Thursday, January 24, 2013

How I feel about my own caps

Even 'satisfied' is a rare result

Before I dig into this I want to start by thanking everybody who compliments my work.  While I might not agree with the praise all (or even most) of the time, it does make me feel good about my work and pushes me to continue on.

That being said, everybody should know that I am rarely satisfied with my own caps.  I can't think of the last time that I thought of, produced, and presented a cap that I was truly proud of.  I just spent a few minutes scrolling back through the posts I've made since June 2012 and only the post I made on fifth of that month, "Prison", comes close.

You see, for me to be truly proud of and happy with a cap it needs to be perfect in all three realms.  Story.  Layout.  Design.  In most of my caps, I think I hit one of those.  I'm lucky when I hit two.  But getting all three in balance is the thing I'm constantly striving for. I guess I should talk about each of these criteria so you see where I"m coming from.

The story part, to me at least, is the most fluid part of this trifecta.  It can as easily be short as it can be long.  It can be incredibly detailed, or leave all the details to the reader to fill in. It can be happy, sad, sexy, horrifying, or any other emotion.  What the story MUST do is get an emotional impact when read.  It should illicit a 'Wow... that's damned sexy' or 'Whoa... that's dark as all hell', or some other primal instinct.  A good story shouldn't be read and then easily dismissed from the mind.  It should linger and be thought about.  Some stories will do this in just a few scant words, while others take multiple paragraphs and panels to get through.

This is the most simple part, but I think also the hardest to master.  Layout to me is simply the placement of all the pieces.  The photo, the text, the text boxes, the title, and any other features that are thrown in.  Sometimes its as simple as putting the text right over the image.  Sometimes it's as complex as creating a larger canvas, setting up a background image, tilting the image to one side or the other, making text boxes that overlap both the background and the photo, and putting the text inside of the boxes.   It's not how these disparate pieces fit together, it's just their placement.

Design is the visual meshing together of all the layout pieces.  It's selecting the right font, the right colors, the right amount of blending pieces together.  It's also tweaking all the pieces to work together.  Say the photo I select is full color.  I can always desaturate it if I want to give the cap a washed out look and feel.  I can oversaturate it to make it 'pop' more.  I can make it black and white.  I can even make it black and white and then spot color one (or a few) pieces.  If a cap is designed well, every single piece will work together to make a more prefect whole.  If one piece is off though, the entire cap will be lacking.

With the background I have in photography, design and web design the layout and design aspects are a little easier for me.  But that's not to say they are EASY.  I have a high standard that I'm reaching for so 'good' won't often be 'good enough'...

I'm going to back up for a minute and try to put this out there in the right tone.  I try to never have a 'big head' when it comes to my work.  I try to be as modest as I can.  But the standards I try to reach are high even for a professional designer.  I know that even when I think I've utterly failed on a layout, that many will look at it as good.  Some will even think of it as 'great'.  But that has less to do with my standards and more to do with my background.  I've been working on and off as a professional designer for going on 15 years now.  So if my designs and layouts were 'average', then it would be a big step backwards for me.   Dee has compared a couple of my caps to advertisements... I take that as HIGH praise as that's the experience I'm bringing to my caps.  

So while I can't think of a way to say this without sounding egoistical, I don't intend this as a disparagement on anyone's work:  If my caps are designed and laid out as 'well' as someone who picked up a graphic program for the first time a few months ago... then I've failed.  Designing and laying out 'good' caps should be second nature to me.  Designing and laying out 'great' caps is my constant goal.  

OK... enough with the egotistical part. That's where I'm coming from.  

But as good as I can get on design and layout, they are nothing without story.  And story is where I struggle the most often.  I often read my caps and get almost no emotional impact.  After I write a story I'm generally pretty high on it and feeling good.  But once it's old enough to read 'cold', I just find them lacking.  Some get close... but that's rare.  I read a lot of cap artists that attain that emotional impact on a regular basis, so I know it's possible.  It's just not something that's in my wheelhouse.  It's not a tool that I've used much in my past, and it's not a natural talent of mine.  So it will be a constant struggle to get the story portion right.

So I have VERY high standards for design and layout, and what I think are 'normal' standards for the story.  If any one of those pieces don't match my expectations though, I won't be happy with the cap.  Maybe that's not the right term... I'm happy with almost every cap I've made, I'm just not satisfied with them.  I don't see a 'good' cap... I see a cap that failed to be as good as it could be.  I see potential that was wasted.

