52 Adventures #27: Taskmaster Art

Last week’s adventure, using the Taskmaster format was so much fun for all of us that Sage was immediately inspired to put together another one for this week. The Taskmaster Format is based on the British television show “Taskmaster” where celebrity contestants are given tasks to perform. Each of them needs to do their best and give them full commitment no matter how difficult it might be. In their case the most successful contestants win the challenges. In my case I don’t win anything. However, the rule still remains that I have to approach the task with positivity and commitment. There’s no phoning it in, no whining or backing out. And to double down on the commitment I broadcast the whole thing live by Instagram and Facebook stories. This week I know one more thing: Sage has put a call out on social media for “Assistance” from some of my friends. What that assistance is, I have no idea.

Near the beginning of the project I included Drawing as a challenge. It was fun and I was surprised at how good I was. At the same time I was fascinated to notice just how easily frustrated and critical of myself I got. I had to push myself so hard to stick with it. I really just wanted to throw the whole thing in the trash from the beginning but I persisted. In the end I was happy with what I created but it was hard work.

Imagine then, how I felt when I opened today’s task in two parts:

“Draw a smiley face”

[…]

“Using mustard.”

One of the great lessons of Taskmaster is that the people who have the most fun and do the best almost always keep their mind open and attack it like it is the most important thing they’re going to do that year. For example, I read “Draw a smiley face using mustard.” and made two decisions. One was that I was not just going to draw this:

The other was something I learned from the show as well: The only rules are those explicitly stated in the task. “Using mustard” was stated. It did not say “Using only mustard” and so just like in the snow, I ask for some more materials: bread, ketchup, mustard, a knife, water, raisins, a plate and a paintbrush.

And then I start work. About ten minutes later I am done.

I had fun making it and unlike the drawing task, I had no inner monologue. It was pure fun with no expectations. Just have fun meeting the task brief. And in the end for some reason I was reminded of the cover of War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” album which meant it was stuck in my head for a while afterward.

I’m presented with the second task. Now that I know the project is related to art I’m on edge. What if it’s something that wakes up my inner critic? Better to just open the task quickly and deal with whatever comes.

“Draw a picture of Heidi” … “Without lifting your pen from the paper.” I’m presented with a photo of my Facebook friend, Heidi:

I start drawing and Daegan starts filming. And then Sage adds a few more rules: I can’t stop moving my pen, and I can’t look at what I’m drawing. OK then! I try to imagine where my pen is on the paper, figuring out how to get to all the pieces of her face – glasses lead to iris of the eye and back out leads to nose and back to glasses then to face and hat and hair and shirt. For all the concentration, the end product ended up being a very abstract interpretation – but oddly enough one that I’m happy with:

A bit on the abstract side, but certainly a creation of sorts. And still no inner critic. The rules were permissive enough, I think, that there is no expectation of any sort. Whatever comes out on paper that’s good. And so I had fun.

Next task is up and again I’m nervous. When is this going to get difficult and stressful?

“Draw a picture of Jenny” … “with fingerpaints”

I actually have documentation of the last time I fingerpainted – Daegan and I did it together in the yurt one day about 20 years ago while Sage was away working on building a website.

I remember it being messy and ridiculously fun with no expectations. I’m pretty excited. I’m given some paper, red, yellow, and blue paints, and Jenny’s photo.

At first I’m a bit intimidated. How will I create a representation of a human in fingerpaints? As you can see from my last work with Daegan it was simply a fun tactical and visual experience – there was no plan to make anything recognizable. And not only that, I only have three colours.

In the end I plan to use it as a suggestion with my only intent being to incorporate her प्यार tattoo. I reach in to the pots with my fingers, slopping colours on to a separate piece of paper, mixing them together to make new ones. There is no aiming to match sweater or skin tone here. And with the size of my fingers, there’s not even a lot of room for detail. It’s just a matter of making it recognizably inspired by the photo.

Part way through I am careless and smear her right eye. Uh-oh. I’m about to give up when Sage suggests that I can blend it back in, cover it up and make it work. I repeat Bob Ross’ declaration “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” And then I do manage to make it work. In the end that turns Jenny’s hair green but it turns out to be a good thing. Happy accident indeed.

The first attempt at fingerpainting Devanagari script is such a challenge that I end up filling the whole sky with blue, making another mistake with yellow paint, turning that in to a sun and then on the third try, getting it close to right. Or at least as good as a person’s fingerpainting penmanship can be.

Still no inner critic. I had fun and kind of like what came out. Amazing! Let’s move on to the next task.

“Draw a picture of Michelle…Upsidedown”

Here’s Michelle:

Though I know that what Sage wants is for me to turn this photo upside down and make a drawing of it upside down on my own paper, I intentionally misinterpret the brief.

It is as uncomfortable as it looks, and actually this is a good thing. Instead of dithering about what I should do, I dive right in, doing what I need to do to get it done. As I do it I’m pleased with how I’m doing at replicating facial features, proportions, glasses and all. What I was not prepared for was that this turned out to be an unintentional psychological experiment. It seems that we draw smiling mouths with their corners turned up regardless of whether or not the face itself is right side up. The same seems true for drawing eyes. The result is that while this is one of the better drawings of a human I’ve made, the end result is that I have a very good (for me) drawing of a human in a far different mood than in the original and than I had planned. Brains are funny things!

