Inktober is here, and speeding by! (Part 1)

A grey mouse and a green spotted dragon lean in to kiss each other, eyes closed. Each has a speech bubble containing a heart above them. The caption reads, "Love is a Gift Wherever You Find It".

A grey mouse and a green spotted dragon lean in to kiss each other, eyes closed. Each has a speech bubble containing a heart above them. The caption reads,

Happy Inktober!

If you’re not familiar with Inktober, it’s a challenge begun by Jake Parker, and the idea is simple:

  1. Create a drawing of some kind with ink.
  2. Post it anywhere on social media with the hashtag #inktober or #inktober2016
  3. Repeat every day in October — 31 days, 31 drawings.

Last year I only heard about it halfway through the month, but I jumped in with both feet and did 19 drawings in 2 weeks (you can see my efforts last year here and here). I primarily work digitally, so it was a 2-week immersion in traditional media that really challenged me, taught me new approaches to drawing, and pushed my skills forward in ways I couldn’t have imagined. So I’ve been very eager to do it again this year for the whole month!

That said, I was a little nervous about getting started. Last year I had no expectations. This year I have a lot more confidence in my abilities, and while that’s a good thing, it also means I expect a certain level of quality. Expectations are dangerous! The thing about making art, at least for me, is that the best stuff comes when you don’t worry about whether or not it’s any good, at least not in the moment of making it — you just play. The trick is to turn off the inner critic for awhile. That’s easier some days than others, and October first wasn’t one of the easy days.

To distract myself from my own crappy internal monologue, I headed over to a friend’s house and we started Inktober together. I poked around at photos online, looking for inspiration, and found one of a chickadee that I loved. I did a rough pencil underdrawing first, then got started inking. My version doesn’t quite have the same dynamic sense of motion as the original photo, but it’s a respectable start to the month I think!

An ink drawing of a chickadee coming in for a landing, with feet outstretched to the left and wings flung back to the right.

But discussions with my friend and partner-in-comics Patrick Campbell revealed a new challenge. Apparently Inktober, as originally envisioned, was supposed to be a month of drawing straight to ink — no pencil underdrawings. Just dive in, commit yourself to the lines as you make them, and go with the flow of whatever comes out. I love that idea, but it also ups the stakes considerably.

Last year I started out drawing straight to ink, then realized my work was exponentially better if I sketched it out in pencil first. Straight to ink felt lazy, and underdrawings were a way of taking what I was doing more seriously, and really working hard to create something good. And that’s served me really well over the year since. Now, though, I think a lesson in letting go and drawing without a safety net is exactly what I need.

So for Day 2 (and most days since), I went straight to ink — it’s weird how scary that is! I used a photo reference for the lizard in the middle that’s pretty close to what I drew here. The rest is pulled from my head after looking at pictures of frogs and of people playing washtub bass and washing board so I could get a sense of body positions.

A frog plays the washboard on the left, and another frog plays washtub base on the right, while a lizard lounges playing guitar in the middle.

By Day 3 it had been grey and raining and bleak for a week, and I was longing for sunshine and a chance to get outside and move. I worked straight to ink again, this time fast and loose, and I managed to fit in two drawings that day.

An open umbrella sits upside-down on wet pavement. The umbrella has a garden growing inside, and a bird perched on the handle, while the sun shines down from above.

I did this one in the morning, and by mid-afternoon — yay! — it was a spectacularly sunny day.

A dancing woman flings her umbrella away over her shoulder while reaching out towards a brightly shining sun. There is a puddle behind her, and a smiling flower with leaves outstretched in front of her.

Inktober Day 4: a pangolin mama and baby. I’d never heard of pangolins before, but apparently they’re one of the most hunted animals on earth and very much endangered. And they look like wingless dragons. Or maybe a cross between a dragon and a sloth. And they really do lug their babies around on their tails.

A pangolin stands with tail outstretched, while a baby pangolin sleeps balanced on the adult pangolin's lower back and tail.

Meet Phil the Ninja Squirrel, Master of the Shell, and Seeker of the…uh…I’m not sure yet. My husband Chris cooked up this character for me, and I’m awaiting further details. I did a rough pencil sketch for this one first because I needed to be able to think the lines “inside out”, so to speak.

A black squirrel wearing a white ninja mask pulls back getting ready to pitch an acorn.

Elven wild woman? Not really sure, just having fun messing around. Also probably not done yet. I think when Inktober is over I’m going to have a lot of half-done sketches to pick through & finish up. But this one is fast and loose and playful, which is what I’m hoping to do more of this month.

Elven Wild Woman

The idea for this one just popped into my head, and I drew it straight to ink, no penciling first.  I really, really love my Pentel Pocket Brush Pen…sooo nice to draw with. It’s my favorite tool for traditional media.

