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Living creatively...

A post about the creative processes involved in designing game artwork and the financial constraints of doing what you love for a living.

Sarah Wallace, Blogger

April 10, 2014

6 Min Read

Over the last few weeks I've been focussing on Cavian's artwork, drawing little illustrations using our newly purchased (although now rather cat-clawed) sketch book and graphite pencils (that always seem to go missing...oh wait, that'll be the cats again!). This week I finally plucked up the courage to turn my hand-drawn concept designs into digital, workable pieces for the game. This was a completely new challenge for me, starting out with two new programs, Gimp and Inkscape, from scratch. I'm now at 'stage 3' in the 'work-flow' process. First comes the idea, then there's sketching it out on paper, after which comes breathing digital life into it using graphics software and then manipulating it in a 3-D modelling package, like Blender, to work it into the game. It's like a digital version of ceramics; conceptualising, sculpting, baking, glazing. But a lot more complicated. I've still got a long way to go yet, but I'm relishing the opportunity to learn something completely new!


I had absolutely no idea about these processes before I dived into the world of game development. And I'm only now beginning to understand all the limitations of what we're doing and just how long it takes to get something working, invariably knowing that there's a risk it won't work at all. It's a daunting road; each new twist unveils a new risk and each dead-end sign-posts a new failure. But, after reading articles by other indie developers, the one piece of advice which comes up time and time again is that failure is good. Failure is not just good, it's essential. 'Fail faster, fail better, fail bigger!' they all insist. I've never been in a industry where failure is a vital part of the creation process. But it really makes a lot of sense and whilst terrifying, it's also really liberating.


Far from being a bad thing, I've come to realise that failure is essential to learning and, ultimately, growth. If you are afraid of failure, you seldom venture outside your comfort zone. This can mean that your life becomes very restricting. For example, you might stay in a job you really can't stand because you're too afraid that you won't find anything else and as a result your CV will become inferior. You're afraid of failure. You might not get another job and you'll let your team, your boss, the company, your family and everybody else down. You'll have failed them. But if you don't leave, you'll be failing yourself. Your happiness is the most important thing, and it's at stake. If you stay in the miserable situation, biding your time with inaction, feeling rubbish, then you're doing yourself an injustice. But you can do something about it, it's just that the choice to head into the unknown is terrifying.


The truth is you can never predict what will happen, even if you have a seemingly stable job and income. It's a paradox, but change is the only thing that's constant. If you're enveloped in a sense of absolute security, thinking everything couldn't be more perfect, then you'll have a lot further to fall if (heaven forbid) something were to go wrong. On the other hand, right now, James and I couldn't be further from this. In fact, we're looming dangerously close to the edge and there's a cavernous, dark pit full of food costs, electricity bills and train fares waiting for us fall into its debt-lined depths. And we're dancing and performing handstands on its crumbling edge.


We've been working independently for almost two years now and, financially, it's unbelievably tough. In the first quarter of the new year, my income from circus performing and language tutoring has been just shy of £300 a month and that's with many, many hours over the past two years put into websites, networking and endless cold calls and emails. It's unanimous; times are tough. We hear often that we were 'born at the wrong time' to be doing what we're doing. The sacrifices are hard. Having to say you can't come to your best friend's birthday because you can't afford the train fare is a painful reminder of our financial reality. Having to avoid the 'expensive' chocolate and go for the 30p budget chocolate instead, while other customers take three £3 bars without a second thought, is hard to swallow. The cats eat far better than us! But we're trying to do something on our own, with scarce financial support, to satisfy our creative drive and quench our thirst for learning. Although there shouldn't be, there is a price to pay for doing what you love.


However, despite this looming pit of financial restrictions, we're feeling happy. We're doing something we love and to be this way is in our blood. I've never felt more alive, despite the fact I'm a stone's throw away from poverty. I'm on a path of learning and I'd be failing myself if I gave up now. So to all you indie developers and other creative people out there who feel the same, striving to create and learn but bound by the financial limitations of living; stay strong and never, ever give up, even when it seems really bleak. 'Feel the fear and do it anyway'. That's a manta that keeps me going in the tough times.

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