Gavin Strange reflects on the subtle art of blinding creative rage and what to do with it

In his second column for Inkygoodness, Bristol based designer and self confessed spinner of plates Gav Strange channels his frustration.

One of my most vivid memories is of frustration. Creative fury. I was 10 years old and I had been painting in Art class. I had chosen to paint Vincent Van Gogh in his style (I say ‘chosen’, I was probably told to, it was 25 years ago, my memory is a bit hazy). I didn’t get to finish it, I was just missing the nose and a bit of the ear (oh how ironic), so I decided to do those last bits the next day. The only thing was, I never understood the concept of mixing paint again and getting it to match the previous colour, so when I put a splodge of murky olive paint on the paper, over the top of the surely lifelike (!) flesh tones from the previous day, my heart rapidly sank. My pride quickly soured into a swirling vortex of rage, the blind fury only a 10 year old can display. I was SO upset I had ruined it, so upset it was MY fault and my skill level was the reason.

Early experiences of frustration painting a portrait of Vincent Van Goph, aged 10

Early experiences of frustration: Painting a portrait of Vincent Van Goph at sch0ol

I’d love to tell you that as I grew, as I matured, that childish reaction of internal emotional anguish over skill level left me. But no. It’s worsened. And I think that’s ok.

I’ve made a highly scientific diagram to explain this complicated phenomena…

Your frustrations are fuel, it means you give a damn, it means you give SO big a damn that you’re blinded by how big your damn really is.

Your frustrations are fuel, it means you give a damn, it means you give SO big a damn that you’re blinded by how big your damn really is.

As much as I wrestle with this constant battle of inner rage over what I want to be able to do and what I can do, that’s never ever going to go away. Ever. So, when life gives you something you can’t change, you use it as a catalyst, a positive!

Gavin Strange

To explain this very complicated looking visual, let me give you an example. Drums. I’ve been drumming for a few years now and it’s a hobby I absolutely love and absolutely hate.

When I start something brand new, I’m terrible at it and that is so much fun. You’re in that wonderful naive bubble right? Where skill level really does not matter because you’re enjoying your new found love for everything that it is, specifics don’t matter or have any bearing.

Now, the very second I move out of that bracket of not being truly terrible, my enjoyment level skyrockets from fun to frustration, in an instant, because If I’m not awful then I MUST TO BE THE ABSOLUTE BEST!! AGGHHH! I wish I could just wallow in the ‘fun’ part of that diagram for longer, I wish I could not take it all so seriously, but, I do.

I’ve been thinking about this for years, analysing why it happens and what to do with it, and I’ve decided to simply use it as a positive. Your frustrations are fuel, it means you give a damn, it means you give SO big a damn that you’re blinded by how big your damn really is. As much as I wrestle with this constant battle of inner rage over what I want to be able to do and what I can do, that’s never ever going to go away. Ever. So, when life gives you something you can’t change, you use it as a catalyst, a positive!

Hopefully I’m not alone, right? We all suffer these same crisis of confidences, and in the case of creative arts, really quite regularly. We’re constantly being challenged to create something, from nothing, with no quantifiable boundaries, yet it has to be right. It has to feel right. That’s a tricky balance to strike. This is one of my favourite diagrams I’ve found online, I think it helps illustrate the point perfectly:

I think it’s great to be on the cusp of creative success or creative failure all the time. It means you’re constantly doing a balancing act, which in turn means you’re engaged, you’re focused and you’re pushing yourself all the time.

Gavin Strange

With that in mind, I think it’s great to be on the cusp of creative success or creative failure all the time. It means you’re constantly doing a balancing act, which in turn means you’re engaged, you’re focused and you’re pushing yourself all the time. And when it all goes wrong, that’s ok too. In fact, indulge yourself when it happens. Shout, scream, curse, cry – it really is a natural part of the creative process, it’s almost like grieving – the loss of something you didn’t want to lose. You need the lows to appreciate the highs. If it was all plain sailing then you’d never be challenged, never be satisfied.

It teaches you the emotional toolset needed to get out of the frustrated mindset too. Frustration after frustration can sap your energy, can make you feel burn out, can make you question who you are. But these are all really important questions that give you a chance to take that step back, analyse what went wrong or what’s not working, make an adjustment, then try it all over again. These micro tweaks are essential in bettering yourself not only as a creative, but as a human being too. If you’re success rate is 100% then you never have reason to change your methods, alter your way of thinking. A failure or period of frustration forces you to take that step back and think. That’s what’s so valuable, that’s what will push you to do more than you ever thought you could.

It’s only fitting that I end this column with skateboarding, as it’s another of my love/hate hobbies that’s eternally excited and frustrated me. Luckily, I’ve never really gotten out of the ‘terrible’ skill level confines, so my frustrations come and go (usually after spending an hour relearning any tricks I used to know).

So the next time you’re feeling frustrated or fed-up; remember to get back up, keep pushing, keep fighting, keep on going because the reward at the other end will be all the more sweeter.

Gavin Strange

Skateboarding is a great example of perseverance, because for everyone – from total beginners to the top-level pro’s, their job is failure, failure, failure, failure, failure, failure, failure, failure, failure, failure, failure… success! They spend hours and hours and hours dedicated to one trick, then the second it’s complete, onto the next one and repeat the cycle. So you have to ask yourself why do people do it? Well, the answer is above. Because of such frequent failure, that success is so much sweeter. It means so much because of what’s gone into the process.

So the next time you’re feeling frustrated or fed-up; remember to get back up, keep pushing, keep fighting, keep on going because the reward at the other end will be all the more sweeter.

I’d like to end on a little video inspiration. This is legend and pro skateboarder Chris Cole. Watch how much effort, energy and self-abuse goes into landing one trick down the huge 4-set at Wallenberg High School in the USA, the holy grail of stairs in skateboarding. Whilst you’re watching it think “If he can throw himself down stairs and get back up all in the name of glory, I can too. Albeit in a much cosier, safer, non-bone-breaking setting”

Share

Posted on May 17th, 17 by

By Day, Gavin is a Senior Designer for the Interactive arm of Aardman Animations, by night he's a Designer & Director going under the alias of JamFactory, indulging in all manner of passion projects. In 2015 he wrote his first book 'Do Fly', published by The Do Book Company, and he co-founded the contemporary design store 'STRANGE' with his wife Jane. He lives in Bristol with Jane, his son Sullivan and their greyhound Peggy.

Posted in

  • So true! I think everyone can ease up on the perfectionism a bit and be less hard on themselves, but as a rule, that frustration with yourself because something isn’t brilliantly amazing is what drives you. If you just thought “Meh, that’ll do… next?” you would never improve and nor would the world. There’s a lot to be said for being passionate about something, believing in it’s place and vitality and needing it to exist in your life. Do it because you have no choice. Whatever created that choice, make sure you keep going. Then the people watching will be truly grateful and you’ll begin to see some change in the world.
    Thanks for your honesty, mate!

Share