Inktober: 5 Lessons Learned From A 31-Day Challenge
I had the pleasure of participating in the Inktober art challenge last year. It was my first attempt and I loved it. I learnt several things whilst participating, things I want to share with you now.
The challenge ties into developing certain principles for a successful creative project. You have to work on getting involved in a project, completing the project and fashioning a system to do so. This is all followed closely by the idea a creative person needs to follow through, not simply creating a project but converting it into a product. I used last year’s opportunity to develop a pipeline. The challenge was a milestone I had to overcome to get where I want to go with my work. That was all the reason I needed to participate – well, that and some art supplies and a decent stock of blank pages. With those in place, all I had to do was start!
First Lesson: A 30-day project needs a theme
Things need to have common threads and relationships to hold meaning. The more strings tying things together, the more entertaining it is for you to work on each consecutive piece. Think of a jigsaw puzzle. Satisfaction increases as this complex mess work itself into a unified whole. It all gets easier as you go along.
Projects benefit from this sort of inter-connectivity. All the really impressive Inktober participants don’t just have one extremely good piece; they have several. The ones that do manage to do this often have a unifying concept beyond the challenge card. Last year, I personally ignored the challenge card in the first two weeks, depicting scenes I loved from my favourite book series and relying on other ideas to carry the work. As I went along, my initial threads lost steam or proved too ambitious. I then considered the challenge card carefully and selected scenes from the books that were strongly connected to the prompts. I found a new way of looking at my daily submissions that added value to the overall interest of the project whilst keeping true to my favourite books. This ignited an engine of interest in me, and in those followers who subscribed to my page.
Second Lesson: A 30-day project needs routine.
If you are raising a two-year-old, I want to take a moment to offer my sympathy for your situation. I trust it doesn’t get any easier as they get older, but two seems to be that sweet spot of pure dependance and pure resistance to reason. Any free time you have is lost. I love my daughter to bits, but she is the embodiment of Chaos. I didn’t really know how to introduce a schedule into my day, as most of my spare minutes were spent saving her from kettles and stoves.
My early submissions were pretty inconsistent because of this. I took to using the evening till midnight to cram my work in. This was ok in theory; generally, I spent 4-5 hours sketching and inking each submission. The problem was that, at the start of those spare hours, I faced a blank page.
If you want to get work done, don’t just sit and stare at a blank page. That’s the last place ideas will come from. Since my ideas were book-based, I spent more time in those evenings scrying my electronic copies of the books than I did actually doing any artwork. This proved inefficient and very time-consuming.
To resolve this, I suggest organizing your overall project. Figure out your scenes early and thumbnail them out. This can be done at leisure over a weekend. Get out of the house and look around for ideas, or watch eye-catching scenes in movies. Get inspired and scribble whatever comes to mind as loosely as possible, as much as possible.
Take these sketches/drafts to the work table and redo your best stuff full-sized. If you can do this once a day, that’s also fine. It works as prep and eats an hour, tops. I managed my sketches whilst watching movies with my kid. (She contributed her fair share of scribbles, too.) The important thing is that all the design is routinely excised out your head and captured on a page. Sitting at a desk and converting a draft to ink is pure craft. It’s here that skill comes into play.
Writers would probably compare inking to the final revision phase: all writers know this revising of ideas is where the true work happens. Something writers practice, I’d like artists to consider also. Before this final phase, give yourself some time to work on something else. Maybe sketch some ideas for the following day. It’s important to have fresh eyes on your work when you finally sit to finalize. Be as awake and aware as possible during this time. I recommend a bucket of good coffee.
Third Lesson: Don’t slave to routine.
Although I stress a need for routine, don’t slave yourself to a program day after day. A creative mind needs some flexibility, and if you’re like me, strict times start to feel oppressive. Steal hours where you can some days, and reward yourself with a break on others. During the Inktober challenge, I decided to do two drawings on Thursdays or Fridays to free up my Saturdays. This sort of thing is doable, and even if I lagged behind schedule, I know I’d have produced a lot worse if I hadn’t taken time to collect my thoughts, review the results of the work and do other things.