A grey mouse leans in towards a spotted dragon for a kiss. Both have their eyes closed in bliss, and both have speech bubbles containing pink hearts above them.

This one is straight to ink too, with a photo reference by @kcalfredphotofrom via @shrickapp on Instagram.

A drawing all in black silhouettes against white paper. In the foreground up in the air is a skateboarder gripping the board with one hand, his other arm flung back behind him. A tree is silhouetted on the right, and way in the background on the left are people on viewing stands watching. One of them holds a video camera.

I picked up a new sketchbook of unbleached beige paper. I’ve been admiring some of the work I’ve seen on this kind of paper on Instagram. It’s a great way to approach light in a drawing — start with paper that’s neither light nor dark, then draw in both the light and the shadows. I’m still thinking about how to go about doing that. But for starters, I thought to myself, “what’s white, black, and beige? My cat!” As a side note, pet portraits are a thing that I do, if you’re interested in arranging a commissioned piece.

An illustration of a Maine coon tabby cat sitting upright, fluffy striped tail curving outward to the right.

The next day I had a particular illustration in mind, but for some reason my hands were a little shaky and I couldn’t get the smooth, flowing lines I wanted. Frustrated and a little panicked, I set it aside and just doodled instead. What I learned from that is that even with shaky hands, I can still manage small lines and fine details. It helps to know shaky hands don’t have to bring everything to a screeching halt — they just require coming at things from a different direction. And I actually really like how the insects in this came out.

Leaves, flowers, and insects fill a page at random.

I also went back and colored in this one from Day 3. I’d been feeling color-deprived when I did the initial sketch, so when I got out the color brushpens and the watercolors, I went a little overboard. But truly, after a week of grey, sunshine and blue skies felt exactly this extravagant.

An upside-down open umbrella on wet pavement is filled to overflowing with a blooming garden. A vine trails over one side, and there is a puddle on the ground on the other side. A bird on the handle sings to the sun. Orange swirled beams of sunlight radiate from the sun across the illustration, and the blue sky is also filled with swirls. The sky and the sun are vibrant, and the bird is singing that same vibrancy back to the sun.

The thing about committing to drawing something every single day is that sometimes by the time drawing time rolls around, I’m too tired to think up an idea for an illustration. Those are great days to root around on the internet for reference photos, and just practice translating what I see. I’ve always loved cicadas. I had the style of old engraved science illustrations in mind when I drew this.

A black and white illustration of an Italian Mountain Cicada, done in the style of old engraved illustrations.

I was still on an insect kick the next day when I did this one:

A black and white illustration of a honey bee gathering pollen.

The Dragon and Mousie sketch is one of my favorites so far, and I was really happy to get a chance to go back and finish it with color. This one might have a buyer — I should mention that most of these are available for sale if you’re interested! I’m also available for commissions if you have an idea you’d like to see me bring to life.

A grey mouse and a green spotted dragon lean in to kiss each other, eyes closed. Each has a speech bubble containing a heart above them. The caption reads,

These two seem to have captured my imagination! Here they are again:

A mouse lays spooned against the belly of a dragon. Both are sleeping, and they share a thought bubble containing a heart with wings.

I’m not sure what else this one needs besides color. I think that’ll need to percolate in the back of my head for a few days…stay tuned. Meanwhile, Mousie has found another friend (and needs a better name — suggestions, anyone?):

A grey mouse wearing a blue bowtie rides on the back of a red-winged blackbird in flight.

I feel like I’ve accidentally stumbled across a few characters here that I really like. They need real names and backstories! We’ll see if they make any more appearances in the next few weeks.

On October first, after looking forward to Inktober all year, I woke up feeling a little daunted about whether or not I could pull off 31 days of inking. Now all I can think is, “it’s almost over? Nooooo!!! Inktober forever!!!”

Well, okay, maybe not forever. I have other illustration projects (an upcoming comic!) that need my attention. But dedicating an entire month to traditional media and committing to making time for it every single day — that feels outrageously luxurious, and I’m loving every minute of it.

If you’d like to see my work as it’s created, I post my work regularly on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+, and Tumblr. Swing by, say hello, and be part of the conversation! You can also leave a comment here — I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading — more Inktober illustrations coming soon!

9 thoughts on “Inktober is here, and speeding by! (Part 1)

  1. Hello! I just stumbled upon your inktober blog! such incredible drawings!! I am looking for images to provide backing for a video of “Pennies From Heaven” …..I love the upside down umbrella ink drawing! Would you have a larger copy? Would I be able to obtain permission to use it in a video for my website??? please let me know when you have a moment. thank you!! Lyn Dean……. my email is ALL THE BEST!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Cathy! I was having a lot of fun with the insect drawings in particular – I’ve always really loved wildlife and scientific illustrations, especially the old engravings. I had that style in mind when I did those.


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