100 Days of Number Project

May 12, 2016 was just another day. Like any other day in the last two years of my life, I woke up to an Instagram feed full of food pictures, selfies, travel photography and what not. But this time around, some things started to stand out in my otherwise mundane feed: letters, doodles and other art people across the world were posting as part of the #100dayschallenge.

Each of these talented folks had picked a single idea — and relentlessly pursued it for hundred days or more. For nearly three months, Tiantian was doing lettering, Pui was transforming lyrics into cute doodles while Desirée was bringing out the beauty in tiny things like I’ve never seen before. These projects not just demonstrated their creativity, but also the discipline they had in taking a project from scratch to finish.

These hundred-day Instagram shots also set me thinking.

What can I do for the next hundred days that would push me out of my comfort zone, set me on a challenge to learn new stuff, and would also be fun as I pursue it?

For the next two weeks, I was preoccupied with coming up with an idea for my very own #100dayschallenge. I thought I’d do a web layout a day, but that would have been squarely inside my comfort zone. A hundred doodles would have been fun, but I wanted something a little more more challenging, and different.

100 days. 100 doodles. Doesn’t sound as exciting.
100 days. 100 layouts. Umm.. no. 
100 days. 100 artworks based on watercoloring. Umm no.

The epiphany struck me just as the number 100 was ringing on my head over and over again: what if I just take the first hundred numbers and draw them in perspectives I’ve never imagined before?

I thought an abstract idea like this would take me on a journey where I could experiment drawing these numbers in different ways. I could see a number in line art one day, and go off track to draw another in modern art, on another. And on another day, I could play around with 3D if I wanted to. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I’d gone on to do a hundred day project that was all about interfaces and layouts.

100 days of 100 number perspectives. 
Slightly meta? Yeah. Weird? May be.
Challenging? Hell yeah.

And so began my #numberproject with day 0.

The Head Start

Going from #0 to #30 was like zipping through the lane in zero traffic: perspective ideas for each number rolled in momentum. I didn’t have to do a lot of thinking, because inspiration flew in from pretty much everywhere at that point. All I had to do was block out some time at the end of my day to draw out numbers that had already taken shape in my mind.

In hindsight, drawing the initial set of numbers wasn’t as challenging, because the perspectives I had imagined were pretty straightforward. Zero was flat, #5 was like a ball, #7 was speed, #8 was an easy twist — you get the drift. The first three to four weeks of the #numberproject weren’t really super difficult because I think I was just getting started. If you notice my work from those days, you’d see the perspectives weren’t that complex.

Things were rosy and good till I hit #30. That’s when I felt like I had hit the middle of the dip curve. My mind was locked in perspectives I had already seen — I felt like giving up at #50 and quitting the project.

But I managed to keep going anyway because I thought if I can hit the ball rolling on the next few perspectives, things would just turn out to be fine.

The Road From 30 to 60s:

In many ways, this phase was sort of like rediscovering the kid in me. Just like we must have conjured up our own imagery in clouds when we were young, I spotted things that looked like numbers in clocks, lights, trucks, ceilings — pretty much everywhere. Sometimes, I took inspiration from arrangements, shapes and architectural structures during my regular work commute and mentally took note of them so I can reference them later.

Here’s how I got some inspiration for #67

By this time, the #numberproject almost became a parallel universe I lived in. With the inspiration part figured out now, all I had to do was go back home and connect the dots every night before I began my #numberproject ritual.

The Final Lap:

Going from 60 to 100 was a zip through again, but for entirely different reasons. I sort of had the map I wanted to get to the ideas and perspectives — it was all around me!

And I was well outside my ‘dip curve’.

I had figured out how to get to 60, so with all that confidence, I thought I can definitely survive this final lap. From around the 60th day, I had all the time in the world to try out challenging, fun perspectives that I hadn’t tried before, because I now had loads of time to work on the perspectives themselves, than looking for ideas. And with all that focused effort on number perspectives, my work struck a chord with the people who saw them on Instagram and Facebook.

My friends and colleagues walked up to me and told me what they saw in each of these numbers — their views sometimes a world apart from my own. I drew #88 with a tunnel perspective in mind, but for other people, it was a tiny capsule. For some others, it was a bent pipe. For a lot of others, it seemed like meat :D My idea for #63 was the top view of a snow cone, but for others, it looked more like a chat bubble.

This was perhaps the funnest part of the working on the #numberproject: watching how people were now interpreting my art in more interesting ways than before.

It’s during this stage I happened to sketch out some of my favourite numbers: #76, #90, #94 and loads more. Take a look and tell me what you see in these numbers :)

Everything I learned doing the #numberproject

1. Connecting the dots

No matter what you pick for your #100days project, there’s inspiration literally everywhere. All you need to learn is actively look for it, connect the dots and figure out what you want to be inspired by :)

2. Quieting the lizard brain when it tells you to quit

The fun is in overcoming the resistance you feel when you want to quit. For me, that happened during the #30 to #60 days, so if you figure a way to cross that period, you’ll certainly be on a roll later.

3. Stepping outside your comfort zone

I’ve always been cautious about colors I use in my digital layouts, but doing the #numberproject led to trying out shades I’d have never experimented with otherwise.

4. Figuring out your route to creativity

As you keep executing, you’ll figure out what you need to do to come up with creative ideas. Once you sense that route, it gets easier than you’d expect, and you’ll watch the quality of your work improve.

If you liked this, click the💚 below. You can find me on Instagram here and on Dribbble here.