2018 Year in Review: On almost giving up, finding community & owning my path (+ a Phoenix Gauntlet update)

2018 Year in Review: On almost giving up, finding community & owning my path (+ a Phoenix Gauntlet update)

Lumecluster Sovereign Armor

What this blog post covers:

If you’re new here, catch up by checking out these important armor design announcements:


2018 has been a pretty wild ride. Here are some of my memorable moments:

But throughout 2018, I felt like I wanted to give up on Lumecluster. Sounds crazy, right?

Long time readers know that, even though I’m always able to get my work done, I also have some pretty severe anxiety and perfectionism. I’ve written a lot about my fears and self doubts and it’s also a message that is deeply tied to the meaning behind all of my artwork.

I thought tackling it in my masks and armor would help me feel braver and stronger (and sometimes I did find solace in my work). But in 2018, I felt more fragile than ever despite the empowering armor I was striving to create…because I was utterly burnt out.

Photography by Yiazyang — Model, costume, sword by Bryan Forrest — Location at The Forrest Manor — Creative partners Lilly B. Haven and Creature of Habit —– We all jokingly called this the “dirt prince” mainly because he was actually covered in a lot of dirt, haha. He was playing a worn and ragged warrior, which I guess fit a lot of how I felt throughout 2018.

Since 2014 (along with another company my sisters and I have been running since 2010), I have been working seven days a week without taking vacations. My “breaks” included meals and sleeping. I even deprived myself of fun activities because I thought I didn’t deserve them if I didn’t feel like I accomplished enough. And if I did take time off to do something else, it needed to be productive and useful in some way. I know…this is an unhealthy lifestyle that can really destroy creativity. So, why did I do it?

Because I felt guilty.

Guilty for creating “carefree” art when other people were doing “real work.”
Guilty for finding some joy in creating things that the people around me thought was “useless.”
Guilty for pursuing something I loved when other people “didn’t have that luxury.”

Yes, that’s what some of the people in my real life in New York were telling me. And yes, it hurts so much more than some nasty online comment because they are coming from people I personally knew.

The worst part was that I knew these assumptions about my work were bullshit. But because I lacked a community of creatives that understood me and the type of work I do, I became more susceptible to other people’s opinions about my work.

So, I pushed myself by becoming more of a workaholic than I already was in order to justify that my work was not a waste of time. In fact, it didn’t occur to me that I lacked a supportive community until Melita Curphy (aka Miss Monster) pointed it out.

She encouraged me to build a better support system before I really harmed my mental and physical health…and before I started hating the very work I loved. I heard her, but I guess I didn’t fully understand her meaning. I figured I could just rely on whatever support I could find online (looking back now, it really isn’t the same thing though).

So, in the middle of 2018, I was really plowing through my research and prototyping for the Modular Phoenix Gauntlets, which I had already been working on since 2016. I was happy with the progress but also felt incredibly empty. I struggled to see the point in my work and I was just carrying on just to complete it…but then what?

No amount of good work I had done in the past could help me see past my own flaws.

Clients and fans kindly praised my work and successes online and on social media, which made me feel like a fraud. The more I told myself, “I should be happy,” the more I also thought, “Maybe all of this is really a huge mistake.”

Being able to create in solitude can be a wonderful thing…but with my increasingly warped perception of myself, that creative solitude I once cherished was becoming a self-destructive loneliness. I truly was my own worst enemy and I knew something needed to change.

And then, one night in October, my friend Jackie Cole asked me to think about going to California to meet up with similarly creative people that I’ve either been working with or have been in touch with. And then another friend, Mark Dubeau, emphasized the importance of meeting people who “get” me.

I deeply valued the opinions from Melita, Jackie, and Mark because I knew they were so devoted to their work as well (and they were all in California). And hearing from all three of them felt like a sign, so I decided I’d take a trip to California. And yes, I told myself that it was for work to stave off the guilt, haha.

On a whim, I booked flights for Los Angeles and San Francisco at the end of October. Was I searching for a way to reconnect with my work again? Was it to find a community that I could relate to? I wasn’t even sure if I would find either.

My entire adult life, I have taken pride in my high level of discipline, ability to execute a project from beginning to end, and knack for predicting outcomes. Any choice I made had a clearly defined purpose, and I was never much for spontaneity.

