Early morning insomnia again, so I figured I'd take the time to reflect on the past year and the past decade as a whole. In a way, it feels like life before 2010 was a whole different life. I technically had an introduction to the fandom in 2008, but I moved to Seattle in June of 2010 and built a fursuit in the downtime I had looking for a job and that sparked a change in my worldline that I never could have imagined before. Ten years on, and now I have no idea what my life would look like without fursuits and the fandom.
(My first suit, 2010)
This road has been difficult in places, and I've made many mistakes along the way. Trusted people I shouldn't have. Didn't enforce my boundaries strongly enough. Reacted in the heat of the moment. There's been grief, and crisis, and betrayal, and loss. In all honesty, I'm going to look back on this decade in less than a fond way.
But I've learned so much. They say that necessity is the mother of all invention, and I have had no shortage of opportunities for hardship and growth. I started 2010 barely even able to use the camera on my flip phone, and now I have a professional camera and have been across the continent doing photography. I'd never recorded a video, and now I have hundreds and hundreds of hours of footage and I finally feel like I'm ready to compile this project into professional quality resources. And just in the realm of actually making costumes, I've gone from a lurker on LiveJournal to a respected artist with groundbreaking work that I can honestly say I'm proud of. I've learned how to use clay and chemicals to create the vision of the characters in my mind's eye, and I have developed the skill of hand sewing to a fine art. Obviously there are many, many more things, but my ultimate point is that I have grown from a retail slave to a competent, skilled artist and that's wild to even think about for me.
(I got to go to freaking ALASKA for this photoshoot asdfgghhjkl)
I'm inclined to apologize for the tone of this post, and I'm very tempted to rewrite it in a different voice, but I have come to realize that the advice I have received from other people about the need to strip out the emotion from my communications to sound like a professional is so wrong that it's genuinely harmful. In cultivating my brand image, I've simply become that pseudo-excited but ultimately devoid of depth facade. Here on Patreon I let down the walls and share more genuinely, but I still police my tone and agonize about my word choice.
Of all the things I've experienced over the course of the past decade, I think that the most genuinely harmful thing has been the effect of dealing with the masses. Nothing has fundamentally changed the way I function more than the stress of being under the spotlight of the scrutiny of the community. My biggest breakthrough this year especially is that I have to accept the fact that there is absolutely no way that I can make everyone happy.
Probably not a shocking revelation for anyone reading this, but I am a people pleaser extraordinaire. I derive my own happiness from what I can do to make others happy, and left unchecked that's a recipe for exploitation. It's taken me a lifetime to actually understand what the target on my forehead is, but this is the first time I've truly been able to understand. Part of this is that I have so little self esteem and self worth, due to early childhood conditioning and grooming. My self worth is so intrinsically tied up with my work that I don't really feel like I exist outside of my title of 'artist' sometimes. But this year I feel different?
(before and after of the studio remodel we completed like three weeks ago!)
Maybe it was completing a project that was wholly unrelated to the meat of what I normally do (the studio remodel). Maybe it was the fact that I've been in crunch mode since June and I haven't had time to dwell on things. Maybe it's seeing Gromm all together for the first time and feeling like I did a good job despite everything that tried to hinder me along the way. But whatever it is, in spite of the fact that I have struggled in so many ways, I strangely just feel hope.
Something kind of broke in me last week, and I think it's going to be a huge factor in the upcoming year (and indeed the rest of my future). At this point, I have no morale left to lose.
This project was designed to be a four person team, with two people helping with the setup and clean up and one dedicated photographer/videographer. I was initially just supposed to be responsible for the work itself, plus the compilation of the book at the end. This was going to be my full focus for a solid year. So it's not a stretch to understand why one year of work for four people is four years of work for one person! And it's not as linear as that either, since obviously 4 people can accomplish more simultaneously in the equivalent man-hours than one person could doing everything by themselves.
So factor in the almost complete year of my studio being in storage because of the move and divorce and getting into this house and it's fairly clear that I've been doing as much as I can. Because the first year was marred by the profound anxiety and depression of trying to cope with the fact that I was screwed, and the second was interrupted by my move and divorce and getting a new place to live and work, and the third was fairly productive but really affected by depression and burnout, I've had kind of a skewed sense of how much I've actually accomplished.