I think I've said this somewhere else on this blog, but it's worth repeating:

"“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; 
Perfection is God's business.”
- Michael J. Fox

I wholeheartedly agree with this.  I don't think any cap that I make, nor any cap that ANYBODY makes will ever be perfect.  It's just not an reachable goal.  But I believe that excellence can only be obtained when you strive for that unobtainable perfection.  In that vein, I strive for perfection but stop when I'm done.   It sounds simple, but deciding to stop is always difficult.   I often know that I'm leaving something out... maybe a tweak to the image.  Maybe another element in the layout.  Maybe something more in the design.  Certainly something more to the story.  But once the time put into the work starts outweighing the gains made, I have to hang it up, post the cap and hope that I attained excellence along the way.

I know that because of this, I often sound disappointing with my caps.  And to a degree, that's true.  I AM disappointed with it.  But I'm disappointed because it didn't attain that 'perfection' that I was striving for, nor the 'excellence' that I was hoping for.  I'm not disappointed because it was 'bad' though.  I've only posted a few caps that I honestly thought of as 'bad'.  For the most part if I'm working on something that can't even be good, I just stop.  I chalk it up to being in the wrong mood, or momentary lack of creativity, or just bad timing.  Whatever the reason is, I don't finish the cap.  Trust me... my computer's ram is often littered with what may have been bad caps if I ever finished them (thankfully ram is refreshed upon each boot!).

On top of all that, I know everybody has their own opinions on what separates bad from good, good from great, and great from perfect.   Both on the creators side as well as the readers side.  I've read comments claiming that a particular caps is the best they've ever read on caps that I just don't like.  This happens on both my own caps and caps from other artists.  My opinion doesn't invalidate theirs, just as their opinion doesn't invalidate mine.  It's perfect in their eye and that's where art belongs... in the eye of the beholder.

So when people comment and disagree with me... when they say my work is good even though I've said it's not... I don't mind too much.  It's when that praise borders on hyperbole that I mind.  When terms like 'great', 'one of your best', 'amazing', and 'perfect' get thrown around it really makes me sit back and wonder if I should continue trying to improve.  Understand, it's that unobtainable goal of perfection that keeps me capping.  If I've reached that goal, or at least reached a final plateau that I can't expect to improve from... then I don't want to cap anymore.

I know that a lot of cap artists make caps that strike a cord within themselves.  They're sharing their innermost feelings and desires and sometimes even their fantasies in cap form.  But I don't have that inner desire to be a woman (it's probably why my caps are often more reluctant than willing).  I've had and continue to have fantasies... but I've shared just about all of them.  Now it's just looking for variations to make it all feel new again.  So I don't have that inner wind to rely upon.  The thing that keeps me going is striving to get better and better.

So...  If you are making those comments because you honestly feel that way... then I love it. But if you comment on my caps saying that they're good or great and are doing so to 'buck me up', I appreciate the thought, but you're probably getting a different reaction than you want. If you REALLY want to buck me up... tell me how they could be better.  I can only do so much on my own and am constantly seeking true criticisms.  I swear, you won't hurt my feelings.

Last thing... while I hold myself up to these standards, I don't hold up any other cap artists to the same light.  We all create as well as our background, natural talent and desires allow us to.  We all have different visions, and different voices.  We all have different motivations to cap.  Great for me might not be great for someone else, just as great for them might not be so for me.  When I see something that I enjoy, I try to mention it (I'm not great at commenting, but I strive to be better).


  1. Dear Caitlyn,

    Thank you for that explanation. It helps me to understand the caption "thing" so much better, and gives me some context for when I take my first stab at the process. But you are an excellent capper



    1. Thanks Leeanne!

      Everyone of course is different, but I'm sure when you dip your lovely little toes into the capping waters that you'll be vexed by similar things. looking for good positive comments while at the same time looking for good honest criticism.

      Thankfully the satisfaction of making caps almost always outweighs everything else.

    2. By the way, is the girl in your photo Drew Barrymore? She sure looks like her. Can we wish? I've always had a bit of a crush.

    3. To be honest, I don't know. I found that image using Google image search. I'll take a closer look and find the original source when I'm on my computer later (I'm on my tablet right now)

    4. Are you okay Caitlyn? Somehow, you sound stressed or something to me. I'm worried.



    5. First question first; Yes. That is in fact Drew Barrymore. I'm surprised since I wouldn't have guessed it. From the searching I did I found that it's evidently from a photoshoot she did for GQ magazine with Firooz Zahedi as the photographer. You can see other images from the shoot here:

      Second question; I'm fine. I don't know why you would hear stress in my writings... maybe its just from me typing out on the tablet. Typing there is slow compared to a real keyboard, and I have to slow down my thinking when I do (where on a regular keyboard I can better keep up with my thoughts). But thank you for your concern.

