20-Day Drawing Challenge

“Kaboom” Iron Man drawing by James Minson

“Draw yourself as a Simpson character.” Who would have thought Facebook could be so much fun?

It was a simple little event, a 20-day drawing challenge set up by a Melbourne artist who goes by the name SevenHz. He listed 20 different topics, things like “draw something from your childhood” and “redesign a movie poster”. Four weeks of drawing, five drawings per week.

I fell into the challenge by accident after seeing it on my friend James’ timeline. On a whim I thought I would try to keep up with a different scribble of my own each day.

Note I used the word scribble. I am a writer, not an artist. I paint my best pictures with words.

So I gave it a go.

05 Tentacles

Each day I posted a quick sketch on the drawing challenge’s Facebook page.

06 Insect

Most other people’s pictures were downright incredible. I was outclassed on all sides. I should have run for cover.

12 bird video game

I didn’t, because the community I found myself in was infectiously positive. Everyone cheered and commented on each other’s work. The challenge gathered momentum with collective waves of enthusiasm. It became the artistic equivalent of those street dance-offs where everyone, no matter who they are, gets high-fived for busting out their best funky moves.

15a jawa

The encouragement was genuine and it made me want to do better.

11 Nose explorer

Sure, other drawings were more impressive than mine but the generous nature of the community meant this inspired rather than demoralised. By the end of the challenge I was spending hours on my pictures instead of minutes.

17 Napoleon Dynamite

It got me thinking about excellence. Excellence takes a power of hard work.

On the last day of the challenge my friend James did a drawing of Iron Man walking away from an explosion. The theme for that day was simply “Kaboom!” And boy, did James kaboom it. Suddenly Iron Man is the coolest guy in the world.

When people do impressive things it can be tempting to assume that their skill has arrived fully formed. Don’t ever be fooled by apparent effortlessness. Excellence is no accident.

There is natural talent, sure, but natural talent is nothing without lots of practice and preparation. It would have taken James ages to get that picture right. I also know that he has invested hundreds if not thousands of hours honing his drawing skills.

I have enjoyed a few online speeches lately called The Moth where people stand at the microphone without notes and tell a personal story. It looks natural, it looks effortless, but I know that many hours have gone into getting those speeches just right.

Jerry Seinfeld made an awards speech some years ago where he said, “Do you know how hard it was just to write what I’m saying to you right now? It was hard. This took a long time.”

I love that admission because it reminds me that nothing comes easy even when you’re at the top of your game.

There are no short cuts. If I ever want to draw my own super cool Iron Man I will need to knuckle down and invest a whole lot of time into my drawing skills.

Realistically, I will probably keep my scribbling as a whimsical hobby. In the meantime I appreciate the community of artists who welcomed me without judgement into their space.

It is satisfying to note that my boys have been drawing more furiously over the past couple of weeks because they saw me working on my own pictures. Inspiration is like an infection. Excellence is the best infection ever. Thanks, Drawing Challenge.

Marcel Simpson

First published in Bay of Plenty Times 24 April 2015. Reproduced with permission. Totally cool Iron Man drawing by James Minson. (Cool guys don’t look at explosions.)

See also: Natural talent versus hard work