Pressure: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly

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Around two years ago, I’ve decided that  I wanted to be an artist. I signed up for an online art program, got oil painting lessons and filled out sketchbooks of drawing studies and notes. When I told my closest friends and family about it, they were a little concerned. I understood it. After all, just about a couple years ago, I was fronting a band. We had a few gigs around the area, it had a facebook, youtube and an online profile, won a few contests, got a handful of followers and slowly but surely, died a natural death of neglect.

But surely art is different! I’ve been drawing since I was a kid! I love looking at art and I want to be paid doing it too!

Unfortunately for that young naive girl, she will soon discover visual novels and games and realize NOW she wants to do that. She’s sure of this one this time. Take back another five or so years ago, she wanted to be a jeweler. Another two years before that, she wanted to be a graphic designer. And if you go even further back another five years, she wanted to be a mangaka. She’ll learn Japanese and everything! She’ll fly to Japan and make it happen!

None of those things came to pass. But wait, there is a lesson in this drab, depressing story and it’s this: Pressure is all in the head, and there are different kinds.

I’ve been drawing for the last 3 days, making art for my patrons. My first few attempts were very stiff and unnatural. They were trying really hard to be something they’re not. It reminds me of why I pushed art back from my list of priorities. There was so much pressure to be excellent, to do a good job, to be in a level worth getting paid for that I forgot to have fun. I forgot that drawing is a creative activity that people enjoy, and it doesn’t matter if you’re not good enough yet, or that you’re nowhere as popular as you want to be. All I had in my head was “No, still not good enough”, and the pressure robbed me of the pleasure I once had when I drew my first Sailormoon fanart.

I was frustrated with the thought, and I scrapped my drawings and made everything from scratch. I drew the kind of art I want to make, the kind I enjoy. I didn’t care about anatomy or form or lighting yet. I didn’t care if it was a popular style or if it looks original enough. I just wanted to have fun! To be happy I made something.

…And it rekindled that love I’ve lost so long ago.

On one hand, pressure forces you to finish something, to be accountable. On the other hand, it carries a dangerous risk of stifling creativity.

Truthfully, the only way I managed to finish two games was from thinking “Oh, this is just a side project. This will be my portfolio for illustration. It’s not a big deal.” I tricked my brain into thinking that the pressure was minimal. After all, I didn’t have a reputation. I was relatively unknown as a gamedev. I had nothing to lose. And yet, the pressure to finish Cupid mounted to blood-boiling 100°C degrees in all seven months I made it.

So it seems there are different kinds of Pressure: The Good and Bad and The Ugly.

The Good kind really focuses and hones your goal. So many of the activities I mentioned above (and more I haven’t mentioned), all died out because of lack of interest on my part. There’s a wide, curious world out there, and I’m a bit too flighty for my own good. I wanna dip my fingers in all the pies. So, without any pressure at all, I’ll soon loose interest, then transfer my interests at another shiny thing.

The Bad Pressure is the kind where you never start at all. The pressure’s too great, you ditch it out of your mind completely. It’s that client email you haven’t sent. It’s that backlog of tasks you haven’t done. This pressure’s other name is Procrastination, and it settles in your couch and eats all your food.
But the Ugly kind… Man that’s where pain is. This pressure exists to snuff the joy out of an activity. Thinking along the lines of “I’m not good enough”, “This is crap, why bother”, and “I have to do this, or else I’m a failure”. It sucks out the vitality of any project. There’s already a punishment waiting at the end of the line, so it’s like a set up for failure. And when you do fail, your brain validates it by saying “See? I knew it. I really suck.” Any reward is reward, and getting reinforced this way sets up a habit. Boy oh boy, that’s a tough hill to climb once you’re in it.

So from now on, I’m going to try and recognize pressure for what it is. I must differentiate them. Discard what’s harmful, use what’s beneficial. Not all pressure is created equal, and they shouldn’t be able to control what I will or will not create.

 

 

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