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Updated: Mar 7, 2020

Reflections from a First-Time Inktober Artist

Inktober 2019 Day 1 (left) and Day 30 (right)

Hello! It’s been a little while since I’ve posted to my website. Over the summer, I worked on my calligraphy skills and started to draw and paint portraits and figures.

In this post, I talk about my experience in participating in Inktober for the first time, including my goals for challenge, the art supplies I used, what I learned, what I would do differently next time and how this experience is going to shape my next steps.

Why I Did Inktober

Inktober is a worldwide drawing challenge founded by Jake Parker in 2009. The purpose of the challenge is help people improve their ink drawing skills and develop positive habits. I decided to join Inktober this year for several reasons:

  1. Develop a daily art habit. As I’ve mentioned before, I believe that deliberate, concentrated daily practice is the best thing you can do to improve your skill level. I’ve noticed that I feel better when I make art everyday, and several scientific studies have found a positive correlation between the creative arts and healing.

  2. Improve my ability to draw portraits. I started learning how to draw and paint portraits back in April and I am officially obsessed. I’ve tried so many different subjects, such as still life, landscapes, abstracts, but nothing has ever motivated me like drawing people, especially their faces. Since I’m already participating in the 100 Day Portrait Challenge on Instagram, I thought it would be fun and challenging to spend Inktober learning how to make portraits with ink.

  3. Experiment with ink and inking techniques. I don’t have much experience using ink so Inktober is a good excuse to use what I have in my existing inky art supplies. I borrowed from the library Alphonso Dunn’s book Pen and Ink Drawing: A Simple Guide and Hazel Harringoton’s Encyclopedia of Drawing Techniques: The step-by-step guide to over 50 techniques to learn basic ink techniques.

I noticed that many people use Inktober as a way to share their work on social media, enter into giveaways, and complete some pretty ambitious projects, e.g. some people made a daily video of themselves drawing each day. For me, Inktober was about experimenting and improving my drawing, and not creating a professional portfolio. I wanted to see how much I could improve my inking and drawing skills in 30 days.

My Art Supplies

I am one of those people that hoards loves art supplies so I told myself at the beginning that I wouldn’t buy any new supplies during this challenge.

That lasted for about a week.

I ended buying a few things because as I learned to use ink, I wanted to try out new things. Here’s what I used:

  1. Sketchbook – Strathmore 500 Visual Mixed Media Journal 9 x12 – I got a mixed media journal because I knew I wanted to experiment with ink washes and I needed a sketchbook that wouldn’t buckle too much with water. I used all the pages in this sketchbook for Inktober and I’m so proud of myself!

  2. India Inks – Once I started using washes, I wanted to explore different inks and find out which one created the deepest blacks.

  3. Purchased

  4. Speedball Super Black

  5. Dr. Ph. Martin’s Black Star India Ink Matte.

  6. Stashed

  7. Daler-Rowney F.W. Acrylic Ink Black

  8. Yasumoto Black Sumi Ink

  9. Higgins Black Magic Drawing Ink

  10. Higgins Pigmented Drawing Ink in Blue

  11. Mark-making Tools – I tried out a variety of tools so I could experiment and test which ones were the most fun and the most useful for making portraits.

  12. Speedball Straight Calligraphy Pen Holder and Zebra G Nibs – I picked these up from the calligraphy classes I took this summer. These nibs are super strong.

  13. Pens – I used a lot of different pens, Sharpies, Tombows, Sakura Pigma Micron Pens. I even used a humble Bic 4-color Ballpoint Pen and I was surprised by how much I liked the drawing I made with it.

  14. Brushes – My favorite tool ended up being a simple brush from Princeton Series 4350 in Size 10. Easy-to-clean and makes a nice point for doing details in the eyes.

One of the good things about this challenge is that you don’t have to spend a lot on supplies. If I had to do it again, I would try doing the whole challenge with cheap ballpoint pens and laserjet printer paper.

What Worked

  1. My portrait drawing skills improved. At first, I measured proportions to help me sketch in the features of the face. This helped me make human looking faces, but when I learned to look at the muscles and anatomy of underneath a face, my drawings became much more accurate.

