Upgrading my doodling skills from nonsense to some-sense via a month-long inking challenge: Inktober.
For the longest time, I was only good at doodling - decorating the margins of my notebooks with random lines and shapes that often made no sense.
(Most people think I am not paying attention when I start doodling, but ironically enough, it actually helps me to concentrate more by giving my restlessness an outlet. So honestly, I’m listening, guys!)
At one point, it occurred to me that maybe I should make my doodles a little more structured, a little less senseless, and maybe even a little bit pretty - something worth keeping as opposed to being crumpled up and chucked into the wastebin.
But how to be better? When to do it? What’s going to motivate me to start, and more importantly, to finish?
Inktober was started by Jake Parker in 2009 - he wanted to improve his drawing and inking skills by drawing one ink drawing a day for the entire month of October. Apparently, he wasn’t alone, and as with any good idea, it spread and now thousands of people take on the challenge each year.
The rules are simple:
Pick up a pen and make a drawing in ink
Post it online
Put a hashtag on it (#Inktober)
Repeat every day of October
Joining the fun
Inktober seemed to be the right opportunity and excuse for me to finally work on improving my drawing skills. I don’t think I could commit to drawing each day every day for a year, but a month? A month seemed doable.
Together with a friend who is an actual artist or artist-to-be, we pledged to participate in Inktober for 2017. We also agreed to share our daily drawings on social media, which is hilarious to me because I’m the last person to jump on the social media bandwagon (the only time I use hashtags is when I’m punching in codes on the phone).
In fact, this is the first time I’ve actually put my recently-opened and mostly-abandoned Instagram account to good use.
Typically, when embarking on a new hobby or fad, most people would get excited to shop for all of the ‘necessary’ bits and bobs.
I too found myself toying with the idea of shopping for a new sketchbook, new pens, new pencils, a new set of watercolours (oooooh~), and new everything.
But older and wiser, I knew that spending money does not necessarily lead to better chances of success. In fact, knowing just how high the likelihood of my abandoning this project halfway made the notion of buying brand new things ridiculous.
If - and that’s a big if - I actually persevered and completed an entire month’s worth of drawings, and proved myself capable of sticking it through, then and only then will I consider purchasing new tools, perhaps for 2018’s Inktober.
For this first round, however, I decided to stick with things I already had and use all the time.
*Note: this is not an endorsement or promotion of any of the products listed below.
Instead of the fancy Moleskin or Mossery notebook that I had my eye and hopes on, I ended up just using the back of the cheap notebook that I use for my daily tasks and musings.
A cheap ~USD 1 dollar notebook
The paper is a bit thin, and completely unsuitable for inky or watercolour-y works of art, but I had a lot of it left to use up before 2017 ended, it more or less served my purpose of just practicing and I carry it with me everywhere anyway, which dramatically increased the likelihood of me doing this Inktober challenge.
Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen (for inking)
As part of my no-waste efforts and my campaign against disposable items, I made the switch to a more permanent fountain pen a year ago, and have never looked back since.
Three's a crowd: mechanical pencil, mechanical eraser & fountain pen
Using only one pen did put a limit on the kinds of drawings I could do, but I preferred that to carrying multiple pens around. Also, having to make do with just one pen definitely made the challenge a lot more interesting!
Pilot Ink - Black
My fountain pen is filled with Pilot’s black ink, and that’s what I used to make the drawings.
A bottle of black ink
Every year, Jake releases the official daily prompts to spark the creativity of those participating in Inktober. This year’s prompt was:
Other people also come up with their own prompts, like Mossery:
For my first Inktober round, I decided to opt out of prompts and have weekly themes instead, particularly on things I’ve always wanted to draw better. The themes were:
*Spoiler alert*: The images I drew did not come purely and solely from my (limited) creativity and imagination. The whole point of this exercise was to learn new ways of drawing, so I looked around for images that appealed to me and strived to copy-slash-learn from the artists that did them.
1. Drawing is just putting one line and connecting it with other lines, over and over again.
I’ve written about this in my ‘Why you should go mountain-climbing’ post, and I’ll repeat it here: You don’t know that you can or cannot do something until you actually do it.
I’ve always thought I couldn’t draw certain things well because they looked too complicated (like mountains, for example). And it was true - I couldn’t draw them, because I never actually tried.
So for Inktober, I deliberately chose items or themes that I knew I wasn’t comfortable drawing.
After a month of tackling them one by one, I can confidently tell you that if you can draw a line, there is really nothing you cannot draw. Because that’s what all drawings are - just a bunch of lines put together.
2. You do not need much to get started drawing
Unlike painting or sculpting or photography, you need very little to do a drawing - which makes it all that easier and simpler to practice. As long as you have a piece of paper (or tissue, or any absorbent surface, really) and a pencil/pen, you’re good to go.
You can, of course, get all fancy and buy multiple types of pens or brushes as you see fit, and those will certainly give you the flexibility to experiment more, but even with just a pencil or a pen, when used well, can result in beauty.
As the saying goes: A master calligrapher never blames the brush - it’s not about the tools, it’s about you.
3. Unlike what you think, there is definitely time in your day to draw
I was all ready to rock this Inktober October. Naturally, the universe intervened and made this month an incredibly busy one, with lengthy workshops and lots of work travel to go on.
Despite the jumble of activities and flights, I surprisingly managed to stick to doing one drawing each day (except for that one day in which my pen ran out of ink in the middle of my travels, and I didn’t have ink supplies on hand).
The drawings didn’t take long - 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there, maybe 30 minutes if I finished in one shot. I had plenty of ‘awkward time’ between sessions and all those tea breaks, plus time spent lounging in airports waiting for my flight. Instead of using them to browse Facebook or Pinterest (as I typically do), I used the time to draw a bunch of lines.
You too have plenty of those awkward time in your day - why not use them to draw?
4. Stressed? Bored? Draw your way out of them
October held plenty of both stress and boredom for me: long work days interspersed with extended waiting hours during transit. Luckily, I had my handy notebook and pen with me, and found the Inktober challenge to be exactly what I needed.
Messing around with a pen on a piece of paper is an extremely effective way to de-stress and distract yourself from the insanity happening around you. In between exhausting, high-stress sessions, I found solace in a few quiet minutes of drawing, before plunging right back into the chaos.
It also gave me something to occupy myself with when stuck in a place with few options (like an airplane seat, or a hotel room with no internet). I even felt somewhat productive, with something to show for all the time that I would've otherwise spent staring at my phone.
Other than music, reading and YouTube binges, I highly recommend drawing as a way to relieve both stress and boredom.
As with any learning endeavour, I had some hits and misses.
Ones I liked:
Didn't plan on doing detailed drawings, but got enthusiastic about this one and kept going. I liked the end result
Loved the simplicity of this drawing and the shading using dots