Lessons Learned from Conquering the Beast That Is the Dissections Exercise!

3:09 AM, Saturday August 20th 2022

I finally finished the Dissections exercise after several months of painstaking effort, and I'd like to share some lessons I learned from this boss-battle of an exercise. Long post ahead . . .

I'll try to rank the lessons/tips I learned in descending order of significance:

1) This is only an exercise. So much of completing this exercise revolved around my mentality. As you can read in my last post about this exercise, Severe Struggles with Lesson 2 Dissections. Help!, I had some seriously erroneous expectations (thanks again Splatted for the much needed advice). I really looked forward to the Dissections exercise as an opportunity to learn to texture well. WRONG. While you will learn much about textures through this exercise, it is still ultimately an exercise about learning to observe and doing your best within a reasonable amount of time, not about creating beautiful textures. I had rules in my mind forbidding me from doing an ugly texture if at all possible. After all, I was here to learn to accurately represent textures, not produce garbage results; so I stubbornly (and somewhat ignorantly) committed to spending hours on studying each texture before even daring to begin applying it to the sausage; I had read other users talk about spending such extensive time studying their textures and thought it was a good idea; unfortunately getting familiar with each texture so intimately meant that I could see my errors that much clearer which made executing a texture poorly even more painful. While learning to deeply study, observe, understand, and represent textures is a valuable skill that I do think will serve me well in the long-run, I ultimately had to bend my will to accept somewhat dissatisfactory results in order to march on and finish the exercise.

2) Time-limits/deadlines are your friend. I found it extremely helpful and important to give myself a time-limit for each texture: in the end I spent 5 minutes to study and observe a texture (mostly taking notes, but also drawing a couple diagrams to aid my understanding) and 20 minutes to apply it to the sausage form, unless it was for the end part of a sausage; then I only gave myself 10 minutes or less to apply it. I've used the Intervaly app for quite a while for other applications and I made good use of it here; I like how it works (mostly) and it's free with no adds or other unnecessary app permissions. Once the time for a texture was up, I decided I would abandon the texture and move onto the next one; this means some of my textures were not as complete as I would prefer, but it helped me to focus during the time allotted, to do my best, and also to let go a bit of my need for the results to be amazing or near perfection (whatever that would even look like). This timing structure may not work well for you, but it is exactly what I needed to keep moving forward.

3) Don't get stuck in the bog of reference-gathering. Looking back, if I had to do this exercise all over again, I would apply two rules to my reference-gathering: 1) gather no more than 5 references per texture (I might be sort of loose with this, but not too much; you may only need 1 or 2), and 2) set a very brief time limit for gathering reference (e.g. spend 5-10 minutes searching for some quality reference for a set of textures; then stop, close the web browser, and use the reference you gathered to work on the exercise for the next couple hours; when you run out of textures, set another very brief timer and get reference for your next batch; I find that spending too much time just looking at reference kills my motivation and ruins my mindset -- I get lazy and stuck in study mode, which is a place I love to be, instead of working mode, where I need to be most of the timep). Of course, I use the PureRef program to organize my reference and would continue to do so; it just works so perfectly.

4) Don't forget to enjoy yourself; larger chunks of focused work may help. I've also been trying to take time to draw for fun which is part of what's slowed me down, but it's still really important. Going forward I may devote larger chunks of time to work on exercises and larger chunks to drawing for fun; I seem to function better when I can focus on one thing for extended periods of time without having to switch modes and do something else; I think this is at least good advice for my current schedule. When I am able to sit down at the same time for the same amount of time everyday and maintain some consistency, then I'd probably prefer to spend some time learning each day and some drawing for fun; but with how unpredictable my schedule has been, I think making big steps of progress and then spending long, focused time enjoying myself will help maintain my positivity and motivation. Cal Newport's book Deep Work is a great read on the topic of focus, creativity, and productivity; I highly recommend it.

5) Sometimes you just have to power-grind though. This one's very similar to the last one. I put it near the end because ideally a person would set aside a consistent amount of time every day and make steady progress, but as I said, I have a rather inconsistent schedule recently most days (partly my own fault with lack of prioritization and discipline, but also due to some external factors outside of my control that demand varying quantities of time from day to day). Near the end I was super frustrated by my stagnation and painfully slow progress on this one; so after getting really frustrated about wasting a couple hours one night just looking at and studying reference, I sat down for two nights in a row for 5-hour and 2-hour sessions to finish that last page. I understand that most people wouldn't be able to put in that kind of time in such a concentrated way, but I was so frustrated and hungry to be done with this exercise that I made the call to just do it, even though it meant losing a chunk of sleep, which I've been working to gain back :)

6) Draw the silhouette first. I did find it generally helpful to start with the silhouette (as I believe Comfy recommends). Drawing an outline of the forms at the edge first helps in a few ways: 1) it gives you some forms to begin working inward from instead of just trying to drop cast shadows on all completely imagined forms (though, you'll still end up having to do a lot of that anyway); 2) it can serve as a reminder/indication for what the forms look like on the page; though, don't forget to study your reference frequently as you apply the texture; and 3) it helps to indicate the scale you'll be drawing your texture at, which is important to consider.

7) It's still hard. Surprise! Going into this exercise, I may have sort of thought that I'd be some level of a pro by the end, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I'm super happy to have done and be done this exercise (though, I honestly feel a bit numb) and I'm excited to move on to the next one; I do feel the exercise got a quite a bit easier as I went, but not by a whole lot; my brain slowly began to comprehend the required task, but I still find it quite challenging; I think I might just have a bit more courage to begin now, not fearing the results so much.

Wherever you are, whatever you're feeling, keep going! Take breaks if necessary, but don't stay down. Don't fear asking for help; the community is here to offer you support and sometimes a different perspective; if you're putting in the effort and are not getting the results you expect, perhaps your expectations need to be adjusted by someone farther along the journey; keep an open mind; we are students after all.

Wishing you all peace, love, & progress . . .

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