An Art A Day – My Inktober 2018 Experience

An Art A Day – My Inktober 2018 Experience

It’s been a long time since I sat down to seriously draw a picture. I used to doodle all the time, and not just in the margins of my classroom notebooks. I used to love drawing pictures of my characters, even if I never considered myself any good. For the first three years of my marriage, my husband and I were too broke to buy anniversary gifts for each other. So every year I drew him a picture instead. My mother-in-law would print it on nice photo paper and we would frame them.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that I was never going to get good at anything if I didn’t put all my effort and focus into it. And since I was a writer first and foremost, my art got pushed to the side. I always intended to go back, to learn how to draw the same way I learned how to write. But once I dipped my toes into self-publishing, I never found the time.

In some ways, I can make peace with that. I was never as passionate about art as I was about writing. But on the other hand, I do enjoy making pictures of my characters and would like to have some that match the visions in my head. Last year, I discovered Inktober and this year, at the very last minute, I decided to try it.

What is Inktober?

Inktober could be compared to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in the art world. Instead of trying to write every day, artists pick up their pens and pencils and create at least one piece every day. The rules are pretty loose as to how and what you create, though the end result should be in ink. There is an official prompt list, but it’s perfectly fine not to follow it. Inktober was created in 2009 by Jake Parker. He started it as a way to encourage himself to practice and develop healthy art habits. (Sound familiar fellow writers?)

Browsing the hashtag, I knew I’d never be able to create anything as complex and magnificent as many of the other participating artists. But I also realized that isn’t the point. The point of any one-a-day monthly exercise is to focus on where you are in your journey and where you want to be by the end. If ever anything was going to encourage me to pick up a pen and pencil again, this was it.

I spent the night of September 30th combing through a bunch of reference drawings I saved forever ago. I looked for simple portraits with various different facial expressions. My first goal was simply to get back to my previous level of artistic skill. But I also wanted to push myself one step further. My old drawings always felt generic and lifeless. I wanted the characters I drew for Inktober to express genuine emotion.

Doing is always the tricky part

I know from experience the major pitfall of these one-a-day monthly activities is missing a day. If you miss the first day, you’ll wonder the point of starting late. So I applied myself with vigor to the first few days of the challenge, not wanting to fail in the first week.

My first Inktober drawing, featuring Rose
My first Inktober drawing, featuring Rose

It was shockingly easy to find time for Inktober during the first week. In part because I was so excited to pick up the pencil again. But it was also surprisingly easy to get back into the swing of drawing.

Around the fourth day, I hit a snag. I wasn’t feeling well and we were planning a trip. My next few drawings were just okay. But at the time, I was simply happy I fit them in. Later, when I reviewed my first two weeks of progress, I decided to re-do a handful of drawings and I was pleased by the results.

One of my re-done pictures, featuring Zita.
One of my re-done pictures, featuring Zita.

But as the month wore on, it became harder to find daily drawing time. My husband and I are looking for a new house – a time consuming and stressful process. I had some overly ambitious writing goals in October that involved the final stages of a major edit. I’ve also started editing for others on the side, and my author had a major deadline looming. Inktober became just one more thing that needed to be done.

I almost gave up halfway through. Even posted on Facebook that I would. But after a night to clear my head, I came back to the exercise. Not because I felt obligated, and not because it was work. Because I was so happy with the results of my first 16 drawings that I wanted to do more.

What I learned

The first and biggest lesson this exercise taught me was that I do love to make art. And the best way to get better at it is to do it, as I’ve always known. But I also learned that it’s a lot easier than I thought to improve on the skills I already have.

I’m starting to be able to look at a drawing in progress and tell what’s wrong with it so that I don’t have to wait until the next drawing to improve.

(Domerin, of course)
(Domerin, of course)

I also learned that a few imperfections can actually improve a drawing’s overall feel and flow – who’d have thunk?

I used to be too afraid to erase something once I thought it looked decent, so I would simply live with a picture’s flaws calling it good enough. Now I encourage myself to keep trying until I’m happy with the result, instead of settling for less.

I’ve learned when I need to use guide lines and how to use them in a way that benefits me – something I’ve struggled with before.

I still need a ton of reference pictures to be able to do anything, though I don’t think that makes me a failure. Even professionals sometimes need references. But it does mean that it will be awhile before I’m able to pluck pictures directly out of my head and put them on paper.

Thora, from Eternity’s Empire

Most important of all, I received yet another reminder that turning something into work ruins the fun. I’m never going to be a professional artist, so I shouldn’t work myself up over a productivity schedule. The point of this activity was not to crate thirty-one drawings in thirty-one days no matter what. The point was to be inspired and try new things.

What happens next?

At the end of NaNoWriMo, everyone asks the same question: what happens next? Where do we go from here? For novels, the next step in the process is inevitably editing, especially if you ever want to publish the work. For line art, I think the inevitable next step is to add color. I actually love digitally coloring my artwork and I’m looking forward to developing some new skills in that area as well.

Since I focused on drawing the characters that most often appear on my blog, as well as those that come from my novels, I can also replace all of the splashes I use when I share my prompts. It wasn’t my original goal, but I’m thrilled at the idea of actually having my art on those splashes, so look forward to seeing some of those next year.

Shima, from Eternity's Empire.
Shima, from Eternity’s Empire.

I would love to get back into the habit of sketching my new characters during the novel planning stages. It really does help form a firmer visual of the person you’ll be working with. And I’d also like to see if I can make some maps, especially with a few planned fantasy novel releases coming up next year.

I did not manage to get all of my Inktober drawings finished in October. I cheated slightly and used the first few days of November to catch up. But I am supremely happy with the results of my efforts, and I think that’s what matters most!

2 Replies to “An Art A Day – My Inktober 2018 Experience”

  1. Love this! I started doing a “daily dragon” challenge a while back but had difficulty sticking with it… So I might end up making it an Instagram challenge for some accountability ;)

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