“Success is the ability to go from one failure to the other with no loss of enthusiasm.”
~ Winston Churchill
When I was in art school, I used to be amongst those regarded as the most gifted. But I was always scared of getting my drawings wrong, never daring to fill in that extra shadow, thinking constantly ‘what if I ruin it?’
So, in spite of being amongst the first, I ended up lagging behind the rest of those who knew that done was better than perfect. I was an eternal Leonardo Da vinci, always stepping back to admire my unfinished work, lest a sign more on the paper could ruin it.
On graduation day, my teacher looked at me with longing eyes and said:
“Valentina, you were a great student. But you only gave me 15 percent of what you could have.”
That was my wake up call.
These days, Christiann Koepke and I are hosting our very first online workshop. Those who sign up all have their own struggles – truth is, no matter the level, we all do, but it always baffles me how keen every one of the attendees is to underline their challenges and difficulties, how bad and ashamed they are of the very fact that they are beginners – as to justify the lack of an ability that they can barely see in a distant horizon, but that they feel they should possess already.
But, when we become so scared to face their difficulties to the point of almost giving up, I see my art-school-time self again. I see the artist stepping back to admire their own work without going further.
So why, why do we not improve?
Because we are afraid to fail.
As kids, we are not scared of running around and falling. And we are not because we’re not aware of the risk. Our goals shine too bright, blinding our perception of struggle.
So if you know the fall isn’t going kill us, what do we have to lose? What do we fear? What if we fail?
In the creative process, failure is needed for improvement. Failure is paramount for improvement. Failure teaches you something. In fact, every time you complain your time was wasted over pictures that did not turn outright, well, that is actually time invested. It is time invested for your own improvement, to make you understand where you went wrong and where you can do better the next time.
In the creative process, the biggest waste of time is time you used for fearing you’ll do something wrong, as doing nothing gives you nothing in return for your future – whereas failure does.
Only now I realize how necessary those fears and failures were for my improvement. And the fact that I’ve been chosen as a teacher gives me the responsibility to teach exactly what my teacher taught me back then: that there is only so much I can teach. 90% of what we learn we learn on your own, through trial and error.
Ultimately, we can decide to give up. But deciding to give up is our responsibility, as is our responsibility to decide to push through and see where our real limits are. It is our responsibility to accept that we are not perfect, but constantly changing and constantly responsible for our own improvement.
So do go out there. Do your thing, fail and inspire the world. Be that kid who scratches his knees because it does not recognize the pain of the fall. Be that kid and play with your challenges, replacing fear with excitement.
There is a genius within you waiting to be unleashed. Let it out, and don’t be scared.
The best things you’ll learn, you’ll learn by tinkering with your failures.
When I decided that it was time to stop fearing that I might not be good enough, that chances were that a whole afternoon of work could go down the drain, and another one after that, and another; and when i decided to just embrace all the frustration and see failure as an investment for my improvement, this blog was born. And it was the best decision ever.
I still remember my first photos, with my 550D and a 50mm 1.8 bought at B&H. I still remember the name tag on the vest of the short, chubby guy who wrapped that lens I was so excited about, which read ‘Salomon’. I remember how, in a moment when I thought that my photos were a little too fancy or dark for blogging, I won the Saveur award for best new voice in 2014. And now we are at it again.
I am a finalist for this year’s Saveur awards in the photography category!
So if you like my work, and are curious to see how it will develop and want to support me, head over to the Saveur site and cast a vote here (and head over to Betty’s blog to read about some pasta we made together, and how we got the email for the nominations at the same time!)
SO of course, some cake baking was in order.
This is my very first cake, so, just to remain on topic, there was a lot of failure involved. First, I trie to make it vegan and gluten-free. Didn’t work. Then I tried to see if I could keep it vegan. Didn’t work (even though Gena Hamshaw’s recipe for chocolate vegan cake is an absolute killer and so so good), so I just decided to do he classic thing the old fashioned way. It’s cake, after all. Some things are just meant to stay they way they are. At least, until I improve enough at this vegan/GF baking thing.
The frosting is made with merengue, because I hate buttercream with a passion and whipped cream would not have held its shape long enough to withstand the shooting. But, if you do not want to use just plain meringue, I suggest using whipped cream or whipped coconut cream.
Figs are in season and so, so pretty, and the jam is so good with chocolate cake.
A special shoutout goes to Style Sweet Ca. and Historias del Ciervos (a fellow finalist!), who definitely provided tons of inspiration and are crazy good at cakes.
And a big shoutout to Zaira, who is the best photographer I know even though she’s not in the list. Hopefully the next cake will be even better!
Thank you all for believing in me so far. I would have never done it with your support – every single one of you who stumbled on my photographs has been an absolute blessing.
- 5 eggs
- 150g sugar
- 80g butter, softened and cut into pieces
- 150g cake flour
- 70g potato starch
- 30g cocoa powder (I used Dutch-processed)
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 tablespoons rum (or milk)
- 50g dark chocolate, melted
- 4 organic, pasteurized egg whites
- 200g powdered sugar
- (NOTE: if you do not want to use meringue, use 1 cup whipped cream instead)
- 250g mascarpone cheese
- 1 cup fig jam
- 7-8 fresh figs
- To make the cake base, start by separating the yolks from the whites. Add the whites to a glass or steel bowl and set aside, and add the yolks to a large bowl. Add the sugar, and start beating them until pale and frothy. Beat in the butter until creamy.
- Sift in the flour, starch, and cocoa powder, folding them in with a spatula. Add the baking powder and rum or milk, along with the melted chocolate. mix everything well.
- Lastly, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, and fold them into the batter with a downward-upward circling motion.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F˚ / 180 C˚.
- Grease and flour two 7 inch springform pans, and divide the batter among them evenly. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn down the oven to 340 F˚ / 170 C˚. Bake for further 40 - 45 minutes, depending on your oven. Check the cake with a skewer to make sure it is cooked through. Let cool completely, then very carefully cut each cake in half.
- The cakes will probably dome. In that case, cut the dome off.
- Beat the egg whites until fluffy, then start adding the sugar a heaping tablespoonful at a time, until the merengue turns glossy and forms stiff peaks that fold onto themselves.
- Tip the mascarpone into a bowl, add half the merengue, and beat them together with a whisk until creamy. Set the rest of the meringue in the fridge for frosting later. Slice 4 of the figs lengthwise.
- Position the bottom cut half of the cake on a plate, and spread two heaping tablespoonfuls of jam to cover the bottom, leaving about ¼ inch from the edge. Add ⅓ of the mascarpone cream and spread it the same way, then add some fig slices. Top with the top half, and repeat until you finish all the layers.
- Ice the cake with the remaining merengue, using a spatula (I decided to keep it rustic). Decorate the cake with the remaining figs and some pretty flowers.