There’s a bit of inner critic voice after this one. I feel bad that I made a mistake like this and made a really positive, friendly friend of mine look really upset. But I do my best to let it go. Besides, it’s time for a new task!

“Draw Kathy – as a cartoon character.”

I’m simultaneously terrified and really intrigued by this. I ask Daegan for his fluorescent markers, a pencil, erasers, and a sharpie. We’re heading in to new territory here. I haven’t tried drawing anything cartoonish since Grade 5 when Randy Dickenson would draw amazing images of Garfield during class. I wanted to try and gave cartooning a couple of half-hearted tries, listened to my inner critic and stopped within a week. Here’ is the starting photo:

For inspiration, Daegan and Sage put on a bunch of inspiring cartoon themes from Scooby Doo to He Man to Popeye and even tossed in some Sesame Street music to encourage me to find my inner child – the one that might be more interested in having fun than calling out my mistakes.

And so, I took Kathy to another world – a spinoff from the Red Dwarf series in which she plays Araidne, leader of a nearby planet. Just like Grendel showed us Beowulf from the other side, and Wicked showed us the Wizard of Oz from the other side, we got to see Red Dwarf from the other side – and learned what our favourite protagonists were doing that got them on Araidne’s bad side. Perspective is a good thing.

Of all the artwork I’ve done over the years, this is the one I’m most happy with. It is closest to being on paper what was in my head and seems to have met the standards of my inner critic. World creation is really fun!

The final task comes and even after the positive experience in the five previous tasks, I am still nervous. What will it be? Will I wake the (mostly) sleeping critic?

“Draw Kim…with pastels”

Yikes! This one really scares me. There’s nothing that seems whimsical. This sounds like “real” art – the kind of thing in which the output should look lots like the example I’m given as input. And here I am never having used pastels. How will I possibly do this picture justice?

This will be no mustard creation, no fingerpainting or cartooning. I won’t be able to use “It was upside down!” as an excuse for failing or “I couldn’t even look at the page!” It’s just me, materials and something I need to draw – doubtless exactly like is in the photo above.

I sketch with a pencil, starting with her eyes. I erase them four times and then finally just tell myself “Forget it – they are what they are.” and move on. I try to make her face, erasing and redrawing it. It keeps coming out too round no matter what I do.

And then it occurs to me. “Draw Kim” is all it said. Not “Draw a photorealistic picture of Kim though you’ve drawn more today than you have drawn in the last 40 years combined and have never used pastels.” And so, I look at the face I have on the page. It is really round. And then I realize. It’s the moon. Kim doesn’t have to be exactly as she is in the picture. She’s going to be a celestial body looking down over the earth. And so I fully commit to it. I pick a colour that is close to what I think of as the moon (once in a blue moon!) and colour it in. I add some sky, mountains, trees, and even some water. I’m surprised to find that this, also, is far beyond what I had expected to be capable of. I’m actually pleased with where it went.

In the end, none of these tasks was as difficult or scary as they seemed in the beginning. All of the fear was based completely in an imagined experience of self-criticism that barely happened. And as for the self-criticism, that seems completely tied to one of two things:

Whenever I would feel bad about what I was creating, it was my perception of the gap between what I felt others expected of me – how talented I was – and how talented I thought I was. If the two are equal, I’m happy. If I’m worse than I think people expect me to be I’m exruciated.

The other place self-criticism comes out is when I have my own expectations already developed. I do have an idea of how good I feel I should be at things – even art and if what comes out of my pen doesn’t match what I think should, I get angry with myself.

Nearly every difficulty I have with creativity, performance, or social activity (which in some ways is similar to performance) falls in to those two categories. I used to do improv on stage and had fun with it until I took enough classes to feel that I and everyone I knew expected me to be at a level much higher than I was. Then I couldn’t bear to be on stage anymore. And while I have been studying Hindi for a while, I do often feel bad that I still struggle with vocabulary. This one is a great example of it being fully internally driven. Everywhere in India people were surprised and happy with what I was able to do – and I was able to communicate with people, get my point across, do public speaking and even speak to television cameras in Hindi. But as the month went on, I would have moments where I would lose the thread of a conversation or couldn’t completely follow Jumanji 2 when it was in Hindi and would immediately criticize myself for not being as good as I thought I should be. At least in the case of Hindi I am blessed to have a teacher who understands me so well that she can tell when I’m feeling this way and scolds me, telling me to be more patient with myself.

Today’s experience taught me an incredibly good lesson by answering the question: What happens if you approach something you’ve decided you’re bad at with no expectations whatsoever? Who has good fingerpainting skills? Who can make a masterpiece with mustard? Not so many people. Therefore I had no expectations and just did the task and had fun with it. I am hopeful I can take that lesson elsewhere into my creative life.

And with that I can tell you: in 90 minutes I’ll be going to another improv class. Let’s see if I can approach that again, this time without so many expectations of myself.

4 thoughts on “52 Adventures #27: Taskmaster Art

  1. Thanks Todd
    Of all your posts this one touched me deeply as someone struggling with high expectations and working on them since quite a while. Your sincerity made me feel in company. Thanks. Elif Barut

    1. Thanks! As you know it’s good to know you’re not alone in this. Thanks for commenting. This particular task was really good as it showed the absurdity of having such high expectations for something that didn’t matter at all to my day to day life.

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