Severe Struggles with Lesson 2 Dissections. Help!

3:14 AM, Tuesday May 31st 2022

Okay, I've been seriously struggling with the Dissections exercise from Lesson 2 for several weeks (as I've read many of you are as well). It is crushing my brain. It is so hard to mentally cover the sausage form with the texural forms, and then draw the cast shadows without even seeing the forms that are supposedly casting them. I can understand the forms and draw them onto the sausage; but just knowing where to put the cast shadows (and settling on the lighting so the shadows even show up) is brutally hard. I'm finding the Dissections exercise to be significantly more difficult than the Texture Analysis exercise.

Up to this point I've been studying and practicing each texture on scrap paper trying to understand it before officially transferring it to the sausage, but after reading a comment by Comfy in response to a question on YouTube, I'm wondering if maybe I'm supposed to just attempt to transfer the texture directly to the sausage without much preparation (such as the hours I'm spending trying to wrap my head around each texture and trying to understand the cast shadow shape-language as it relates to the actual forms).

Here was Comfy's response to @Sékai's question on YouTube on the Drawabox Lesson 2, Exercise 4: Dissections video:

@Sékai I really feel like you're overestimating the purpose of why this exercise is assigned in this lesson. It's not for you to improve at it, and it's not for you to accomplish anything specific. It is only to introduce you to the concept, to plant a seed. . . .

I know Comfy says the Dissections exercise is "not for you to accomplish anything specific," but doing the exercise poorly is really painful for me mentally. My brain is saying, "I really want to learn to texture well and this seems like a great opportunity to learn; so why would I knowingly produce crap when I can put in the time to learn to do it well?" The problem is that I am really struggling to do it well even after many frustrating hours of effort; and I really don't want to continue in this constant state of frustration for another 2 or 3 months. Each texture introduces new challenges, and the restriction to drawing only cast shadows vastly multiplies the difficulty of communicating the texture. I know Comfy probably knows what he's talking about and learning to draw only cast shadows will probably have wonderful advantages and bring creative freedom down the road, but I'm really struggling to accept it and to learn how to do it.

Comfy's reply continued:

Texture is very difficult - it's all about understanding the little textural forms that exist along the surface of an object, and to be able to hold that understanding of how they sit in space without outlining them. It is a similar problem to construction as a whole (which is something we work on throughout this entire course), but actually demands more since you're not able to simply draw those forms using explicit markmaking techniques. [bold added by me]

By introducing this micro-scale spatial problem here, students will continue to develop their spatial reasoning skills both in regards to construction (which is more macr-scale) and texture simultaneously as they move through the lesson.

As discussed back in Lesson 0, your own interpretation of whether or not your work is "good enough" or has "passed" a particular standard is irrelevant, and dangerous because it'll lead you to simply sit there and grind well beyond the intent of the course. Your job is to complete the work to the best of your current ability, as assigned, and then to get feedback on it. If that external feedback deems you ready to move onto the next step, then that's what you do.

I think I may be grinding beyond the intent of this exercise. The past exercises were much easier to complete (even if they were done poorly) and know you were done. In this exercise I feel like just doing it will produce crap and will not represent what I'm currently capable of . . . if I put more time into it. Here's my first page of Dissections and study pages so far after almost 2 months (of working on and off). Should I lighten up on the quality I'm trying to produce? I don't want to purposefully make crap. I'm not necessarily trying to impress anyone; I just want to learn to draw texture well. I'm not even quite sure how I would go about not trying to do well. My brain is wired for improvement. A single texture can take me hours to study and then 30 minutes or more to draw onto the sausage. Also, should I include fewer sausages on each page? I've tried forcing myself to spend less time on each texture, but time-pressure doesn't seem to help me go faster; it only stresses me out and then I feel bad for missing the deadline. I know we're not supposed to scribble or use hatching; so I'm not sure how to finish transferring the texture faster.

So what am I to do? Do I just attempt to transfer each texture without first trying to understand the texture through hours of study on scrap paper first accepting whatever the outcome is and pushing through to the end? Should I just produce the crap I'm so fearful of for the sake of getting past this exercise?

Sorry for such a long post, but Comfy says not to work in a vacuum (like I mostly do) and this has been weighing on me for a while.