But 2019 I have been full tilt. In fact, despite the lack of quantity of finished pieces, the quality of everything I'm doing is exceeding my expectations and I'm not collapsing with depression and burnouts every couple of weeks. In fact, I've been working in a state of semi-permanent crunch time since June. I have been beating myself up for a long time for this project going awry despite my best efforts to organize everything ahead of time, but I am absolutely done feeling guilty for following through with it despite the fact that I have been saddled with the responsibility of four people and have been giving my best energy for years. The delays in the other years kind of obscured the scope of what I've been doing, but this year has really helped me see that I am doing better than I realized.
(I mean just look at this guy, wow!)
Why should I feel guilty for being proactive about taking 100% responsibility for this project and working at my own expense to follow through with this? I certainly didn't want to have to work for literally years on what was always an extremely low budget project instead of new paying work. I definitely understand why people are disappointed, because I absolutely am very disappointed in the way that things have happened. But I refuse to continue to feel like I am a piece of human trash because I am not four people and cannot work at that capacity. The only thing I can do is continue to do my best, and accept the fact that I am not going to be able to make everyone happy. But I can create costumes that push boundaries, and I can create a tutorial series that I'm proud of. And even if everything is criticized and ripped apart and belittled and I'm judged for my mistakes (real talk: I 100% expect all of this), I can be proud that I followed through and accept the fact that even if things had gone right from the beginning there would still be some people who were going to disparage me and the work I did.
I don't know where I'm going with this anymore. But it feels good to stop pretending to not feel anything or be affected by this situation negatively.
But aside from that, I am hopeful for the new year. I could have ignored the imperfections and finished Gromm this week, but I am not going to compromise on the quality of the recordings or the costumes to speed up the process :'3 But the progress I've made can't be taken away from me, so he'll be wrapping up very soon and then I can move forward with Beaus.
I'm excited about Beaus because he's all foam fab from here on out. No molds. No casting. No scissor trimming muscles until my hands are aching. Just foam, razor knives, and contact cement. I tried to balance the three builds to be roughly equivalent in terms of total labor hours and total materials cost, but Tiberius and Gromm each had a higher ratio of labor hours vs materials costs. Beaus, just because of the sheer size of him, is going to require a lot of materials, which is balanced by a slightly lower level of labor hours. I expect to be able to get through Beaus more quickly and I'm really eager to get started.
(I'm pretty sure this was tutorial #1, look at the date!)
The reality is that I don't have the ability to make a prediction about how long it is going to take for me to compile the book itself. Historically, I have put together my tutorials in photoshop as a collage. That's what I was originally going to do for this, render each page individually and then create a pdf with everything. Need to change the text? I'd have to go to the image and force everything to fit into the square via creative editing. If I screwed up and I need to insert an additional image? I'd have to redo everything after that one too. It would have been a nightmare, but I have been learning how to use InDesign and it's going to be a whole lot easier than I thought it was going to be. But I have tens of thousands of photos that I need to sort through and choose between, instead of just what I needed, so that's hopefully not going to be a problem in terms of adding time to the process.
The videos were a stretch goal to begin with, so I am going to worry about processing those afterwards. I've been dabbling with Premiere Pro instead of a barebones 'elements' version from several years before I even started this, and just in the last few weeks I've learned about transitions and lower thirds and call outs and lots of other functionality that will make everything easier for me to create and make my future edits lots more professional looking. I'm learning how to use OBS software for streaming, and how to create a custom hotkey bound keyboard that will save me time. I've come a really long way since I ruined my first few videos because I held my camera wrong and took sideways videos :'3
But the end of this project is finally in sight for me. Because of the nature of fabrication and the fact that Beaus' head is at the stage of final detailing, finishing Gromm means that I'm well beyond 2/3 done. I'm closer to 3/4 just at first glance, but I am very hopeful that I'll breeze through the bodysuit portion of Beaus. It's a lot of foam and a lot of fur, but he's not going to have any markings to add complexity and his shapes are much more simple than the kind of detail sewing I've been dealing with lately. I simply sew longer seams faster, and I haven't ruled out the possibility of machine sewing yet (test results aren't up to standards yet but I have a couple of things to try before I give it up). But I see that light at the end of the tunnel now. It's felt this whole time like nothing I do is bringing me closer to completion, but Gromm seems to be the milestone that really drives home how much I've done and how close I am to being done with this project and moving forward with my life and my career, and I'm going to use that feeling to fuel my progress. 2020 is the year where everything changes.
