(Okay, as of this writing, it’s not available quite yet. August 15th! Steel yourself!)
So, one of the most exciting things that happened to me this year (right up there with being invited to, and attending, an amazing writers’ retreat in Mexico, which I hope to post about soon) was my unexpected victory in ModCloth.com’s second Make the Cut contest.
I entered the contest the first time around and didn’t make the finals. Which was fine–I had only recently decided to get serious about the fashion thing, and I hadn’t drawn in years. The mere fact that it got me drawing was achievement enough. I participated in the voting, lending my facebook bits and bytes to some of my favorite underdogs, as well as other favorites that appeared to have a shot at the top 5. When ModCloth announced the winners, there was also a surprise: ModCloth’s co-founder (and director of the contest), Susan Gregg Koger, had chosen two additional looks to be produced! And one, Tyger Alexis’s “It Takes Turmeric,” was a favorite of mine!
The contest rolled around again in March, this time with the theme of Retro Honor Roll, which was right up my alley. I love the nerdy look. Mostly because I am a nerd. By then, I was about halfway through Fashion Illustration I, and I was definitely making progress. I spent a good chunk of spring break working on my entries, studying not just the moodboard, but also the entries that had done well in the previous contest, and the shapes and colors of popular dresses on ModCloth. I even took out a library book called Everyday Fashion of the Sixties. A few days after sending in my entries, I got the news that I was finalist, which was especially exciting and surprising considering they’d reduced the number of finalists from 100 to 25.
Then began the scary task of asking everyone I know to vote for me on facebook, followed by a simultaneously disappointing and thrilling week of watching the votes appear (or not). It became clear early on that there was no way I would rally the numbers some of the other entrants were getting. Let’s be honest, at its heart, fb voting is–I’m not going to say a popularity contest, though that’s the term a lot of people use–more like a test of how connected you are, how thoroughly you can cheerlead for yourself and get others to do the same. But while I may not have had those big numbers, a lot people did come out of the woodwork to support me–old classmates, friends of my mom–and that made my heart soar. I finished proudly in middle-place (12th or 13th out of 25), a mere, I dunno, 400 votes short of the community winners. (We’re talking orders of magnitude, here: I got about 100 votes, the folks in the top row garnered around 500.)
This time around, only the top three entries would be winners, instead of the top five, but we knew in advance that Susan would choose two more winners herself, announcing those choices at the end of the week. So, there was still hope…but, really, with so many beautiful sketches, including at least one that I was seriously crossing my fingers would be picked because it was super cute and I wanted one, I knew it was time to call it done, honored (truly) to simply have been nominated. Still, every time I got an email those next few days I secretly hoped it was ModCloth, writing to tell me my dress was a winner.
That didn’t happen. That Thursday evening, I taught a really crummy class. I was just way off my game, and I made at least one student very angry (with good reason, though I stand behind what I said and did), and I barely slept that night. Eventually, not long before I would have to be getting up anyway, I gave up on trying to sleep and pulled my laptop into bed. I read through the blog posts that had collected over the night, and when I refreshed my Google Reader, there it was. Make the Cut: Retro Honor Roll Winners! The email I was secretly hoping for had never arrived. Oh well, maybe they’d at least chosen that dress I wanted to buy.
I scrolled down through the copy and saw my name. Had I really lost so much sleep that I was hallucinating? I scrolled further. There were the top three everyone already knew would win…and then there was my sketch. With my name next to it. Spelled correctly. In a specialty font that someone had clearly taken time to format. Enough time and energy had gone into the announcement that if my presence there were a mistake, someone would have caught it.
(We are artists, this is what we do: assume our successes are in fact administrative errors. My beautiful retreat-mate, Antonia Crane, discusses the phenomenon in her post about the trip. I went through exactly the same thing with that, too.)
A few days ago, I decided to reread a favorite book from my childhood, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I just got to the part where Claudia learns a secret, a secret she will carry with her for many years. Having this secret will allow her to go back home ‘different,’ which was her goal all along.
Though of course the dress will soon be a very real thing, winning this contest has mostly been about the intangibles for me. I feel extremely grateful that it happened when it did, that I was able to see my own design go from sketch to sourcing to production to, soon, availability. It’ll be a long time before I’m able to oversee that entire process on my own, but in the meantime, this is something I can carry around like Claudia did her secret, to propel myself forward and remind myself that, as much as this might feel like a fluke–and surely there was some luck involved, or at least a good degree of subjectivity and being in the right place at the right time–it is actually the result of hard work, research, revision, and tenacity, a reminder to always fail better so we can succeed along the way.
Have you had any unexpected successes lately?