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2:05 PM, Tuesday May 31st 2022
edited at 2:05 PM, May 31st 2022

My oppinion is we are too bad to judge ourselves, especially when we don't have the tools and knowledge to judge it well.

We always need feedback from other people who are better than us, and you will recieve when you post your exercises. Don't fear to show a mess - the worst thing to happen is: a more advanced person will point out what you need to do to be better - and that's awesome!

You will not advance if you not prepared for, the critique can sugest you to do redo some exercises. If it will be the case of dissections, it's no problem. You will redo knowing what's going wrong.

More than that: you will have many oportunities to improve your textures, it's not the last time you do that, it's just the first time.

I think you can do a little study of the texture before trying to put on the sausage form when you think it's too complex.

TL;DR: The time you spend trying to judge your own work can be saved showing the work to someone who can judge it better. Do the exercises and post it to critique.

edited at 2:05 PM, May 31st 2022
5:46 PM, Tuesday May 31st 2022

Thanks for your feedback, Ivopedro.

I think I understand the exercise -- draw only cast shadows and the silhouette, and mind the curvature of the sausage -- but I'm not quite sure how to improve my execution without studying the texture. I've read a few critiques for other people's Dissection submissions, and they generally say something like, "You need to focus more on cast shadows," without much other instruction or examples of how to do that or what the end result should look like (I do realize the course is still being overhauled and the texture section hasn't been reached yet; so that may be part of the confusion). I know this is a new topic and likely will take time for my mind to absorb it to the point of being useful.

Since Comfy said:

@Sékai I really feel like you're overestimating the purpose of why this exercise is assigned in this lesson. It's not for you to improve at it, and it's not for you to accomplish anything specific. It is only to introduce you to the concept, to plant a seed. . . .

perhaps my best course of action is to stop trying to improve at the exercise or even do it well. Maybe I should limit my study of a texture to half an hour or less (or eliminate it altogether?); though, this doesn't exactly make sense since Comfy said to spend most of your time looking at (i.e. studying) the reference and only looking away briefly to make a mark; now I've confused myself. I suppose he could mean to study the texture as you actually transfer the texture rather than study the texture before you transfer the texture.

I could do my best and try really hard not to be critical of the outcome. Since Comfy says we shouldn't try to improve at the exercise or even achieve a specific level of quality, this could mean we should not be spending hours and hours on each texture studying it, understanding it, and then trying to apply it accurately with only cast shadows and silhouette, etc. The very attempt to do it well or accurately implies that we're trying to "accomplish [something] specific."

Understanding the purpose of each exercise and setting the right expectation is so important. I probably set my personal expectation/standard too high; I may need to lower it for the time being and just try to execute the exercise (whether it turns out well or not), which may imply not spending so much time, not trying so hard, and not aiming for any particular level of quality.

I know I over-analyze most things: a lifelong weakness: paralysis of the analysis :(

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2:57 PM, Tuesday May 31st 2022

I also found this section very hard and it took me a looong time to do it, both in terms of actual drawing time and because I kept burning out and taking breaks. So I strongly empathise with your frustration, but I do think you are going about this the wrong way. These are exercises and you should be them exactly as described. The lesson lays out a step by step process and the preparatory drawings you're doing aren't included. It's understandable that you feel like going straight in to the exercise doesn't show what you can really do, but another way of looking at it is you're artificially inflating you're results. I'm doing plant construction right now and I know I could get better results by doing practice sketches or blocking things out with pencil first, but that wouldn't show what happens when I go straight in with pen like the exercises ask for. If you're struggling with an exercise then the results should show that.

I don't want to purposefully make crap. I'm not necessarily trying to impress anyone; I just want to learn to draw texture well. I'm not even quite sure how I would go about not trying to do well.

There's a big difference between accepting an ugly result and purposefully drawing sloppily. Just because you don't do any practice first doesn't mean you don't put 100% in to the submission. Be deliberate with your choices and learn from what did and didn't work each time. Uncomfortable keeps stressing that theses exercises are about the process, not producing pretty pictures, so try and use that to measure your success instead. Did you strictly follow the instructions or did you bend the rules to make a better looking picture? I think your textures look very good, but in the long run you will improve quicker if you trust the process.

