Let's Talk: Why You Should Skip the Three Marker Challenge

Why you should skip most marker challenges! | VanillaArts.com

Creative minds need to stay occupied

That whole "idle hands/devil's workshop" thing is pretty true when it comes to gifted people. Especially when creative adults congregate in small groups.

Back in art school, when we were young and convinced that we were the most talented geniuses to ever squat on this planet... well, we got bored pretty easily. Given that in one of our classes, we drew a single toaster for an entire semester (not kidding), you can understand why we started dumb challenges.

I'll bet you can't draw sixteen different dog breeds on this napkin in 4 minutes or less!

I'll bet you can't draw an accurate likeness of Jane using just this sticky fragment of vine charcoal that I found in the trash!

I'll bet you can't recreate Vitruvian Man using only spaghetti noodles!

Yep, that's what art nerds do when they run out of real stuff to do.

So I smiled when the whole Three Marker Challenge thing on YouTube started trending. It's been a long time since anyone dared me to MacGyver a masterpiece using two rubberbands and a wad of C-4. It's fun to watch other artists have fun.

Stand-on-your-head, color blindfolded, use-your-feet, and here's a scribble, make something out of it challenges are the way artists bond with each other. Look what I can do. Hey, try this. Wouldn't it be funny if Mark had to...

The only thing that has changed about the art-challenge culture is that now the youngin's are publishing the antics on YouTube. That stuff used to happen in dorm hall dining rooms, not out in public.

Let me state for the record: I don't mind people posting hi-jinks online. I think it's great that artists can show off their talents, develop a fan base, AND supplement their income while having fun with their peers.

But I've started noticing a downside to the well mannered frivolity

When you follow an artist over a period of time on YouTube, by watching their process in slow-motion detail, a lot of people begin to think "Hey, what they do is sooooooo easy! I can do it too!"

Which can indeed be true. Maybe you really can color/draw/paint just like your favorite internet star.

But for the vast majority of viewers...

....how do I say this gently?

You can't.

You haven't spent long semesters drawing toasters. You haven't spent years in life drawing sessions sketching really homely naked people. You haven't trained and sweated and drawn until 4 in the morning and then still got a D on the project because the perspective was off just a smidge. You haven't worked for a jack-ass clients and demanding art directors.

Please keep this in mind when you watch an artist make magic out of 3 highlighters on a piece of birch bark

You are watching a well trained and practiced person take their talents, skills, and vast knowledge base and make the most out of a crappy set of circumstances.

You're also watching an inside joke; one that you are not a part of. Just like weight lifters and surgeons, artists like to show off their skills by challenging established limitations. The lifter who presses the most weight, the surgeon who perfects the first head transplant, and the artist who figures out how to make Y99 plus RV02 look attractive- they all take victory laps in front of their peers.

I did it! Look at me! You didn't think it could be done but I showed you!

Beginning colorers should skip the crazy coloring challenges

Unless it's one of those color-every-day-for-a- month, week, or fortnight kind of challenges, please don't do it.

It is not for you.

I've seen two cases this month and I suspect this will be cropping up more and more.

Hey Facebook friends! I took the three marker challenge but I can't seem to get these markers to blend. Any tips?

Hello artists- I saw this online thing and tried it myself. What went wrong?

It takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill

Now I do not know about you, but I don't have a lot of free time to sit down and practice my Latin vocabulary or my blindfolded steeple chasing technique.

Time is precious. We have to ignore the dishes that need doing, put on kid-cancelling headphones, and hang a "YOU DISTURB, YOU DIE!!!" sign on the craft room door before we can log in any coloring practice time.

Productive Copic coloring time is a rare treat, so why would you waste it trying to color a seascape using E59, Y38, and YR000?

You learn what you practice

If the plan is to become famous for coloring with your feet, then by all means, take the challenge. Have at it.

But if you're still learning to color in the lines, to form basic blends, to color smoothly... you've got no business trying to do any of that stuff while standing on your head.

I know your coloring hero can do it, I've seen the video too. When you've practiced as much as she has, you'll be able to do it also.

But not right now.

You're not ready for it yet.

Would you ever strap rollerskates on toddler?

Nope. That's cruel. A baby deserves the chance to learn to walk on solid ground before you add wheels to the mix.

But it's okay for a nine year old to try roller skates. In fact, they might learn something from it. How to brace oneself for a fall, the importance of equilibrium. When you're a pro at walking, you can benefit from skating.

By the same token, Michael Phelps might gain something from swimming laps dragging a grand piano along side. That's because he has the muscle and the training and the know how to make the best of this seemingly impossible challenge.

When you watch someone really good try to color with three crazy markers, you can watch them go through the Michael Phelps piano process. At first, they struggle with the materials, then they get to know the colors and how they interact. Then they start thinking about what techniques they know to adjust the value, saturation, and interaction between the three inks. And sometimes their training or talent totally takes over and they conquer the marker combination. It's fun to watch that magic happen.

But that doesn't mean you can do the same thing with only a few months of marker experience.

As I said, there's something weird about the YouTube art experience...

You watch someone color twice and suddenly you feel like best friends. And best friends can do everything together, right?

And yet I doubt you will watch this video and suddenly start doing back flips off the side of parking structures.

And I'll bet you were able to watch a few episodes of The Apprentice without deciding to run for president.

Save the crazy coloring challenges for when you're fully grown

It's okay to be a coloring toddler. There's no shame in having beginner level skills.

In fact, I greatly admire the accountants, human resource managers, and engineers who take a look at Copic markers and say "I want to learn to do that".

Cradle yourself during this time of early learning. Don't be so quick to take on more than you can manage.

Don't strap a grand piano on your back when you barely know how to swim. Instead of impressing Michael Phelps, he'll be dragging you out of the pool with an ambulance crew watching.