Perspiration vs. Inspiration, Or What I Learned from a Month of Inktober

No quite 50 shades of grey but... (ba-dum-tish!)
Ink! Not quite 50 shades of grey but… (ba-dum-tish!)

This year, I decided to participate in Inktober, and unlike in previous years, I actually managed to stick it out, and learned a few lessons along the way.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Inktober, like NaNoWriMo, is a month-long endeavor during which artists create something every day—an ink drawing, in this case. I’d made half-hearted attempts in previous years, but this year I decided to take it seriously.

Unsurprisingly, taking it seriously helped me stick it out. I’ve always drawn; in high school I was part of a visual arts conservatory, but as an adult, I’ve let this part of me fall by the wayside. As a result, my drawing muscles have atrophied considerably, a fact of which I became painfully aware over the course of the month. There are a lot of parallels between writing and art, or at least there are for me, and I’ve learned a few things doing Inktober that I think could be applied to writing.

1. Commit.

As you can see by the picture above, I put my money where my mouth is and bought some proper tools to get me through Inktober. In previous years, I just sketched things in ballpoint pen, which is technically “ink”, but it isn’t quite the same. My first two drawings this year were done with ballpoint pen, and I think the half-heartedness comes through.

(If you want to see all my drawings in reverse chronological order, check out my #inktober tag on my Tumblr.)

2. Just because you had one bad day doesn’t mean you should quit.

In theory, the more you practice something, the better you get at it. And while that’s true over time, it’s not true on a day-to-day basis. My god, there were days of Inktober where I was so uninspired I just scribbled something onto the page, leaving me with drawings that make me cringe, throw up my hands, and tell myself I’m a terrible artist and that this is why I stopped drawing because I suck and what’s the point?

But now that I see these all laid out, I don’t regret having drawn them. There’s something I learned about myself in each of these works. I’ve learned that my proportions are still okay, that my line work can be expressive and fluid, even if the end result is wonky and awful. And if I’d stopped every time I drew something I didn’t like, I wouldn’t have drawn some of those of which I am legitimately proud.

3. Experiment. If you fail, at least you learned something!

I tried out some new things this Inktober, the biggest of which is hand-lettering. My handwriting has deteriorated significantly since I was in school, but I like text as art, and decided to try working it out. I need a lot more practice, but I tried it and found I liked it, which I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t experimented!

Other experiments included mindless, meditative doodling as well a failed attempt at blending. Inks don’t blend the same way pencils or paint do (duh), which are the natural media with which I am the most comfortable. But despite failing at blending, I learned how to work with that in later sketches (see the ones I did above).

4. When it doubt, turn to fandom.

Seriously, I got a lot of mileage out of fanart.

I even took a drawing request from someone who asked me via Tumblr to draw Hamilton and Doc Brown. I’m out of practice with cartooning, but I had fun with exaggerated expressions.

5. Steal from your betters.

Well, don’t outright plagiarize anyone, but I kept a lot of inspiration references on my phone (as I usually did these sketches in a half-hour or less during my lunch break) of other artists whose work I admired, whether it was the expressiveness of their line work, their detailed cross-hatching, etc. Now, I tend to value expressive lines over detailed verisimilitude (Naoko Takeuchi, the mangaka of Sailor Moon was an enormous influence on me in high school), so I have a lot of pieces of art with that style saved in a reference file.

As Algernon from The Importance of Being Ernest says:

I don’t play accurately—any one can play accurately—but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte.

6. Have fun! Even if you will never make a living from art, find joy in what you do.

Back in high school, I drew every day. Being in conservatory forced me to work on a project for hours at a time after school, but in addition to a main thesis, I had to submit smaller concentrations for my AP Fine Art portfolio. Some days I was inspired; other days it was a slog. But in order to get through the grit-my-teeth days, I found something I liked about what I was working on. I had to.

For Inktober, I often drew my characters from my writing projects. I love writing, so I drew what I loved. Honestly, it helped a lot.

I also drew inspiration from my life.

When I was in elementary school, I didn’t keep a diary; I drew comic strips instead. Inktober was a bit like that for me this year—drawing my thoughts instead of writing them down. It really worked creative muscles I hadn’t used in a very long time.

7. Habit makes the heart grow fonder.

Seriously, forcing myself to draw something (nearly) every day shifted my thinking process. Knowing I had to produce something meant I was thinking ahead. And thinking ahead made me look forward to drawing. Even if the execution didn’t live up to the original image in my head, the act of committing my thoughts to the page became pleasurable in and of itself.

So there you have it. With a little extrapolation, these lessons can definitely be applied to writing! Let’s hope I can carry these lessons on to NaNoWriMo

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