When Contracting Hands Me Lemons

Kathryn Grill-HoeppelI place as much value on maintaining a decent work-life balance as the next guy, if for nothing else but saving my own sanity and the chimes harmonious in my household. In 2010, despite more than 20 (no exaggeration. TWENTY.) responses to federal solicitations, I won just one modest contract award. I could drive myself crazy with little effort if I dwelled on all the awards all the other contractors out there seem to be getting. Instead, I’m taking the advice given many times in this very blog – seek out other influences that bring you joy, and expose you to outside influences that create positive growth in your work. My therapy of choice: watercolor.

I’ve long been a multi-disciplined artist. While graphic design is my means of making a living, watercolor has always been waiting when the work-life balance scale tips in its favor. Structured classes, local painting societies, workshops – watercolor is something that has been a release and constructive pursuit for every challenging year of my life, including these recent ones where contracting has entered the picture.

Right before leaving for vacation this past fall, I worked like a dog on three proposals.  I learned on our return that all three were rejected, mostly in favor of lower bids – one, cosmetically low.  Of course I did the “right” thing and had various contacts take a look at my responses and try to identify where I went wrong, but none of that really made me feel better. I needed a mental break from all this rejection. My solution?  I treated myself to a watercolor workshop with esteemed watercolor artist Judy Morris, AWS, NWS, hosted by Baltimore Watercolor Society.

I had heard raves about Judy’s instruction from some fellow artists from back in my Colorado days a number of years ago . Here was a chance to build camaraderie with some fellow local artists, to hear what Judy had to suggest about achieving results like hers, and be focused on something other than RFPs and the contracts that I’m not winning.

I took away a number of ah-ha moments from Judy’s workshop – happy surprises that are already having a positive influence on my work. Many of Judy’s recognizable and award-winning paintings have elements of design, typography and composition, just as a page layout would include.

The lessons Judy included in her course contained these, and a number of other close parallels to graphic design and even printing – concepts that escaped me, until that week.

I walked away with a renewed enthusiasm and vigor for watercolor, as well as a new motivation to set new goals for my painting that I’m very grateful for. Here’s an opportunity to marry the best of what I know of my design and painting skills. Hopefully, I’ll realize some growth in both pursuits!

And I owe it all to a string of rejected RFPs.

What do you do when, despite your genuinely best efforts, business hands you lemons?

2 thoughts on “When Contracting Hands Me Lemons

  1. Pamela Saxon

    Kathryn, I love, love, LOVE this! You are so right… it is so very important to have an outlet that really feeds the soul and can help you rekindle enthusiasm for your business. After all, we work to live, not the other way around, right? It sounds like you have found just the right mix. I would love to see some of your paintings. Any chance you might start an online gallery? Hmmmm?….

  2. Laurel Black

    Kathryn, you have all my sympathies – been there myself, and it’s depressing to say the least. Reading about your solace in watercolors struck a chord also. I have a passion for stone lithography, and made a weekly commitment to pursue it when I met up with another litho junkie who has a fully equipped studi and press. I couldn’t believe my luck – these are few and far between. I took it as the universe sending me a message to spend more time on purely creative pursuits. I tend to get work-obsessed, especially when the mortgage is due. It has been very positive for my design work in the ways you describe. No ah-ha moments yet, just a deeper sense of connection to my creative underpinnings. Thanks for telling your story!