6:00 PM, Tuesday May 31st 2022
edited at 6:32 PM, May 31st 2022

Thank you for your feedback, Splatted. You make some good points.

I never considered much before today that maybe we're not supposed to study the texture before applying it but rather as we're applying it, without any prior preparation. Oh boy! That sounds scary XD

I'm doing plant construction right now and I know I could get better results by doing practice sketches or blocking things out with pencil first, but that wouldn't show what happens when I go straight in with pen like the exercises ask for. If you're struggling with an exercise then the results should show that.

I understood this when working with lines, ellipses, and boxes, but I guess I thought there was a different expectation when doing these texture exercises with all the talk of studying and understanding the textural forms.

I think I equated good-looking results with having done the exercise well. I also think seeing some of the other incredibly done texture submissions raised the standard I set for myself, especially since others talk about doing preparatory work as part of their process. I don't recall it being emphasized in the lesson that we should not be doing preparatory drawings first. If we are indeed supposed to complete the exercise without initial preparation, then I suppose I shall have to submit to the instructions and dive in without doing any.

Thanks for pointing that out.

Edit: As I've been rereading the instructions for the Dissections exercise, I noticed the following section:

Reason being, your imagination - or what we call your "visual library" - is empty right now. You don't fill it by just knowing certain things exist. You fill it by actively studying those objects, analyzing them in detail and then applying what you've learned about them so as to solidify them in your mind [bold mine].

I suppose this could be taken to mean that, like in the Texture Analysis exercise, we are intended to study the texture prior to attempting to apply it.

As I've read the instructions again, here is my understanding of the Dissection exercise process:

1) Pick a section of your organic form, between two contour lines.

2) Put your pen down. Go find photo reference, or live objects you can look at and study. . . . So, grab some photos of objects with interesting textures . . .

3) Next, look at the texture closely and identify what characterizes it - start by noting the major visual elements (bumps, spots, scales, any sort of visual aspect that you see repeated in a pattern). Then identify how those elements are organized - are they spread out evenly over the surface, or are they grouped together, or do they merge to form larger clumps?

4) Lastly, draw your textures to various parts of the organic form.

You're right; I don't see in that process that we're supposed to do any preparatory drawing, only that we're suppose to do preparatory studying/observing of the texture.

edited at 6:32 PM, May 31st 2022
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11:32 PM, Monday June 6th 2022
edited at 1:17 PM, Jun 7th 2022

I am currently struggling with exactly the same problems as you describe. I have banged my head against this one exercise longer than the 250 box challenge now, felt like I was stupid, lost all motivation and am now dreading to pick up the pen to continue working on this course because it means I have to return to this texture stuff. The only reason I have not quit yet is that I set up multiple external systems like commitment devices that make me continue Allthough i procrastinate on this exercise as much as I can. I have developed an actual headache multiple times while trying to work on this and drawing feels like a punishment by now. I know all the „it‘s not supposed to look nice“ talk and the other advice, but as you pointed out, we know we CAN do this if we put the effort in and not putting in that effort feels like we are not doing it right. With the amount of struggle and absolute misery this exercise causes for me and apparently others, I want to point out three things about it, that massively bother me beyond that I feel too stupid to do the exercise by now:

  1. the instruction page mentions that there are problems with this exercise and lists a few things to keep in mind. The first of which is „do not outline your form“. Yet all the examples given below seem to outline the forms. So does the video. The video also shows gradiation on the sausage which none of the example results in the description does and so on and so forth. So that is the first problem For me: there is no clear target or example to show what to actually strive for. Every example given (written, picture, video, previous analysis exercise) tells us different, contradicting things about what to to. Why in the name of god do you leave the exercise in this state if you know it causes problems? Please be aware that you are actively causing suffering over extended periods of time with this (Weeks to months for some people) for something that seems like you want people to „just try out“ on the side. I am sure if someone is new to drawing that is what they will do. I was stupid enough to start and quit learning how to draw multiple times now however and got stuck in a place where I know what would be „correct“ and that I could get there, but doing so feels like torture by now.

