Many folks I know go out of their way to be unplugged from time to time, and consider it an accomplishment. For me, it just happens periodically when life gets busy or I’m particularly preoccupied, and often it’s a bummer, because I miss cool stuff. Like Inktober!
Inktober is a month-long challenge to artists to create some kind of ink drawing every day — “31 days, 31 drawings” is the tag line artist Jake Parker uses to describe the event he created back in 2009. It’s grown into a huge phenomenon across social media since then. At the moment, if you search Instagram using the hashtag #inktober (go ahead, take a look) you’ll get over a million posts. Search using #inktober2015 and you’ll get over 300,000 and counting. Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ are similarly overflowing with artistic abundance.
I’m a little late to this party, showing up halfway through the month. And I’m shy about showing up at all — ink and paper scare the hell out of me! It’s so…permanent. Unlike working digitally, there’s no “undo” button, and no moving or adjusting things once they’re drawn. Ink requires commitment. Once it’s there, it’s there, and you’ve just got to work with it.
Well, never let it be said I backed down from a challenge. I learn by doing, and I learn a lot by doing new things. So I pedaled over to the Allegheny Art Company in Jenkintown and picked up some supplies to get me started: two Tombow brush pens (one black and one medium grey), three black Micron pens in a range of sizes, one mechanical pencil, and a really nice mixed-media sketchbook by Canson, filled with paper meant to withstand a lot of wet ink without bleeding through the page.
Day 1 for me (and Day 16 for everyone else) was Friday evening. I decided my new journal-of-sketches for this little adventure should have a title page. I was going to do an illustration of the words “Yay! Art!”, but I only got as far as the “Yay!” before bed. Still, it was a nice cheerful start.
I woke up on Day 2 thinking of all the ways in which my “Yay!” sketch failed to exemplify the meaning of the word. Grey, muted, haphazard, and half-assed. Not very yay-like.
Setting those thoughts aside in favor of more positive ones — new toys to play with! — I grabbed my sketchbook and got going. This is what I’ve done since.
A park ranger with a shovel — I like his expression and the feel of the lines, but it’s a little aimless. I added a cute squirrel to distract from that. When in doubt, make it cuter?
Next, I tried a monster and a perplexed bird. Fun, but rough. It looks like something a kid would do with a cheap magic marker.
Feeling like I needed a little direction regarding the use of brush pens, I searched YouTube for tutorials and found one on inking a rose. I found a good photo to use as a reference for my own drawing, and tried to apply what I’d learned.
Much better! I started to feel like I was getting somewhere. I googled “flowers”, looking for something simple with a lot of light and shadow, and found a nice hibiscus. What I learned from drawing this is that simpler shapes are actually harder to shade well, because there’s less to dig into, and fewer details to hide behind. But after an hour or so and a lot of hard work, the result was what you see below, and I’m pretty pleased! I went to bed feeling accomplished, having managed three drawings for Day 2.
On Day 3, I remembered an image of a ladybug I’d referenced for a cartoon sketch a week or two ago, and thought I’d have a go at it again in careful inky detail.
This makes me wonder, though — how did anyone ever manage to draw stuff like this before we had search engines and a wealth of readily available photographs?
Also, what was I thinking, drawing a ladybug with no red ink? That gave me an excuse to go back to the art supply store and buy more pens. So the next day I came home with these to play with:
Having chosen a rainbow of brilliant fall colors, plus a white pen for highlights and a metallic gold pen just because, I decided to dive in and found that blending colors with brush pens is a blast. Remember how when you were little and you played with your Crayola markers, you had to be careful not to ruin the yellow one by using it over any other color? Yeah. With Tombow brush pens, that’s not a problem. The colors blend beautifully on the page, and the markers themselves remain unsullied. Actually, it’s better than that – the lighter color brush pen will pick up a little of the darker color, allowing you to create shading with the in-between colors for the next few strokes before the effect wears off. It’s surprisingly like painting. This discovery presents all sorts of possibilities for color blending that I wouldn’t have imagined, and I’ll have to find more ways to explore that. But I got started with this little sketch of cats playing with falling leaves for Day 4.
Tuesday was Day 5, and I found myself warily watching a spider crawl overhead while I stretched on the floor. That gave me my next idea, and I decided to explore a sort-of anime-like style for it. That was weirdly uncomfortable for me. My sketches are frequently rough or awkward, but they’re still recognizably my sketches, at least to me. Trying on someone else’s style felt a lot like borrowing someone else’s clothes — fun to do, but not quite the right fit. That said, I’ve also found that trying something different sometimes is uncomfortable, but it’s still a learning experience, and that’s usually worth a little uneasiness along the way.
Wednesday…well, it’s late October and Wednesday was 75 degrees and sunny. I weighed the importance of giving this project my all against the dwindling likelihood of summery days for the next 6 months, and the weather won. So my project for Day 6 was just to take the prequel pencil sketch for Day 5’s drawing, and ink it in. I added the lettering this morning, and can’t decide if that’s an improvement or not — but it’s ink, so there’s no taking it back.
What I’ve learned so far is this: drawing with ink is an interesting dance of careful planning and figuring out how to work with your mistakes. It’s like time — we can’t undo what we’ve already done. We can only look at the results and decide what to do next. Just a few days into this, it boggles my mind that buying a pencil for underdrawings was an afterthought. What was I thinking?
I don’t know. What I was feeling was eager enthusiasm, and apprehension that in trying something new, I’d discover I suck at it. Now? I have a lot to learn; who doesn’t? But I think: Yeah. Let’s do this.
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