Before Anatomy

After Anatomy

I found my anatomy lesson in New Masters Academy, but Sktchy Art School has a Drawing Anatomy class with Tiffany S. Davanzo for a very reasonable price. I liked it because Tiffany is a certified medical illustrator and knows all the muscles that are in a human head.

2. I learned how to use ink for portraits. At the beginning, I didn’t know what to do with the ink. I started with a loose pencil sketch, outlined in with a Micron pen, then painted in the shapes with ink washes.

Inktober Day 1 – 10.01.19 – Sumi Ink and Micron Pen 9×12

It took a while for me to learn how to dilute the ink into various shades of gray. I eventually started using thin, lighter washes in the shadows and allowed them to dry before adding another wash on top. This helped me to build up the values gradually.

Inktober – Day 7 – 10.07.19 Speedball Super Black and micron pen

I also tried out different ways of creating values with ink:

Inktober Day 22 – Crosshatching and Scribbling with Micron Pen

Inktober Day 26 – Hatching with Bic Ballpoint Pen

Inktober Day 28 – Stippling with Micron Pen

I was most surprised by the ballpoint pen. I liked using it because it was fast and because it’s a cheap pen, I didn’t feel as much pressure to use it the “right” way”. I really liked working on the wrinkles in this face.

After all these experiments, my favorite way of inking by far still is using a brush and building up thin ink washes. I drew in the shapes for the shadows in my initial pencil sketches and it helped me emphasize those dark shapes when I inked. I also learned how to blend in the ink to create softer edges.

Rough Pencil Sketch

Final Ink Drawing

3. I built up in my Instagram feed and connected with other artists online. The main reason I post online to Instagram is so I can overcome my mental blocks and commit to a daily practice of making art.

I know some artists hesitate to post things that aren’t “on brand” or don’t represent their best work, but I still like to think of Instagram as a way to see what happens behind the scenes. And sometimes what happens behind the scenes is ugly and awkward. And sometimes you can look back all the work that you did and be proud of what you did:

One other unexpected consequence of posting online during this challenge is being joining a community of other artists working on the same challenge. I had a few people comment that they enjoyed seeing my progress each day. I will pay it forward with other artists too.

What Didn’t Work and What to Do Next Time

1. I didn’t finish on time. The last week of Inktober I got derailed with distractions at home and I didn’t finish my last week of Inktober posts. I failed to meet the deadline. But on the other hand, I still needed to post my daily portrait as part of the 100 Day Portrait Challenge. I posted the last week of Inktober drawings late and it’s not a big deal.

For Next Time: I need to schedule my day to keep my commitments and make sure that I have a plan for when I miss a day. This might mean making more than one drawing a day and having extras as backups for when I have to skip a day.

2. I wasted time figuring out what to draw. I didn’t use the Inktober prompts this year. Instead, I just scrolled through Sktchy app or Unsplash to find people to draw each day. Sometime this would take as long as 30 minutes!

For Next Time: I need to choose my photo references and print them out ahead of time so I can get started right away on the drawing. This means collecting them online in advance and assigning them to specific days based on the prompts.

3. I didn’t know how to draw in ink. I spent a lot of time figuring out what are basic ink techniques and figuring out how to use them to draw portraits. I fumbled through the first two weeks just trying to learn how to use the ink. Once I picked up a few books and watched a couple of videos, I was able to focus on what I wanted to learn.

For Next Time: Now that I have some experience, I want to break down the month into smaller, achievable goals. This could be as simple as focusing on a specific technique. Or maybe set a time limit to practice drawing faster.

How will I apply this going forward?

Overall, I’m glad I did it and I stuck with it. Perhaps the biggest things I learned have to do with how to stay motivated with any art challenge:

  1. Keep it simple. Set an intrinsic goal vs. an extrinsic goal for doing the challenge. Do it out of love or curiosity or fun, and not just to fit it or to compete or get more likes. Keep your goal in mind each day so you stay motivated.

  2. Get organized. Eliminate your obstacles and you eliminate your excuses for procrastinating. Schedule your time and set up your workspace so you’re ready to go each day.

  3. Stay positive. It’s a challenge, not a competition. Especially for me, art is about learning and exploring. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and you’ll learn faster.

I hope this list was helpful. Did you participate in Inktober? What is your best, hard-earned advice for someone who has never done Inktober before?