I'm not exaggerating either. The new studio setup is already having a positive impact on my mental health and increasing my overall productivity. I literally don't know what to expect when I can devote my best energy to my clients again, but I definitely expect a dramatic change. I didn't have the stability or support that I do now the last time I was only doing client work and not worrying about recording. I was struggling with severe anxiety and depression in a dysfunctional, detrimental relationship, charging so far below minimum wage for my time that I had constant insecurity in every aspect of my life and hopelessly unable to make a significant change in my way of doing things because I couldn't get ahead of my queue and also solve every monetary emergency that occurred along the way. Those were the dark days, and because of the fact that that was my whole career up until the project started I literally don't have a frame of reference for what it's gonna be like once I have the ability to throw so much more of my focus and energy into creating.
(a highlight reel of paws, because I'm good at them)
And frankly, I don't know what I want to do going forward either. Of course my first priority is to get my client projects done and home to everyone who has continued to show me a kind of patience I couldn't possibly imagine, but I am still very much unsure about the long term future. The market is doing incredibly well for makers as of late. Indeed, the going rate for a professional made suit has doubled since the tutorial project began. But I still work so slow in comparison to other makers that to charge an equivalent rate for my time as some of my peers I'd have to price my work nearly double what I am now and frankly I don't know if the market can bear that.
Here's a fun fact: I haven't paid taxes for years now. Not because I have ignored it and just not filed, because I have been netting less than the poverty line where they start taking taxes out. And I'm tired of working myself to death and literally being broke the entire time. So I am going to have to fundamentally change my way of doing things one way or another. These current client projects are going to be a litmus test for me in a big way. Either I'm going to be able to finish them in the amount of labor hours that will justify continuing to focus on big custom projects as my bread and butter, or despite my best efforts I'm going to have to admit to myself that I can't sustain my income on the big projects and shift my focus to smaller pieces that are more lucrative and passive sales/income.
This is why I'm so on the fence about taking another project before I can really assess the situation further. I've been doing a thing for years where I finish two projects before I accept a new one. I've been trying to whittle down my queue desperately so I can make realistic adjustments to my prices that reflect the rising expectations of quality and internal finishing level.
(I'm pretty sure every single fur edge on this guy is totally raw, but I think he was the first set of pillow pads instead of raw foam padding I did and I think I did a neck edge maybe? It's been a while, circa 2013!)
When I first started, lining *anything* was so uncommon in the community that it wasn't expected. Raw foam was the norm, and it was a feature if it was built on a balaclava and therefore lined. Raw fur edges on all paws and sleeves and necklines. It was a whole different world of expectations than what exists now. Not that I mind that, but the amount of time that these internal features adds to the build is not trivial. This equates to a lot less than I can effectively finish in the same span of time. I just refuse to lower my quality standards to keep my prices low, so I either need to be much more efficient or shift my focus onto things that have a higher payoff vs work ratio and only do a few big things occasionally. And honestly, I don't know which route I'd rather take at this point.
(left side is technically 2008, I never took many pictures of myself and this is embarrassing but we're all friends here, right? These are my second ever set of ears :'3 Right side was me delivering Kraton in December 2017 because I don't really like a single picture of me since then at all :'3)
All I know for sure is that I must create, I will literally never do a huge project like this ever again no matter how much I trust the people involved, I'm done hating myself for sticking to my project in spite of the hardships involved, and I'm eager to see what the next year holds for my future.
Thanks for being a part of this decade of my life, and I look forward to exploring the future with y'all ~<3
Aurora Fox, Anatomical Aesthetician for Kitsune Illusions