Inktober was the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time. I didn’t join in until halfway through, but for two very intense weeks it felt like I was going to art school. Almost every day, I spent a good chunk of time drawing. And I spent a lot of time looking at other people’s Inktober posts, mostly on Instagram and Google+, but also on Twitter. I saw what I liked and what I didn’t. I looked really, really hard at what grabbed me and tried to figure out why — what worked about it? What made it compelling? What parts did I know how to do, and what seemed magically out of my reach? And for the techniques that fell into the latter camp, could I find tutorials on YouTube that might help me figure them out?
It was a new experience for me to set glowing screens aside, and just put pen and pencil to paper. Each drawing was an exploration — can I do this? And then, I’d pick up my phone or my tablet, share what I’d done, and scroll through social media to see what everyone else was posting. That part was like rafting down a huge, gushing river of creativity, filled with gorgeous art ALL THE TIME. Participating in Inktober was both an intensely focused quiet time spent developing my skills, and a loud, boisterous, funny, inspiring worldwide art party, and I could switch between the two at will. It was exciting to be a part of it. It was encouraging to see so many amazing artists go out on a limb and push themselves, and express their uncertainty, and share what they’d done anyway. We were all trying to do more than we knew how, and together we created a flood of crazy chaotic beauty.
Jake Parker, who started Inktober back in 2009, reposted some of the best of what people did to his account @inktober on Instagram, and that collection is a great place to find artists to follow. Of the artists I’ve discovered this month, some of my favorites are @chicotown, @wolforchid, @jim_bryson, @kim_notsopoopy, @kommoss_illustration, @waihonng, @hiyaitsgaia, @foxytrot, @emzpens, @larsotterclou, and @jlacera.There are so many others. Inktober may be over, but the internet continues to overflow with creativity. Spend some time searching your favorite social media for hashtags like #art, #sketch, #drawing, or #painting — I guarantee you will be blown away by at least some of what you find.
You can see the first nine drawings I did in my previous post about Inktober. The tenth was a sketch of two bunnies bathing. A bunny-person I follow saw this, and actually recognized the bunnies from yet another bunny-person we both follow. None of us know each other, but we recognize each other’s bunnies. Silly things like that are also part of the fun of Instagram.
The next day found me at my mother-in-law’s house. I got to combine drawing with a few hours of quiet family time.
Much to my surprise, the bunnies above produced a flurry of attention from bunny lovers, and one politely asked me to draw her bunny Chloe. Chloe is usually found wearing at least one, and sometimes several, pink accessories. Usually a pink bow or some such on her head, sometimes a little pink frock, and sometimes a pink halter collar so she can explore the outdoors. This blows me away, because my bunny would be all “HELL NO!” and just eat anything like that instead of wearing it. But Chloe bunny is clearly quite content. I posted a rough outline of her portrait for Sketch #12. It’s not nearly as cute as Chloe herself, though, so I may have to have another go at this at some point.
But first, in order to finish it, I needed some more pens. So I went back to the Allegheny Art Company and picked up a variety of browns, greys, green and black. For an inexpensive pen, I really like the Pigma fine point black – it can create much finer lines than any of the Tombow pens, and is more flexible and responsive than the Faber-Castells.
Somewhere in the midst of all this I went back and added color to the ladybug sketch from Day 3. I was nervous about doing it, but I really, really love the intensity of the red, so I’m glad I did.
Sketch #13 was uninspired — a page of cartoon faces just so I could say I did something. That was an odd day for Inktober, in that it seemed like a lot of folks were struggling. I looked online, and saw post after post of half-hearted drawings accompanied by the words “I got nothing” or “out of ideas” or “having an off day”. Inktober was collectively tired.
On October 28th, everyone seemed to get a jolt of energy for the home stretch. For myself, I woke up to discover that my Instagram account had made it to 100 followers — holy cow!
I did a second drawing that day, based on a photo of a friend’s daughter. Her posture, the way her feet were at odd angles and her knees turned in was just so beautiful in its awkwardness — a perfect picture of a tentative tween. I tried to capture it, and mostly missed the mark. Also, a painter I admire has suggested I should pay more attention to backgrounds. What I learned from doing this one is that I find drawing backgrounds to be really tedious unless they are directly supportive of the story of an image. In that way, I probably think more like a cartoonist than a painter. I put a lot of time into a background that really didn’t need to be there.
The next day, I tried the same subject for Sketch #16. I skipped doing a pencil underdrawing for the first time since Day 2, and the result is a bit haphazard.
I did another drawing, again of my friend’s daughter, but this time a bust from a different angle.
For Sketch #18, I remembered a photo a friend had posted to Facebook of herself as a little girl wearing a bunny costume. I had a lot of fun drawing this one. I’m not sure I should have bothered with a background for this one, either, but the light in the original black and white photo was truly wonderful, and I wanted to try to recreate it.
I woke up on October 31st with no idea what to draw for the last day, but wanting to finish with something eye-catching. My husband and I went out for a skate around our neighborhood, and saw that someone had toilet-papered some of the neighborhood trees for Mischief Night. It was really windy, and I was struck by how the ribbons of paper billowing in the breeze were oddly beautiful. I also had a new pen to try out: the Pentel Arts Pocket Brush Pen recommended to me by artist Patrick Campbell. This pen has real bristles, and like a real brush, it is tremendously flexible and responsive — using it feels like painting. It can go from superfine to wide lush lines in a single stroke. I used it for the tree below and it’s my favorite of all the pens I’ve tried.
Sunday, I went back and finished the sketches I hadn’t had time to before. The last was of the bunnies below. I finished up the hands, and then stopped — should I color in the bunnies, too, and risk screwing it up, or do I quit while I’m ahead?
I posted this question to folks on Google+. And a friend suggested I take a photo of the sketch and color it digitally first, so I could see if I liked it before committing to the real thing. But I found myself strangely averse to the idea, and it took me a few hours to figure out why. There were some practical problems with doing that, sure, but the real reason was this – I wanted to just take a leap of faith and do it. And I wasn’t afraid of ruining it, because what I know now, that I didn’t know two weeks ago, is that even if I blow it this time, I’ll make something better next time. It’s replaceable, because it didn’t turn out well out of dumb luck. It turned out well because I can do this.
And that, for me, is the real gift that Inktober has given me. When I started, I had no idea if I could do this or not. I figured it would be awkward and embarrassing, but that it would also be fun and I’d learn a few things, and somehow it’d be a useful exercise even though I wasn’t sure how. What I’ve discovered is that I can do a lot more than I thought I could. More importantly, I’ve learned that I can learn — I see that in the progression of drawings from day to day, as I pushed myself further. I can’t help but hope that if I can get better at this, I can rise to meet other challenges as well. It’s another leap of faith, sure, but sometimes that’s exactly what is needed.
I hope you discover something that can give you this — a challenge, a class, a new undertaking, a risk. Sometimes it won’t work out — certainly not all of the challenges I’ve accepted this year have turned into successes. Sometimes success is finding out what we’re not good at, and trying something else. What’s important is that we dust ourselves off and keep going. So long as we keep trying something, sometimes our efforts are rewarded with the gift of a new skill or passion, and it’s exhilarating. And that is well worth stumbling and falling a few times along the way.
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Need some ideas? November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It’s also Picture Book Idea Month, or PiBoIdMo. There’s 100 Days of Happiness. There’s the Every Day Drawing Challenge. What do you want to try? Google it, or search for a hashtag of it — there are probably other folks out there trying to do it too, who will be glad you joined in!