Reflections On The Crucible

May 16, 2019 18:16 · 862 words · 5 minutes read


On January 1st I started working through the lessons on Draw a Box as a New Years resolution. I completed the first lesson sometime in late February and began working on the 250 box challenge. I finished drawing my 250th box recently and I wanted to write about my experience completing the challenge both to reflect on and for anybody else who might also be doing this challenge.

Drawing 250 boxes takes longer than it seems like

The first lesson more or less flew by, but I also didn’t get that much out of it. By the end of the first lesson I couldn’t really draw a box as you can see by my first attempts. Initially I thought I would be able to do 10 boxes/day and finish sometime in mid-late March (25 days of drawing) but even that pace was too much for me to maintain. Other things inevitably got in the way, I would skip days I wasn’t feeling well, etc. In the end it took over twice as long as I estimated to complete the full challenge.

Looking back, it’s actually good that I took longer than expected. One of Lesson 0’s suggestions is not to “grind”, to take breaks and work on other things while your brain processes the lessons. This is actually supported by research. On the other hand, doing something every day builds may make it easier to build a habit (the Streak app is a notable example of this principle).

The way that you approach the challenge (building a continuous streak or taking intermittent breaks) really comes down to the type of person you are. I tend to hit an activity very hard for a short duration and then take some time off, coming back with a fresh mind and hit it hard again. If you prefer to do something every day and build a habit, it might be better to draw something like 3-4 boxes per day over a few months.

You probably won’t show any results for a long time

When I started the challenge, I figured the first 20 or so boxes would probably be bad but with so much repetition I’d be drawing boxes well in very little time. In actuality, I didn’t produce a single correct box until I had drawn about 50 of them. After that I continued to produce incorrect boxes until somewhere around 200-225 boxes when I could finally draw them reliably. Even now after completing the challenge I sometimes screw up a vanishing point or make a bad mark.

The 250 box challenge mostly enforces a type of muscle memory. After a long time, you’ll be able to see the type of box you’re drawing from the points you initially draw and you’ll have a natural feel for what marks to make based on where to place the vanishing points. Learning this lesson comes from making incorrect marks over and over until you finally understand all the ways NOT to draw a box. The principles in lesson 1 certainly give you some good guidelines but you really need to experience failure to embed the lesson.

You will show results

And will you succeed?

YES! You will indeed!

98 and three quarters percent guaranteed!

– Dr. Suess: Oh the Places You’ll Go

After drawing 250 boxes, it’s almost impossible to fail to learn. Before I started these lessons I never had any drawing talent whatsoever. Like most people, I could draw stick figures or rudimentary diagrams and that’s about it. Now I know how perspective works. I know how to produce a three dimensional shape on paper, and I can draw a straight line. That’s much more than I could do 5 months ago.

Difficulty

So if you’re sure to show results, where does the difficulty of the challenge come from then? Primarily, it comes from the sheer time and commitment that you have to put in to get anything out of it. In The War of Art, Pressfield talks at length about the concept of resistance, that it permeates and pours off of any creative endeavour. There’s something deeply demotivating about drawing your first crappy box and then thinking “and I have to do this HOW many more times??“. The key though is to get over the initial hump. You don’t have to draw 250 boxes, and that’s really the wrong way to think about it. You have to draw 50 boxes, and then you’ll show some improvement. Then you have to draw another 50 and you’ll be better still. At some point you start to WANT to draw boxes because you’re improving. Around 150-175 you notice that you want to try to draw all kinds of different boxes in different orientations and sizes. You start to seek out failure and become okay with it.

How do you deal with sucking at something? Can you fight your way past Resistance in order to create something or learn something? Those are the questions you end up answering with this challenge and why this challenge is difficult in the first place. Those questions are worth answering for everyone, whether you want to be an artist or not.