the game.
I held onto it, but it always made me feel very unsatisfied to look at it. Over the course of the ensuing year, I worked a ton on client and personal projects and I could feel both my eye and hands sharpening up. During the last week of October, I had just finished all my current client work, and simultaneously caught up on all my in-progress personal pieces, and it happened that while browsing and cleaning up some folders on my hard drive I stumbled across the “Airship in the Fog” again. Whether it was an accumulation of experience, honing of technique, or simply because I had the right amount of coffee in me at that moment, I saw immediately what to do in my head as if a phantom whispered it in my ear.
So, I made it a do-over. BOOM.
This feels so much more right to me. The lighting is more dramatic. There is something going on in the scene. The details work more cohesively. I’m so much happier with this version, and I would’ve deleted the old one except I think it’s a worthwhile point to ruminate on. Well, perhaps there are several points:
- It’s not worth rushing, deadline or no. Do it right or don’t do it all.
- The best way to get better is to do it a lot, what musicians call “wood shedding.” And by a lot, I mean, nearly obsessively.
- Revision and editing are valuable things. Not just once or twice, but an ongoing process of reevaluation, even if only as a form of self-reflection.
- In that vein, going back to previous work and at least looking at it will reveal how much you’ve learned over time. The slow aggregation of knowledge and skill is hard to see sometimes.
The poet Paul Valery said, “An artist never really finishes his work, he merely abandons it.” I definitely understand that quote on the level that sometimes I am so fried on a project that I just have to call it quits on the endless tweaking and believe that it’s good enough. I guess the trick is finding those vanishing points between editing, revising, finishing, and abandoning, and knowing when to quit, and when to push on.
Have you had similar experiences to this? Share your stories with me.