250 Box Challenge
Welcome to the crucible. If you haven't completed lesson 1 yet, you should go and do that first.
This exercise is probably what Drawabox is best known for (and perhaps most reviled). Which is kind of unfortunate, given that it's a pretty basic exercise. As one might imagine, you draw a box - then do it again another 249 times.
I cover it (partially) in my notes about the organic perspective exercise, but before we get to drawing, I don't want you leaving thinking that this is all there is to the exercise. Some people rush off without getting all the instructions, and fail to make the most of the arduous task. There's a little more to it, which is explained in the video as well as below.
Drawing through your forms
This exercise is all about developing your understanding of 3D space and how forms can be manipulated within it. In order to do this most effectively, we can't be thinking about what we draw as being lines on a flat page, or simple flat shapes. We need to work towards understanding how each form sits in 3D space.
The first step towards this is to draw through our forms. That is, drawing all the edges, including those that we cannot see. Think of it like you have x-ray vision. We already did some of this in lesson 1.
Doing this forces us to understand to a much greater degree how the forms we draw exist in space. You may find it difficult to do so, and may find that often times the "back corner" fails to fit with the rest. This is completely normal. As we draw a box, we regularly make small mistakes in our angles and trajectories of our edges. We compensate for them as we continue to build out our box. This accumulation of mistakes always falls on the lines that have yet to be drawn, and if we're not drawing through them, it becomes quite easy to get by without having to deal with the issues present. Once we draw that back corner however, we're forced to come to terms with our blunders.
Checking our convergences
Noticing and identifying our mistakes is a major part of the learning process, and sometimes it's not necessarily something we can pick up on easily with the naked eye. For this reason, I recommend that you apply the following technique to each and every box you draw for this challenge.
Once you've completed drawing a page of boxes, grab a pen of a different colour and a ruler and start extending your lines back in space - meaning, towards their implied vanishing points. You don't have to extend it all the way (usually this will be impossible due to vanishing points falling way off the page), but extend them as much as you reasonably can.
By looking at how a given set of parallel lines (that is, a set that is meant to converge towards a single vanishing point) actually behaves, we can identify patterns in our mistakes.
Apply the extensions upon the completion of each page. Not after each box, and not after you're done all 250.
Do not extend in the wrong direction
As there's a lot to take in, sometimes students move forward without fully understanding what the line extension method really means, and as a result, extend their lines in the wrong direction. This gives them no useful information, leaving them uncertain and confused.
Our lines must be extended AWAY from the viewer, towards the implied vanishing point, never towards the viewer. Make sure that when you are about to extend your lines, that you think about which side of the box is pointing towards you, the viewer.
Sometimes students will feel that they need to extend their lines in the direction that they converge, but this is incorrect. Sometimes, because we have drawn the initial box incorrectly, our lines will diverge as they move farther away from us. This is the kind of mistake we are trying to identify by extending the lines.
Since we apply this technique after we've completed a full page of boxes, it may be a little difficult to identify which side of the box is which (since we're drawing through our boxes). In order to avoid this, you can fill one of the faces pointing towards the viewer with tight hatching (as shown in this example, as well as in the next section) when you draw the box itself. That way, when you come back to it, its orientation in space will be much clearer.
Easy way to extend correctly
If the section above on line extension direction isn't really making sense to you right now, don't worry. Here's a handy approach to ensuring that you're extending them correctly.
It all works off the Y method we introduce in the video, where the Y we start with defines 3 edges that meet at the corner closest to the viewer.
If you start by extending along each "arm" of the Y from that central point, you'll guarantee that you're extending them in the right direction. That'll give you one line extension for each set of edges, which will tell you how to extend the other edges of each set.
One technique that is extremely useful both in reinforcing the illusion of solidity in our forms and in helping to organize our linework and clarify how different forms overlap is the use of line weight. Basically, it means making certain lines thicker than others (by going back over them with a confident, planned stroke).
When adding line weight to a box, there are a few things to remember. Weight is relative. You're not going in to make one line extremely bold on its own. You're going in to make it subtly thicker than another. This doesn't require the addition of much extra thickness, just enough to set it apart. Our subconscious will pick up on this difference even if our eyes don't immediately, and will understand the kind of hierarchy this is creating.
Line weight to clarify overlaps
In this challenge, you can practice adding line weight (which involves going back over the line, like in the super imposed lines exercise, and using the ghosting method to ensure a confident stroke) along the boxes' silhouettes, but when we get into drawing actual objects (Lesson 3 onwards), we'll use it in a more limited fashion - specifically as a tool to help clarify how different forms overlap one another, restricting it to the specific areas where those overlaps occur. You can see this demonstrated with these two overlapping leaves.