But the idea of taking a trip to California felt like a huge question mark…and yet, it was a place where I felt like I could find some new questions and answers. I suppose I wanted to meet face-to-face with people who had a fiery passion for their ambitions in the hopes that it may rekindle my own. Needless to say, it was more than I could have ever anticipated.

It was surprisingly cathartic being in the company of so many people who could relate to my kind of work and vice versa. Some of the most fascinating moments was when we would geek out about design process / materials or exchange tips / stories on handling our business(es). Sometimes, it was even just enough to hear, “Hey, I get you,” and to feel like they really did.

Lumecluster Sovereign Armor
Photography by Yiazyang — Models Jessica Dru and Bryan Forrest — Gauntlet by lumecluster — Dress by Michelle Hebert — Location The Forrest Manor — Creative partners Lilly B. Haven and Creature of Habit —– When I started seeking out a community I could connect with and relate to, it felt both validating and liberating. It was like realizing I wasn’t so crazy after all… I finally felt like I could give myself permission to accept myself and reconnect with my work in a new way.

For the first time in my adult life, I didn’t feel crazy or wrong for doing what I do. They were rooting for me and I was rooting for them. The loneliness I didn’t even know was weighing down on me suddenly felt a little lighter and the stressful pain wrapped around my head and my chest loosened.

When I shared a little about this experience during a Tested podcast with Adam Savage and Mark Dubeau, they said, “welcome to the family,” and I smiled so hard. They probably didn’t know that it took everything in me to hold back my tears.

And it feels so appropriate that photographer Yiaz Yang titled the Sovereign Armor photoshoot series, “The Guardian,” especially when comparing it to the original message behind the Sovereign Armor. And follow her Instagram to see the gradual reveal of the entire series!

It’s not that I disagree with the original meaning when I first wrote it up in 2016, but the photoshoot definitely transformed it. Contextually, the meaning behind the Sovereign armor came from a much more isolated and lonely place, which focused on the painful and often unseen suffering that the creative endures when building and fighting for their dreams.

Lumecluster Sovereign Armor

I am still the sovereign of my own dreams, but now I do not feel so alone anymore. Seeing this imagery of the guardian and finding the beginnings of a community I can relate to made me realize and appreciate the people who are guarding my dreams by believing in me.

Yes, we are all in the arena actively fighting for our own paths in life, claiming victories where we can, and recovering from our failures along the way. But it’s a wonderful feeling knowing that there’s the chance to cross paths with others who are looking to build and find even greater adventures together…and maybe help patch up each other’s wounds every now and then.

Lumecluster Sovereign Armor
Photography by Yiazyang — Models Jessica Dru Johnson and Bryan Forrest — Wings by Firefly Path — Sword by Bryan Forrest — Sovereign Armor components by lumecluster — Dress by Michelle Hebert — Location The Forrest Manor — Creative partners Lilly B. Haven and Creature of Habit —– Jessica is the most badass guardian, haha. But honestly, everyone on this team was full of such inspiring creativity. I’m so lucky we could all cross paths and make something new together.

So, here’s to all the amazing people who lifted me up and continue to believe in me! You know who you are! I look forward to doing the same for you and can’t wait to keep adventuring with you!

I hope you all keep building your supportive community of friends and family that continues to lift you up higher. And if you haven’t started or are just starting, don’t worry. It takes time.

Wishing you a happy new year! I can’t wait for 2019!

<3 Melissa

P.S. Mini update about the Modular Phoenix Gauntlets!

For now, I’ll be accepting only a limited number of custom orders for the Modular Phoenix Gauntlets at various times throughout the year (and perhaps years to come, but this could change). Yes, this means there will be limited slots available. If people are not able to get a slot, they will have the chance to submit another request the next time I announce available slots.

Email subscribers will be notified first about when custom order slots become available. You can sign up below or click on this link to join my free newsletter for updates. There will also be a new video update, FAQ, etc. (yep, you only saw the first half of the preview in my first blog post about the gauntlets 

There will also be an update in my Lumecluster shop, where there will be a new selection of made-to-order wearable art, jewelry, etc.

Lumecluster Phoenix Gauntlets

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