There are some fates so awful that you dare not wish them on your worst enemies. Among digital artists, "May you experience total hard disk failure" is one such wish, magnitudes above such horrors as "may your power fail right in the middle of the autosave" and "may your internet bog down in interesting times." While cloud storage has mitigated this danger somewhat, there's only so much you can upload on a Free Dropbox or Google Drive account after all and that's if you've been backing anything up at all in the first place.
Horrible as it is, most digital artists will likely encounter losing the corpus of one's working ecosystem. All of a sudden, those programs, presets, and software plugins are - disk recovery notwithstanding - gone forever. As part of Gunship Revolution's devotion to providing informative public service - and not just because this happened to one of us recently - here are a few useful notes on coping with and perhaps even thriving out of such a difficult loss.
I. THINGS HAVE BEEN SIMPLIFIED FOR YOU WHETHER YOU MAKE USE OF IT OR NOT.
Nothing to do with the immediate consequences of losing your work environment - especially if you're in the middle of a major project - but this is the truth of the matter that you're left with once you find yourself in the clear: if you lost as much as you had and still manage to wake up the next morning with a responsibility to start over, a lot of what you lost was likely things you didn't really need.
II. TAKE THIS TIME TO REEXAMINE YOURSELF.
A poor man blames his tools and now you have fewer tools to blame. Perhaps you find yourself unable to take on projects for a couple of days. Perhaps your unit is in the shop or has pieces being ordered. This is a good time to examine your skills outside the context of your tools. Complacency is great for as long as the status quo lasts but finding out that you've been too dependent on trick plugins or custom filters can be a great wake-up call for more conscientious craftsmanship if you let it.
III. THEN, REEXAMINE WHAT YOU LOST.
Losing year's worth of programs and files leaves a gaping vacuum of loss and, as most gaping vacuums are wont, the instinctual reaction is to fill it with as much stuff as was there was before. If you've gone and done the previous bit of introspection though, you may find that you may have been indulging in a bit of digital hoarding. With ever increasing storage options, your bare essentials could have been sharing space with decades old excel sheets from the last time you've pulled up Excel for anything, labyrinthine stockpiles of WIPs you have no intention of completing, not to mention exotic malware from the late 1990's. Make peace with what you lost, list down the material you'll need to regain, and be silently thankful that fortune has rid of your digital mounds of rat-infested fire hazards for you.
IV. REEQUIP GRADUALLY.
If you need to get back to work after your extended stumble, focus on just installing an ecosystem for the project at hand. This is true even if you work on more than just one type of digital media and ESPECIALLY true if you do most of your procrastinating on the computer as well. Simply put, just try the spartan computer environment for a while. Experience a work space that has fewer options and distractions: focus more on arrangement and proportion instead of restocking your computer with ten bajillion fonts, for example. Take this time to take stock of the things you actually need by seeing what you can do by trying to make do without.
V. REDISCOVER YOUR PROCESS.
A digital workspace is essentially the embodiment of one's work habits. We build a network of shortcuts, tabs, custom defaults, color swatches and so on so we don't have to think of every step we take in the creative process, freeing ourselves up to other considerations. However, relying on these networks day-in and day-out without checking up on them can lead to a kind of stagnation. The "if x then y" approach to art may make the going easier but probably not more creative. As we mentioned before, this is a good time to redevelop a sense of conscientiousness for your creative process: a mindfulness that questions the formula from time to time to make sure that you're making good creative choices.
VI. CUT RELIANCE ON THE PAST.
Since everyone uploads everything now anyone, it's almost too much to hope that one would lose one's old portfolios forever when a hard disk dies. Still, whenever the opportunity presents itself to require all new work for prospective clients, go for it. You DO NOT want your best artwork to be from seven or eight years ago if you're looking for work right now and, as we here in Gunship Revolution like reminding everyone: six to eight of your best artwork is more than enough to build a winning case for your talent while a twenty year retrospective from your computer's full contents is almost certainly going to do more harm than good.
VI. LET THE TRAUMA EDUCATE.
Of course, the main lesson here is to take better care of your stuff as well as to back up everything that is actually important at least one a week. There's nothing better than a tragic misstep to teach such a lesson and there it is. However, being emptied out like in a case of Total Disk failure does have wider reaching implications for the emotionally mature. Going back to a now-unfamiliar square-one is is a scary situation, fraught with all the awful, inconvenient life moments that the word "fraught" was made for. You will find however that sometimes, it's not a hard disk that is emptied out. Sometimes, it's a parent. Or a spouse. Or a child. Or a friend. It could be your own house. It could be your own health. Whatever it is, and especially when there are others still counting on you to get a job done, you'll need to learn how to work with what you have left. Just be glad if you learn that from a corrupted disk.