Note: Enjoy this long post and the attached gallery. Family and business obligations will keep me away from this blog for most of November. I may pop in with a quick post or two, but the first two weeks of November are particularly tight. I wanted to give you something to look at in small bites. If you need more from me in November I encourage you to subscribe over at Patreon. I’ll be posting my demos and discussions as usual. I look forward to regular posting here again in December.
This year I decided to participate in InkTober again.
What? Why? Everyone knows I hate prompts.
But I also love daily-month-long projects and I knew that I needed to be involved in a project because of October shaping up to be a difficult month for me personally and professionally. I needed to have some play time scheduled in.
Since I have a track record going back decades of successfully doing daily-month-long projects on my own I could have started any day and worked on my own, but I thought it might be companionable to join a group.
I should have known better. I signed up for the Sktchy App InkTober group and was teased with wonderful illustrations in my email each day. But I had no time to watch the videos of the three artists providing videos of their work going through the prompts. (I was only able to watch the first video—but you can bet I’ll enjoy them in the coming weeks.)
I knew going into the project that I wouldn’t be posting until after October 31. I just knew that I had limited time each day because of my obligations. I knew I’d be spending any time I could on the project, not scanning.
Not very companionable of me I know. But I did pop into Sktchy a few times during the month (12 times I believe) to find a photo reference. When I did pop in I took time to scroll down the feed and click on pieces of people I follow.
The gallery at the end of this post is my InkTober 2020 Project.
Here’s The Scoop—Because You Know I Like to Start with a Plan and an Intention (or Several)
First the Paper Size
For this project I knew I wanted to work on large journal cards. I happened to have some large 12 x 16 inch sheets of recycled watercolor paper that I could cut down to fit a large clamshell box like the one I used in 2018. (I think the final sheet size is 11 x 15 inches. Lots of space to work a final sketch in any size I want.)
Great, storage taken care of, check. It’s a drag at the end of a project when you’re swamped with other things, to come up with storage options.
Second the Approach and Parameters
There are a lot of facets to the approach. I don’t recall which came first. I think it was my decision that I wanted to work with ink wash as much as possible for a month that came first.
Next I knew I wanted to take time in a busy schedule to actually sit and think about a response to the prompts, just so I could check if I really am as anti-prompt as I feel and claim I am. (I am, even more so.)
But I knew if I fell in love with a prompt I would want to spend time working on it and I didn’t have time, so I decided that I would do thumbnail sketches and enjoy the thought process of responding to a prompt.
And then I would sketch, with ink wash, anything I felt like sketching that day whether it was “part” of what would have been a finished sketch if I had been able to set aside enough time, or the sketch was in someway related to the main idea, or finally if the sketch was of something totally unrelated, i.e., a stand alone, unrelated portrait. All this just to keep it light, fun, and easy to do.
The third element of my project was that because I was going to be using thumbnails and a finished sketch of some sort I wanted to use a bit of collage and rubber stamping. That appears in all of my daily cards. This was necessary because the recycled cardboard wasn’t of sufficient quality to do ink wash on day after day (there was nothing to learn but frustration and we all learn enough of that in our lives so when we get old enough and wise enough we walk away from it and do something useful).
Also I simply find collage and rubber stamping very relaxing. It takes me away from the computer.
For the final aspect of the project I initially thought that my daily, “unrelated” or only slightly related sketches would be based on muse photos on the Sktchy App. I did this because it’s the Pandemic and I’m not out and about seeing people to sketch, and because I wanted to do the ink wash sketches primarily as portraits. It seemed that using the Sktchy app would work well for that.
How I Actually Worked
I ended up having even less time to sketch than I had anticipated. (This is normal, so plan for this when you set up your plan.)
The first thing to go was using Sktchy photos. I found it was a time drain to search for an image I wanted to use. Since I have 3000 plus photos in my queue it was really about not wasting time searching for something I wanted to draw, but to just get busy drawing. (I could have used the daily photo Sktchy selected each day, but that’s really part of the prompt right?!)
For the first few entries I ended up using Sktchy photos from my queue of photos I had bookmarked over the past three years. After that proved time intensive as I’ve just explained, I started sketching birds from the MN State Fair.
(Each year when I attend the Fair I make a point of going back through the barns at the end of the day to take photos of the birds. My eyes are tired then so I don’t feel like sketching and I find the photos great reference to have during the winter months in Minnesota when I might want to do a large painting of a bird. Along with my sketches from the Fair they both provide useful observational material.)
For me the birds were a perfect blend of no time commitment for searching, and comfort food. I love sketching birds.
Later in the project I would return to Sktchy for some reference photos. I craved sketching people again. I wondered if I could make more of an effort to make a sketch related to the topic.
