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January 2009

Skills Growth Through Personal Critiques

As busy stylists we may not all be able to afford the time away or the fees for one on one classes with an instructor to get all of the fine tuning that we want for our finish grooms.  We can still, however continue to educate ourselves and teach ourselves to be objective and detail oriented about out work, without being overly critical.
It can be hard for many, with all of the effort that we put into our finished grooms, to stand back and give an honest overview of what our grooms look like before they leave the salon.  But, if we can learn to do this effectively, as individual stylists, we have a leg up on the competition by putting out quality and details that some groomers often overlook. 
The first and most important guideline in gaining confidence I feel is to always continue to educate ourselves by keeping up on trends, techniques and challenging our skills growth by watching current videos and training DVDs.  There are many on the market to teach us a plethora of invaluable time saving and profitable techniques. 
Another simple way is to get out to the industry trade shows and learning seminars.  Meet fellow stylists, and write up a list ahead of time to take with and talk individually with the course givers on areas that you want to brush up on, take thorough notes through the seminar as you will certainly look back over these after the event and see things you had forgotten about.  Most every instructor will always go the extra mile to know that they have given every attendee something important to take back to their businesses and utilize for the betterment of this industry.  Don't be shy, ask every question you have, and always be open to others input and opinions.  One of the best ways to find yourself feeling stagnant and with a lack of confidence, is to not take the opportunity to get out and learn all that you can for that competitive edge. 
Also, take the time and put the money into a good variety of books and magazines to have on hand for reference.  The photos and depictions in these books will be ever so important to you for comparison and reference.  Keep a few of these books near your work station to look at and even keep the book open to the page of the breed you are trying to improve on as you work.  Look at the photo and then look at your client- this sets a pretty black & white picture in front of you to compare to.
Take the time to choose certain dogs each week that you want to spend the extra time on and teach yourself with.  Schedule these dogs some extra time and look at photos ahead of time- the internet is spilling over with endless ways to get reference material to look at- don't forget about YouTube for some great short video clips.  Often if you let the pet owner know that you are working to perfect the clip on their breed of dog, they will work with you and give you some artistic freedom.  And, if you can't keep the dog in full coat as per breed standard, you can still groom them to finish, do your evaluation, take photos, and then finish the dog with the details that the owner requests.  Or, just concentrate on honing your scissoring and tailoring skills overall.
Take the time to work the dog through, put it away for a bit and then come back and look it over again after a fluff to see if everything is where you want it before it leaves.  Taking a few minutes away helps to clear away the image saturation that occurs when we look too long and hard at one thing for too long! Often you will notice different points that you missed before just because your eyes and brain basically needed to be "reset". 
I encourage all stylists to put up a good sized mirror across from their work table at waist height to use to look at your dogs.  Clean ff your table!  Stack your finished dog squarely on your table, and take a good look at the total picture.  Look for flowing symmetry and proper proportion in areas like the legs, feet, head and beard.  Look also at this time for smooth finish and overall balance of the dog's presence from top to bottom.  Have you accentuated some of the dog's better characteristics, and tried to cover those not so flattering?  Have you implemented it's breed standards?  Try to stand back and be objective (taking in the whole picture) about what you see in front of you, compare it to the pictures you have for reference and the mental image of what you see as the finished work you want.
One of the most priceless ways for you to be objective and give yourself a clear definition of the finished work you do is to take photos.  Keep these on hand; make a scrapbook of all the grooms that you feel are your best.  And more importantly, take a hard copy of the photo and draw onto it where the lines and angles should be set on that dog as a simple image on paper.  Be sure that the table is clean and the dog is squarly stacked as much as possible.   Keep these pictures on hand for the next time you groom the dog and compare to them.  This will give you a "work in progress report" each time and let you play around with your dog's clip a little more at each visit, working towards "perfection". 
Remember that there is a reason for the saying "we are our own worse critics".  Most people put a lot into their work, and pet styling is a creative, artistic field.  But, if we can teach ourselves to take advice, challenge our skills often, and be a little more honest and objective about our work, the only thing that will come from questioning ourselves is personal growth, and confidence in the certainty that we have done our best.