Thursday, 18 October 2007

Practice makes perfect... Or Does it?

The topic for discussion on Flaming Hot this week is 'Perfecting Your Craft'. How do I work at improving my skills as a beadmaker, or in other fields for that matter?
I suppose as in a lot of other things I do, my approach has been eclectic. I have heard, and appreciated, all the old adages about practice, practice, practice - but I have to admit, I struggle to make myself repeat things until I 'get' them. Repeated practice definitely helps - I always notice an improvement in my work when I have a major deadline that keeps me at the torch more than usual (like when I once made 220 period beads as door tokens for an SCA event). But while I know practicing skills is important, I think that my improvement in those instances reflects more the fact that I am a part-time torcher, and sometimes don't get to the studio as often as I'd like. Since I have forced myself to become more regular with auctions, and therefore torch more often, and be more productive, that steep learning curve just from repeated application is reduced.
But, I digress. Getting back to my original comment, I am really bad at making myself practice something. I tend to try something new...and if it works, great! -that's done and I can move on. And if it doesn't, well, I cant do that yet, I'll try again next month, or next year. And in most cases, that actually works for me - I seem to be able to process things mentally when my skill levels are there... and not before.
For example, I have only made about 6 hollow beads ever. First time I tried, I got a melted mess. Put that idea away. Then I tried again, and was still enough of a newbie that I announced success - even though now, when I look at that bead, it's not so much hollow, as has a really big bubble in the middle. :) Then I tried again, possibly another year later, and I turned out 3 almost perfect hollows, one with a small spacer bead trapped inside. I did not really practice them, but I got my skills to a level where the process that I had understood in theory, actually worked in practice. I then left the technique aside again, as I definitely used to jump around everywhere trying new things, and once 'mastered' (tongue firmly in cheek there) I'd be on to the next thing. Recently I panicked and wondered if I could actually make hollow beads at all, as it had been about a year. I tried again, and made 2 small matching hollows, without any trouble. Not only had I remembered, but I had made them smaller, which I find quite a bit harder.
So, it seems that perhaps I don't process things quite like some other people. Anybody else out there who does this?
I am a person who learns by doing and watching. I'm not great at following written instructions. So, I love that the Internet provides an arena for so many video and pictorial tutorials, and actual classes in person are great. And that's another issue entirely... The community of lampworkers in Oz is so small, and so relatively new, that there are only a handful of people teaching in Australia. We have recently begun to get visiting instructors from overseas, but classes are generally over $800 for 2 days, which is a cost I cannot justify. I was so lucky to be able to attend the ISGB Gathering this year, where the practical demonstrations and open torch sessions provide such a great chance to learn. And I was very fortunate that I was able to get a last minute entry into a class with Anastasia, at a very affordable price.
I think self reflection is very important also. I try to be critical of the work I produce, and aim to continually improve. And I am trying to get better at practicing new skills, rather than waiting for them just to appear :) .

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