This back and forth and push and pull about content was the first inkling that I was becoming very flexible about the project. I loved seeing that. (I don’t know that I’ll ever be that flexible again, but it was nice while it was happening.)
As to how I worked each day—I’d sit down in the morning and grab whatever piece of paper was handy and do thumbnail sketches about the prompt. Sometimes I would look up the word for alternate meanings. I’d think about full illustrations I’d love to do if I had more time. I’d make almost incomprehensible thumbnails that mean something only to me.
Let’s just say they satisfied an itch.
Later in the day I’d pull out one of the “cards” and start putting the thumbnails on the page along with some collage elements, but no glue, just checking things out, just looking to see how much space I had for the actual illustration.
On two days my thumbnail was my illustration and I was off doing other work as soon as the collage pieces were down. Those were very satisfying days. And I believe Dick still thinks my sketch for day 6 is the best of the bunch. (FYI: I actually like rats, but hey.)
At another point in the day I’d take a break and try to find a Sktchy reference for my “unrelated” sketch. Later I was just flipping through my catalog of Fair photos—one section only a day. “You will find something quickly,” I kept telling myself. Limiting the search ensured I’d be quick. I also knew it wouldn’t be the last bird I’d ever sketch.
Still later in the day I would sit down to make a sketch. These usually took about 30 to 60 minutes of inking time, though I think I went to 90 minutes on two days.
Then I would use the hair dryer to dry the ink, glue everything up, and walk away.
When you see a set of three red stamped stars on a thumbnail that’s my quick reference way of noting which thumbnail I would use, which illustration I would do, if I’d had more time.
Two weeks into the project I decided that in the very late evening when my eyes are totally shot I would start scanning my cards to prevent having to do all 31 at the same time at the end. That was smart thinking on my part. I recommend it. Even if you aren’t posting daily, scanning a couple times a week when your eyes are tired anyway is a great way to prevent a mountain of work later.
Day 13 was a watershed day for me. I had so much fun that when I was explaining my actions to Dick he thought I was high on chocolate (I didn’t have chocolate until I finished my piece). But really, Day 13 is what I wish every day could be like—where one discovery feeds into the next and so on and so on until you have this mountain of connections that are simply delightful.
This is the type of thing that I used to do in high school, college, and graduate school daily. And it has been the basis of doing most of my professional creative work later in life. Only recently because of years of eldercare commitments and trying to video tape hours of footage for my online classes did I work myself into a place where there wasn’t time for this.
During 2019 while recovering from my cataract operations I actually started journaling like this again. It saved my life, my sanity, and my sketching practice. (See Green Lined Journals, and Hahnemühle Travel book/journal entries from 2019 for examples—use blog’s search engine.)
Coming in the middle of the month like that Day 13 reminded me that I can get back to all this fun without concern for eye health and despite double vision.
There’s a whole range of responses we can make to our circumstances and environment and when we let go of perfect (as one of my mentors always says), well just look what you can accomplish. In other words, this was the day I fully laid down all my past art dreams of projects I wanted to do before the cataract surgery results made them not possible, and realized that I can still get up to a whole lot of fun and a whole lot of trouble. I think happiness just jumps off page 13, from the thumbnails to the quick sketches to that lovely set of “Burnsides.” (Because of course sketching fun often involves facial hair!) But especially in that lovely “X” of an editorial decision as I happily stepped away from any pretense at doing the prompt (“dune”).
I was so elated in fact that on the 16th when I had a little extra time, and so liked one of my thumbnails, I actually went into Sktchy to look for a photo reference I could use. Serendipity led me to a photo of a young woman in a helmet taking a selfie. I thought it would be fun if she were taking a photo in space because the topic (“rocket”) and my thumbnails had me thinking about space. (I am also deep into a mid-century modern phase—though some would argue I have never not been in one—and it seemed a fun thing to sketch. I’ll have more to say about mid-century modern things later this year or early next year.)
I spent more time on that sketch than any of the others.
I did a quick pen sketch of the idea from the thumbnail, except this time at actual size and with the photo reference for the helmet and face. (It’s not a good likeness. I knew going in I wanted a very simplified face.)
Then I refined it on tracing paper, and actually put that refined sketch on the light table, taped a piece of watercolor paper over it and re-inked the sketch.
I had to stand at an angle (because the studio is all torn up due to my on-going efforts to downsize and get my book collection into storage) and that resulted in a tilt-y spaceship, but I love it.
The last step was of course to add the ink washes. I sat at the drawing table for that.
The serendipity of month-long-daily projects reminds us how much fun we can have if we give our focus to a central project.