  2. First, Let me say that you are one of the best cappers I know of. To say anything less would be disingenuous. I Truly can't remember seeing a single "bad" caption that you've made.

    Second, Let me apologize if I have ever been overzealous in my praise as I'm sure I have. I often get swept up in a caption and remain on that high when I comment. I'll try to take a second to examine your work more critical from now on

    1. You certainly have been an active girl today Kyra!

    2. Thank you Kyra.

      It does mean a lot to hear that you and others get swept up in my caps. I'll try not to let my own inner workings get caught up so much that I can't enjoy comments like that.

  3. Caitlyn,

    Speaking as one who considers you a colleague, and I daresay a friend as well, I feel your pain :)

    All who know you or your work well, are fully aware that you are your own worst critic. It's really nice to know WHY this is... but we already knew that it just "was", regardless :)

    Try to look at things from OUR perspective... As you said yourself, you don't hold others to your high standards. That's kind of the entire problem in a nutshell. When you praise one of MY layouts, for example, I automatically filter/adjust that. knowing that most likely you would have produced one far better...

    By the same token, when you produce a caption with a layout that is by YOUR standards merely "ok", it is likely superior to 90% of the layouts I have EVER produced, if not more... You have to understand, when we look at one of your caps, we do NOT automatically compare it in our minds to the hundreds of other exquisite caps that you have already made... We compare it to the caps we are currently making or reading on other's Blogs at the time. The VAST majority of the time, your cap simply shines hugely in comparison.

    The main difference is, in your mind, you are comparing every caption that you make to the "best of the best" that you yourself have ever made... We, on the other are really just comparing it the usually inferior work of ourselves and others...

    We are generally not "over-praising", or trying to coddle your ego... We just have a VERY different perspective than you... We sort of HAVE to... you know, since we're not you :)

    I try to always give you honest and fair appraisal of your efforts. Since I know where you perceive your weaknesses to be, I can usually spot them. I will continue to do so.

    You, on the other hand, might benefit from trying to learn to take a freaking compliment sometimes, without feeling compelled to explain why your caption wasn't "really" all that awesome....

    Just my 2 cents....


    1. OK... gotta pull out Word to write up this reply!

      First, thank you for the well thought out response Britney. I know that I'm my harshest critic, and I wouldn't ever expect that to change since I'm making most of these caps for myself. I guess what bothers me is that at times I feel that I'm my ONLY critic. If all I ever get is praise, even for 'mediocre' work, then it's hard for me to continue to improve. While silence (lack of comments) can be taken as a sign that the cap needed more work, it still leaves me in a vacuumed to figure out WHAT needed to be edited, added, deleted, or otherwise changed.

      I'm not sure that I expressed myself right. I look at other cap artists and hold them up to high standards. Just not the SAME standards that I hold myself up to. I'm not trying to compare myself with these artists, but consider these examples: Michelangelo. Van Gogh. Picasso. All three are great artists, but their work is hardly comparable. You can't measure their greatness against each other. Instead you have to look at each in their own way. That's what I meant when I said " I don't hold up any other cap artists to the same light."

      I understand that it's a kneejerk reaction to compare my caps to ones that other cap artists are making. But, for example, when I look at your caps, I don't compare them to mine. I don't compare them to Dee's, or Smitty's, or Simone's, or anybody else's. I compare them to yours. When I put out a compliment for one of your layouts I'm not taking my own standard and knocking it down a few pegs so that I can offer praise... I'm honestly saying that I enjoyed the layout. I don't believe that I could have made something 'better'... I just would have made something different. I would have made something that flows from my own style.

      The only time I compare a cap artist's work to others is when they are new. When they don't have a body of work to compare it against. And even then I'm not doing it to pub them in a list of who's caps are better. I'm not saying "Oh this is better than Cap Artist A, but not as good as Cap Artists B"... I'm just saying that it's styled more like a particular cap artist.

      I'll admit, that I'm not great at accepting praise. Most often praise just gives me a blush and a sense of "Aw shucks". I'll try to work on that. But I'll also continue to be on the lookout for false praise. For calling an average (for me) cap great, or worse yet saying that my caps are better than others. It's an unfair comparison to both me and to other good cap artists.