Look at your work hours over a week. Keep track of them so you know exactly how much time you have, and whether it’s met the needs of the project. Quality is important, but it’s also important to keep the momentum going. Don’t try to steal time to finish an idea. If you can’t finish in the time you have given yourself, move on to the next part and either scale down your ambition or scale up your hours. Always try to do better with each work. This does not mean doing more each time. Do it better by working smarter, not harder.
Fourth Lesson: External input helps fill you with motivation.
I believe that, if you’re a creative person, it doesn’t matter if you’re in a sun-bathed bohemian art commune with hundreds of artists living in step, or half-frozen and alone crouching over an easel in the Himalayas. Either way, you’re going to create what it’s in you to create. That said, I do think it’s vital to find a platform you trust that lets you dialogue with outside sources about your work – especially if you’re creating something you’d like to distribute. The Inktober challenge had participants from every walk of life. Established artists and illustrators like Jake Parker and Stanley Lau posted alongside everyone else. Posts from Inktober 2017 were well-categorized and easy to find on Instagram.
This meant everyone’s work was available to preview. Everything I posted was searchable, and I collected a huge fan base from other artists participating. I also had a chance to find new artists whom I admired and followed in turn. The artists that really kept to a strict schedule and posted on time without fail, day in and day out, earned my deepest respect. They also motivated me to find a way to keep up. The sense of community was support in and of itself, and all the likes and comments helped me determine which image drew attention and which image wasn’t doing as good a job. Though I don’t think you need a community to egg you on, it was really nice to experience. I think it’s worthwhile to participate in such events purely for the chance to be exposed to the variety of people you share an interest with.
The Last Lesson: Production Value
Possibly the hardest lesson – particularly for myself, as I am still trying to employ it even though I fully believe in it. I work on my illustrations out of love. Sadly, to create costs time and money. Loving something doesn’t mean working on it blindly, hoping for the best. If you’re in love with an idea and want to see it realized in a fashion you’re able to share with pride, you have to make something with production value, something good enough to show the world (and not just your mother, who will love your work no matter what because she gave birth to you and thus made everything you made by proxy). The creatives I love and adore didn’t stop at writing out ideas or painting out concepts. No, they took the next step and produced publication-worthy books, graphic novels, movies, etc. They took their creations and packaged them in a way that appealed to me, and I had no problem paying for something professionally crafted. So much so that I picked up my pen and dedicated 31 days of my life to trying to do the same – and so the cycle continues.
As contrary as it sounds, it’s the drive to market ideas well that in turn spreads ideas the furthest, breathing life to new creativity. Creative work should always be done with some sort of end product in mind. That way, when you’re done, you’re proud enough to spread the work out into the world and hopefully earn money enough to dedicate more time into the work you love.
I’m glad I had a chance to share my thoughts with you. Challenges are vital tools which I’m sure all creatives can benefit from. I hope I’ve encouraged your participation in them.
Now I want to highlight a few I find truly worthwhile:
NaNoWriMo is a writing challenge that dedicates the entire month of November to simply splurging written content onto a blank page. Editing is discouraged, with a focus on simply getting your words down where you can see them. The community is strong, active and extremely supportive. I’ve participated once before, and should I find time from my current projects I’d like to participate again. I owe entire chapters of my personal work to this challenge. It’s never too early to register and participate in the preparation exercises.
Inktober – and, by unofficial extension, Huevember – are challenges carried out on social media like Instagram and Facebook. I’ve already explained the process above, but the official prompts can be found on Jake Parker’s Instagram account (Jake is the founder of Inktober and the best source of inspiration on art production).
Character of the Week contest at conceptart.org. Here teams of artists, writers and graphic designers can practice teamwork in developing production-level concept design and receiving expert critique. A tough crowd to please, but very welcoming. Someone will always have expert constructive input for your ideas and composition.
Thanks so much for reading. I hope this helps you find your own challenge and to work your way through to the end of it.
If you know of any other 30 Day Challenges please let me know in the comments!