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Nevermind, it's not my thing

I recently tried to create digital 3D art. It was a snap-decision: I'd never researched, thought to do it or trained in it before. The first few hours were a combination of frustrating and humiliating, but after about 11 hours, I was amazed at what I'd created. I slept that night beyond thrilled about all the possibilities I just opened for myself.

Flash forward 3 days. The 'amazing creation' I'd made when I started now looks like a blob, I feel absolutely no better than when I started, other's art seems absolutely beyond achievement and I'm convinced this really just isn't for me.

So what happened? Objectively, there is no way I could've gotten worse in 3 days, I was really practicing, researching, learning - I definitely was better.

But this got me thinking about what offsets improvement in those first few days/weeks/months after starting to learn a new skill? That time when I tell myself 'I've realised this just isn't for me'. How many things have I stopped doing things because of that and just why?

I think I started out very much under the Dunning-Kruger effect of illusory superiority (1): people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-aawareness of metacognition, people cannot objectively evaluate their competence or incompetence.

Because this was a never-before-attempted task, I felt 'how hard can it really be'? (I realise now, even considering becoming a billionare, if I really think about it, I do very soon come to a point of 'how hard can it really be'). (2) ps. I'm not a billionare.

So, funnily enough, tasks that I've never before considered lie behind the veil of 'impossible' (also known as irrelevant). Once I pull one out from the veil to seriously think about attempting it, my brain automatically categorises it as 'how hard can it really be?'.

That is step one.

This is valuable, because after all, it is one way to get yourself to attempt something. Compare it for example with it being pulled from the veil just to remain 'impossible' and be shoved right back. We'd never get anything done.

Now, armed with my illusory superiority, I begin work on the task. Starting from absolutely having no clue about something (zero), and getting to the point where you can do even the slightest thing in relation to it is the biggest jump. I just moved from the 99.9999% of the population who have no clue what a polymesh is, to those who do. These are some big steps. So no matter how painful the learning (or finding the relevant section of YouTube video is), the improvement is clear. I'm on a rush, in flow, and overwhelmed by how much I now want to do.

With my superiority strong, every new thing I see immediately gets categorised as a possibility for me to create and work on - this feeling is intoxicating.

So what happens? Why does this stop?

You can call it reality kicking in, but I think this is too broad of a description, and doesn't really capture what I believe the issue was with me. I think I saw too much. Let me explain. Because 3D illustration was alien to me, what I'd pulled out from the viel was just the concept 'I want to be able to create 3D art'. But I hadn't fully explored 3D art before. And when you start with the basics, those you can easily grasp, and can copy almost identically, you're happy.

But when you want to get a bit better, you look for inspiration, you get exposed to more. And more. You start to see world-class artists. You become a connoiseur in 3D art, your range of appreciatable skill becomes grealty expanded and suddenly, your sphere with a hole in it doesn't seem to be so amazing anymore. Now you're playing with the big boys.

Your 0 (can't draw) and 1 (can make a sphere) Dunning-Kruger ruler which served your ego so well when you were able to go to 1, 4 and 5, suddenly is traded in with a new 0-1000 scale, and you're still sitting at 8. And the more you see, the bigger the ruler becomes, and the worse your work seems.

This is when the feeling starts to creep in: 'I don't think this is for me'. Any improvement you make won't show on the ruler, there's not enough significant figures for it to be even detectable. You seem to be getting worse and worse, you're trying to shove the 3D art right back under the veil in the hope your ego will recouperate after a few days (and you'll have to avoid looking at 3D for at least a few months).

Another way to show is is with the following graph. We can see that our skill beings to increase rapidly after we start work (blue line). In the red line we can see our knowledge of others' quality of work, which begins to increase as soon as we start to look for resources for ispiration and learning. Therefore, we have a short period between starting work and starting our research when we are in 'Dunning-Kruger bliss', we are rapidly learning and we unaware of just how amazing others' skill is, we can appreciate our work for what it is. After that - we begin our period of barely detectable improvement, where our improvement is greatly offset by our growing knowledge on other's skills.

This means, our perceived quality of work is a direct function of our own skill, and inversely proportional to our awareness of others' skill. The resulting graph of our perceived quality of work would therefore look like:

So how to get around this?

Well, first thing first: rather than thinking 'how hard can it be', maybe going for a safer 'this is going to be a fun challenge' (the challenge part gives you a bigger ruler to start with). Secondly, making yourself stick to at least a few weeks/months of practice before giving up is a good shout (although be cautious with this one, big investments can put us off making the first step). Thirdly, just being aware of why our progress curve looks the way it does, anticipating this perceived dip in perceived progress and giving your thoughts and emotions on your work the understanding they need will give your ego a break.

My Day 1 vs Day 3 of work on Zbrush:



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