  2. As you mentioned, the feedback on these exercises is a vague „focus on cast shadows and shilouettes“ but what that actually implies is that you draw the shadows without seeing/drawing the shapes first. Not only that but you have to draw them along a curved surface and imagine how the shapes you don‘t see affect the shadows. If one form casts a shadow onto another form, that shadow gets distorted or blocked from view entirely. That is not an easy concept to grasp, especially not for someone just starting out. You have to imagine the entire geometry in your head beforehand to do that (or analyse the texture to death, draw it a million times and gain enough understanding of the shape to improvise shapes of light and shadow as you go. Usually people draw the actual shape a lot for that though.) What is the point of hitting people over the head with so many new concepts at once, this early in the course? Which leads me to 3

  3. What is the point of having this exercise in here this early? All lessons carefully introduce one concept after another (draw straight lines, circles, 1 point, two point and three point perspective, etc) and gives you many exercises to solidify this knowledge. Then you get to texture and you are suddenly supposed to understand observational drawing, light and shadow, microstructure, form casting shadows on other forms on curved surfaces and a completely new technique to render something (cast shadows only). Why do you do this in lesson 2? When I first found drawabox years ago, this exercise is what always stopped me from attempting it myself. This makes it seem like the difficulty jumps like it has seen a tarantula spider all of a sudden and in my opinion is the main reason why people either never start drawabox or quit once they hit this exercise. For what exactly? Later in lesson three you begin to introduce this concept with the bumps on the cactus and it feels way more organic and in tune with the difficulty level.

This is NOT the same as lesson 1 with the rotated boxes that form a sphere. That is challenging, yes, but it uses the concepts introduced before and presents them to us in a challenging way. This texture exercise introduces several new concepts at once AND presents them in a mind bogglingly challenging way. If you want to keep this, why do you not introduce these concepts one at a time like before? The way it is, there is no point to this other than „produce crap results and feel miserable while doing so potentially for months“. This does not get me thinking about texture, this gets me thinking about quitting drawing for good but not before poking out my eyes with the pen first to prevent me from ever trying something so stupid ever again.

So in summary: Even for what it is supposed to be (get us to think about texture) I think this is confusingly described, introduces way too many concepts at once and hits students over the head way too early. Say „only draw to the best of your ability“ all you want that doesn’t make anything better because that is what I am trying right now. It is horrible and nothing killed the joy in drawing for me more than this exercise.

edited at 1:17 PM, Jun 7th 2022
2:19 AM, Saturday June 25th 2022
edited at 2:21 AM, Jun 25th 2022

Hi Vyse,

Sorry, I've not checked my notifications for a while . . . been busy :)

I totally get your frustration. The difficulty and pain is real! I too really dreaded this exercise. The biggest thing that has helped me move forward with this exercise (though, I'm not finished yet; as I said, I've been busy) is to do practically no preparatory drawing before attempting to apply the texture to the sausage. Following this advice likely means you're not going to be happy with the results of your efforts; that's okay. As with the rest of the exercises the goal isn't to produce good work; the goal is to perform the exercise as closely as instructed as possible. I know it's painful to accept that your textures will probably look ugly (because you know that you can do so much better if you just put in enough time and effort); though the texture exercise is incredibly more difficult to do "correctly" than drawing a box and seems so different and more complex, as Splatted pointed out earlier, like with all the other exercises, I don't think we're supposed to try to prepare ourselves too much for this exercise.

Think back to the 2nd "box" of the Texture Analysis exercises (the 1st box was a direct texture study; the 2nd box was for a few notes; and the 3rd box was for a texture gradient from black to white); in that box you had just enough room to take a few notes from your observations and doodle one or two features you noticed; that's it! When doing the Dissections exercise I have found it helpful to skip the initial study from the Texture Analysis exercise and limit myself to the same kind of note-taking before attempting to apply the texture to the form. Again I say, Do your best, but the results will probably turn out far below your standards for what you know you can do if you just put in the time. Please try doing the exercise without too much prep (i.e. just a few notes and doodles; like 15 to 20 minutes of observation before you begin applying the texture) and let me know if it helps; even if you don't like the results, at least you will gain a bit of satisfaction that you're making progress on the exercise.

A note about the status of the Drawabox course: I do know it is frustrating sometimes that the course isn't perfect yet, but do try to remember that Comfy has a lot to do and has to try his best to prioritize his time; he is working on revamping the content. After all, he has provided the drawing community with so much value . . . basically for free (unless you're paying for feedback; even then it's pretty inexpensive). Please be patient and do your best.