Don't worry about this right now - I just wanted to point out that, as with everything we learn here, line weight is a tool, and it is important to always think about what we're meant to achieve through its use, rather than applying it blindly and without purpose or clear intent.
As explained in the extra box notes of lesson 1, a box with a lot of dramatic, rapid foreshortening, with its vanishing points positioned close to the form itself, is going to suggest a very large scale or an object that is right up to the viewer's eye. Alternatively, shallower foreshortening with far-off vanishing points and minimal convergence towards them is going to imply an object that is either at a more human scale, or simply very far away.
I want you to make sure you practice both of these, perhaps with a bit more of a lean towards the shallower foreshortening. These will be especially relevant in later lessons as we use boxes to construct more complex objects, due to most things we're drawing not being so immensely large. Still, it is valuable to get used to both situations, as they both pose different kinds of challenges.
Width of opposite ends
This was initially pointed out in the cylinder challenge, but it is entirely relevant here as well. As explained back in lesson 1's ellipses, if you have a plane in 3D space, and you turn that plane slowly to face away from you, it will steadily get narrower and narrower. In terms of an ellipse enclosed within that plane, this is the degree of that ellipse gradually decreasing.
When we have a box floating in 3D space, unless you're looking right down the barrel of one of its faces, either end of this box is going to be sitting at a slightly different orientation relative to the viewer. That is, the angle of the planes' orientation in space will be different. The more space there is between these faces, the more different that orientation will be. This goes for any of the three pairs of faces in a box.
As a result, the farther end of the box is always going to be wider (and therefore be oriented more towards the viewer) than the closer end. This is an important point to keep in mind when thinking of how your boxes fit in 3D space.
Generally speaking, this idea of the proportional width (we're not talking about overall size, just the width in proportion to the plane's scale) being related to a flat surface's orientation in space is pretty important, and will come up in cylinders as well as in any kind of cross-section of a form.
Some mistakes still come up frequently amongst students, so this reminder will hopefully keep you on the right track:
Do not draw your boxes with lines that are actually parallel on the page. Back in Lesson 1 we talked about how a vanishing point can go to "infinity", eliminating the convergences of the lines it governs. This is not something we can just arbitrarily do for everything - it only happens when that given set of lines runs perpendicular to the viewer's angle of sight. Since we're drawing boxes that are freely and randomly rotated in space, make sure all of your boxes' lines converge, whether gradually and slightly or quickly and dramatically.
It is extremely important that you ensure that your line extensions point away from the viewer, as their purpose is to help us analyze how those lines behave (whether they converge or diverge) as they move farther away. If they're extended towards the viewer, then it kind of renders the line extension analysis pointless, since it doesn't tell us how we can improve our next page of boxes.
Don't worry about the back corner being off. The back corner is a distraction - a symptom of the individual sets of lines not converging consistently. This is not something you're going to master here, so that back corner will always be at least a little off, and if all you're focusing on is the back corner, it's going to feel like you're not making progress, when in fact you are. Focus on the sets of lines, and making them converge as consistently as you can.
Vary your boxes. Don't just draw the same box over and over. Vary its orientation, its rate of foreshortening/convergence, and so on.
Number your boxes. It helps us immensely in case the pages are uploaded out of order (which happens frequently since imgur is kind of a pain about that), and also allows us to call out specific boxes easily in our critiques.
In order to complete this challenge, you must draw the following, in either fineliner/felt tip pen (ideally) or ballpoint pen:
- 250 boxes, drawing through each one, and applying the line extension method to check for errors after completing each page (not after each box).
Try to stick to 5-6 boxes per page (assuming you're working with the recommended A4, 8.5"x11" sheets of paper), in order to give yourself enough room to draw each box at a reasonable size while also leaving some space to extend your lines. Also, if you're having trouble thinking up orientations for your initial 'Y', you may use this tool, which was created by our own community member, Eric Na in your first 100 boxes to get comfortable. After that however, I'd like you to create your own arbitrary Ys.
Staedtler Pigment Liners
These are what I use when doing these exercises. They usually run somewhere in the middle of the price/quality range, and are often sold in sets of different line weights - remember that for the Drawabox lessons, we only really use the 0.5s, so try and find sets that sell only one size.
Alternatively, if at all possible, going to an art supply store and buying the pens in person is often better because they'll generally sell them individually and allow you to test them out before you buy (to weed out any duds).