Yesterday I was having a little chat with another artist friend on Facebook. They were telling me about a piece they were working on, and it happened to be something I had made a long time ago so I posted a pic for them to see. I also posted a pic of a monkey I had made and All American Joe, the bear shown above. (I made him so long ago that the pic was taken with a real camera because digital cameras weren't even a thing yet.) I really wanted to just post those pics into my album for my friend to have a peek at, but since I am a bit Facebook impaired that didn't happen and they posted to my wall.
I got so SO much positive feedback on Joe both in comments and in messages. Now you would think that I would be thrilled that people loved him, and I am. I also kind of wanted to bang my head against the wall. But let me back up a little bit first.
Three decades ago when I made my first bear, I was incredibly unhappy with how it turned out, so I made my own pattern for the second one and was pleased with the results. I made another bear after that from my pattern and gave it to a friend for her birthday. She in turn showed it to a woman she knew who had a gifts and collectibles shop and the owner approached me about selling some to her. That's how I started in the business.
Once I was opened up to this world, as most fledgling bear artists do...I started trying out every pattern I could find to see what aspects of making a bear I liked and what I didn't. About a year and a half in I had a fairly good idea of what I wanted to achieve and what I liked. So I studied bears very carefully to get that perfect look I was going for. I made notes about what I saw and liked, and I incorporated those things into my pattern.
It wasn't an easy road though because patterns have never come terribly easy for me and I was constantly tweaking it this way or that to get it just so. It took me about 12 years to truly get to that recognizable style of my own and still make a very traditional bear, which is what I loved. Somewhere in there I started distressing them. When I did finally arrive at a pattern design and style I was completely happy with, I offered it in 4 sizes and I made bears from those patterns for a very long time. I made literally hundreds and hundreds of bears in that style from those patterns. They sold well and people loved them. The only other thing I made was rabbits.
But one morning I woke up, got out my pattern and looked at it and thought...I have done this now. I have done it and done it and done it...so now what? I felt it was time for a change. But the problem with achieving what you consider your ideal, and working for years to get there is that when you want to do something new, you don't know what it is. I had no idea. I was adrift for about a year. I hardly made anything.
By this time I had the bear pattern thing pretty much down, so I sat down and designed some completely different style bears. They weren't distressed or tradtional. They sold, people liked them, but they never really "fit." After a couple of years I decided it was time to go home again so to speak. But I wanted to give "home" a little bit of a modern facelift.
I have been working towards that end ever since. While I like what I have produced over the past six years I am still designing, re-designing and tweaking again. I also decided I wanted to make other animals, so I keep adding those and I am glad I have done that. I plan to continue adding animals of all varieties. Just recently though I feel like I am at a place where I might be able to stop tweaking the bear patterns as much. I like the changes to my patterns I have done in the past couple months a lot. I have also been taking more risks than I used to...as in the case of Sno with his two different sized eyes. I was finally feeling truly satisfied again...and then I posted that picture yesterday. Sigh~
Over the past year I had actually been thinking about pulling that old "perfect" pattern out again (one of the few bear patterns I actually saved because I usually destroy old patterns or I would have them stacked to the rafters) and making it, but I never did.
A couple of posts back I talked about how doubt will sometimes creep into the minds of artists, and I found doubt creeping into my mind yesterday. Should I have stuck with that pattern? Is it better than what I do now? Would people like it better? If it wasn't broke, why did I fix it? Of course the answer is because we always try to move forward and keep things fresh. As an artist you cannot make the same thing forever without it getting stagnant and burned out on it.
But I also find myself wondering...is it really a step backwards to revisit a pattern? I have never done that before. I suspect that even if I did pull it out and make it the end result wouldn't be quite the same as it was all those years ago. At this point I don't know for sure what I am going to do, and I could use some insight from you. So any comments would be welcome.
While I am probably throwing myself right into the middle of shark infested waters here...I am going to encourage your critiques of what I am doing now. I have thick skin, I can take it. So don't be afraid to be honest. Afterall I want to make the best bears I can, and feedback can certainly go a long way. That doesn't mean I will automatically take every suggestion and incorporate it, but it does mean I will certainly give it some thought.
If you're one of my many shy readers, or one of the many like me, that has trouble getting your comments to post to blogger, you can feel free to send me an e-mail with your thoughts instead of posting a public comment.
By the way on a separate note...if you are like me and have trouble getting comments to post to blogger, I have finally figured out the reasons just this week and can help you. Let me know and I will talk you through it. I have had this problem for a while, it's not that I don't like to post comments on other blogs...because I do read them..I just haven't been able to.