I want to comment on what you said here:

Then you get to texture and you are suddenly supposed to understand observational drawing, light and shadow, microstructure, form casting shadows on other forms on curved surfaces and a completely new technique to render something (cast shadows only).

What you said here really resonates with me because this is how I used to feel; though, I will mention that the lesson materials did clearly say that you're probably not going to understand textures yet and that that's okay.

Comfy said:

While we've had some exposure to texture now with the texture analysis exercise, we're not really expected to have any kind of mastery or even comfort with it.

At the end he says:

. . . it might look like a steaming pile of crap, and that's totally fine as well. Just complete the required number of pages to the best of your ability. This is just the beginning.

Try to do a little bit each day: maybe just one or two textures. Don't forget to spend time drawing for fun to keep the flame alive!

This stuff is hard, yes. Tackle it head on. Be humbled by how much you have yet to learn. Press on! And remember, you haven't failed until you give up! I hope to meet you at the finish line!!!

edited at 2:21 AM, Jun 25th 2022
9:40 PM, Sunday February 5th 2023

So after finishing this exercise now and then taking a longer break due to work related reasons, I am now back, working on lesson 3. Since texture is also a topic there and I wanted to read up on some of the things that were explained, I returned and stumbled over this post and your reply. First of all, thank you for taking your time to reply to my rambling back there. I was not in a good place mentally and I guess that showed in the way I phrased this post.

Allthough I am in a better state of mind right now however, I do wish to point out that my main frustration was not that the result did not look good at the end but rather that I never felt like I understood what I was supposed to be doing in the first place. I am fine with an ugly result. I am fine with not having the full picture, too. (I did not fully grasp perspective but I did the rotated boxes exercise nonetheless and it was even fun) What really got to me though, was the way this exercise is presented. As I mentioned, nothing seems to match up. The text, the pictures and the videos all seem to be trying to convey different ideas. There is also no build-up to the concept like in lesson 1 and the exercise introduces multiple new concepts at once. Having at least one or two "correct" examples that are clearly marked as such so it becomes clearer what we are even supposed to strive for would be very helpful. It is a bit like lesson 1 would never really explain perspective or boxes and jumped straight into "Do the rotated boxes exercise and don't feel bad if it turns out ugly. Here are pictures that all convey more or less unrelated topics to help you." Lesson 1 gives you a map and a clear goal, then sets you on a very difficult path to get there. Lesson 2 just says "go over there, no there, no uhm… You know what? Just wander through this marshland somehow. It is difficult, you will probably drown, but don't let that discourage you."

Having a clear goal and no idea how to get there is fine and can be motivating. Having a clear way to go without understanding where it leads can also give valuable insights. Having no clear goal and no clear way to go is what it means to be lost and that is how I felt while doing this exercise.

I understand that Comfy is busy and that this course is free. However, leaving the lesson in this state claiming there is a revamp of everything coming that will be uploaded once everything is perfect rather than providing a few clearly marked correct examples of what we are supposed to be doing in the lesson as it is right now, seems a lot like the kind of perfectionism that we are supposed not to strive for in this lesson. This whole thing may have gotten to me more than others for various reasons, not the least of which being that I was under a lot of stress from work back then. I would still humbly suggest, that a few minor tweaks and examples that match the instructions might prevent a lot of unnecessary headache early on in the course.

2:26 AM, Monday February 6th 2023
edited at 2:29 AM, Feb 6th 2023

Hi Vyse,

I agree; unfortunately (as I recall) the examples weren't aligned with the instructions, but I do think the instructions and exercises were still really valuable. It strengthened my ability to mentally hold a form in my mind and try to project the shadows onto the surrounding forms without actually having to draw it first. I'm still not very good, but I can see the potential value in actually getting that level of control of form and shadow. I think the exercise also helped me grow in my ability to receive instruction, and I also leveled up in Perseverance and Tenacity :)

I hope you're getting along well with Lesson 3. I have yet to begin Lesson 6 as I'm working on making more finished art for now, but I plan to try to carry on with DAB as well.

If Uncomfortable happens to read this comment, I would suggest that maybe he could request permission to use the work of a student who did the exercises correctly as an example until he has time to redo it himself.

edited at 2:29 AM, Feb 6th 2023
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