The “awwwh” Factor: When Failure is Success!

My first tube set stone. Awwww, look how wonky it is!

My first tube set stone. Awwww, look how wonky it is!

STOP!! Don’t throw away that misshapen, mangled, completely-didn’t-turn-out-how-you-wanted-it-to-be project! Instead, toss it into the bottom of your toolbox and let it marinate with scraps of metal and seldom used tools.

Why am I so emphatic about this? Because you need those mistakes and failures more than you need the projects that turned out perfectly the first time, and here are three good reasons why:

  • First, there’s the old cliché about how you learn more from your failures than your successes, which is abso-freakin’-lutely true. Figuring out what went WRONG is actually much, much easier than figuring out what went right. Your “failures” are your stepping stones to success.

    My first tube set stone. Awwww, look how wonky it is!

    My first tube set stone. It’s a mess. I love it and keep it because it reminds me what NOT to do.

  • Second, failed attempts in jewelry making are not really failures, they are experiments, they are prototypes, and they are drafts. We don’t expect masterworks of literature to be written in one inspired session at the keyboard, and it is ridiculously unreasonable to hold ourselves to a higher standard than we would hold, say, the incomparable P.G. Wodehouse (his intriguing writing process is succinctly described by Douglas Adams in the foreword to Wodehouse’s unfinished final novel). You need your drafts to solve problems, and the most powerful part of that is the option to test out just one part of a piece (and figure out a tricky catch or stone capture or something) without having to build the whole piece over and over.

    Prototypes are the bomb. Bezel has a gap? Who cares! All I want to see is if the slit-and-bend setting idea will work.

    Prototypes are the bomb. Bezel has a gap? Who cares! All I want to see is if the slit-and-bend setting idea will work.

  • Third, there is the “awwwwh” factor. My favorite reason! When you come across your first bead kicking about in the lemel at the bottom of your toolbox, you pull it out and turn it over in your hand. You notice how it didn’t solder all the way around, and the top and bottom aren’t lined up, plus there are all these scratches that you didn’t sand out. You notice all these things, and you say to yourself, “Awwwh, look how ugly and imperfect this is, this FIRST bead I ever made, I’m so good at this now. I forgot I ever didn’t know how to do this right!” The “awwwwh” factor lets you measure your success. That experiment is a stick in the sand at your starting point. When you turn around and look back, you can barely see the stick, but it shows you where you started from, and tells you how far you’ve come and how much you’ve learned.

    An early bead. See the bent edge? The poorly fitted solder seam? The file marks?

    An early bead. See the bent edge? The poorly fitted solder seam? The file marks?

Somewhere, I still have the first soldering samples I ever made. They remind me that the first time I lit a torch I jumped (visibly!) when the gas popped, and my hand trembled as I heated my little squares of copper. I over heated them, in fact, and burned up the flux, and the solder wouldn’t run, so I pickled my little squares of copper and tried again.

The “awwwwh” factor is also why you shouldn’t give away the first pieces you make. If your mother/daughter/girlfriend admires something you make (and she will!), make ANOTHER one and give it to her. The new one will be better than the first one, because you’ll be putting all the mistakes to work, and you will keep your first (ring, brooch, bead, pendant, etc.) as a cherished tool to measure your success.

Yours in illuminating error,

Signature - Lowther

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3 Responses to The “awwwh” Factor: When Failure is Success!

  1. Totally agree. As much as I would love to do things right the first time….it generally doesn’t happen. I have some of my first pieces too. Similar bead without a complete solder join and yes, I too jumped when I first lit the torch. I kept at it though. And I still love working with metal today. Gotta keep practicing to grow. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I am finding that this is particularly true of jewelry making, once you wield a torch in your hand. When I was in art college I learned to call errors “design elements” , but this is not always possible with silver, once it is soldered . This winter I am learning how important it is to think through all of the steps that will go into making each piece, before diving in ( what I am famous for ) . I have several gigantic mistakes which I can’t bear to keep. Instead I have forced myself to re fabricate them into something else. My favorite finished piece started as something completely different . I do , however , take photos of the errors as a reminder. I have secretly started my Scrapyard series.

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