After the 16th I admit I had a need to sketch some beards. Sktchy is always a great source of muses with beards. I was so happy I even ended a 5-day people portrait streak with a sketch of a woman, somewhat on topic (coral—coral, rosy cheeks). I rarely sketch women because my line work always makes them look older, but I was too happy to care.
The last ten days of the month were a free-for all dash to the end. Me trying to decide in the morning what I’d be sketching later, just to be sure I got the sketching in.
For “Chef” of course I’m going to watch my cooking shows and sketch a favorite chef—who needs thumbnails then. (More serendipity because as you can see from my line work on that day I really needed to feel around for a line I could no longer see, but which I knew was there because of how many times I’ve sketched Chef Symon.)
That’s the thing. Month-long-daily projects build a momentum of serendipitous events that just sort of fall together, one after the other like well arranged dominoes. This is why I tell students to work at something for at least two weeks—with four weeks being better. We only start to settle into the fun and accept the serendipity as we build up that head of steam.
So That Was My InkTober
So that’s how the month went for me. I confirmed I don’t like prompts (unless there is money on the line—as I told my students the other day, I’m pretty shallow).
But I do enjoy exploration. And that’s something I’m going to be able to do with my pen regardless of my eye situation, as long as I keep feeding my mind and my interests.
I hope you had a great InkTober and are set to keep going with your momentum.
I wanted to say one more thing about production, or results, or product.
Obviously I enjoy process. It’s what feeds me creatively. We have to have some successes in production, but it isn’t essential to me each time. I find exploring and pushing around is often more satisfying because a session of exploration sets us up for a breakthrough the next time we draw.
If you find yourself totally focused on the output, and wanting the output always to be perfect and you find that you are always breaking your plans because you get stuck on day one, or day five spending so much time to produce the perfect piece that you can’t keep up the pace, think about these two things:
- Working on a daily-month-long project is like running a marathon. You need to train for it and build your muscles. Don’t try to set a goal of doing an illustration that would in the best of circumstances take you a couple days. Figure out something solid and satisfying that you can accomplish in the time limit you have the ability to budget based on whatever else is going on in your life.Set a goal which will more your art goals forward.
Then if you’ve never done a project of this scope before schedule a trial run of at least 4 days well before your project starts. Think of it as training, just as you would work up your running mileage before you tried to run a marathon. If things don’t go well in the trial, change your plans and expectations to something you now know will work. If things go well, do a two-week trial also well before the scheduled month-long project. The thing is, if you have successfully gotten through two weeks at the end of your time you can tell yourself all manner of things like, “I’m halfway through,” “I can do another 14 days, I just got through 14 days.” Things like that. And you can be convincing enough that you’ll believe yourself.
- If you let go of perfect and just focus on your parameters being set up as something you can accomplish realistically in the 30 or 60 or 90 minutes that you have each day for your daily project, and you select materials you love to use, or determine to use certain materials daily to get better with them, you WILL in a daily project, over the course of a month, improve (maybe in some aspect you don’t even expect, which may not be sketching, but might be in the aspect of observation or idea generation, or use of color, whatever).
In my InkTober there are realistically 8 or 10 pieces I really like, some like day 6 surprise most people.
But I wouldn’t have ended up with those pieces if I had not set parameters that were sane and then showed up and worked on the project every day of the month, even on the pieces that didn’t work quite as I expected or hoped.
If I had not set my parameters and budgeted my time in a reasonable way I would not have had the time to finish this project. Life is too complicated at the best of times. Throw in a Pandemic to the work and family mix and…
Set yourself up for success, and graciously accept that success when it comes to you even in small doses. Recognize and build on those doses.
In this way you will begin to build a plan that will take you forward in all aspects of your life.
And that is the gift of daily-month-long projects.
A Note About Using the Gallery
For reasons I don’t understand the Gallery generator never works on my end the way it is suppose to. Below you’ll see the gallery.
If you want to read the captions DO NOT CLICK on the IMAGE, but instead CLICK ON THE TWO ARROWS BELOW THE IMAGE.
If you don’t care about viewing the caption (just some notes on what references I used), you can click on the IMAGE and then a large black box with an enlarged image will appear. Use the side dots where the arrows are supposed to be. (On my screen they seem out of alignment I think this means I have to install the gallery update but I don’t have time to do that tonight, I will though.) Sometimes when you go into this mode you go right to having the scroll of images on the bottom. This might be related to how large your viewing window is.
If you are at the black screen option but don’t see the thumbnails scroll at the base of the viewing box, click on the black portion of the background. You will go to the scroll version which has a scroll of thumbnail images at the bottom of the box. Meanwhile you’ll still see the largest display of the images possible as mentioned above. You decide. To return to the first version simply click the X at the top right of the box, or reload the page. Have fun.