Sometimes, the depression I have over the winter slowly fades away with each sunny day. Sometimes, it disappears suddenly and all of that energy I was lacking over the last two months appears. All at once. And I spend all of my free time over four days creating a large painting of flowers.
For the second year in a row, I participated in Inktober. Last year, I had done a sort of half-marathon, only churning out about fifteen piece of work. This year I doubled that number. I tried to push myself to approach ink in a different way, despite wanting to just use an ink and a brush. Here are a few of the things that I tried.
Continuous line drawings
I liked just moving my pen along with what my eyes were seeing, without worrying too much about what my finished picture was going to look like.
Similar to the continuous line drawings, these were really just explorations of my subject matter, with once again not worrying about the end result. I think of it as working to connect my eyes to my brain to my hands and to be able to more correctly draw what is in front of me. Worrying less about what it’s supposed to look like and concerning myself more with shapes and shadows and lines. I also did a series of speed drawings, which are always a great way of loosening up when drawing.
Another fun way to loosen up was to use scribbles to put in values. I drew the woman on the left while waiting for my son to get out of dance class and I imagine people must have thought I was a crazy person scribbling furiously in my sketch book.
Because I’m so often drawn to drawing people, especially portraits, I tried to do a few landscapes. I like painting landscapes, but drawing them in black and white wasn’t really a lot of fun for me.
The best and most exciting part of Inktober this year was finding a new style of drawing, especially my preferred subject matter, faces. Using different line widths and using the spacing between those lines I was able to create different values in my work. I wouldn’t have discovered this new style if I hadn’t forced myself to continue to work with pens for the first half of the month. This has become one of my new favorite ways of drawing and also has led me to approach my painting in a different way as well.
Throughout the year, I don’t often get an opportunity to draw as much as I would like, as I use the bulk of my spare time for writing, but I’m always happy to participate in Inktober. It’s a great way of getting back in the habit of regularly making art and it also pushes me to discover new ways of creating.
Most of my free time is working on my writing, a process that becomes more and more agonizing the more I try to push myself to be better. There are days that the joy of creating the story is lost in the labor of perfecting the words.
That’s when I find myself reaching for some other creative outlet. Of course I like to draw and paint, but even then I can still feel myself become too attached to what I’m doing, worrying about if it’s going to look right and if I’m going to make a mistake.
So, this summer I rekindled my love for sidewalk chalk.
I’ve found there is something wonderful about a brand new container of chalk and my clean black driveway. Whether I make something beautiful or not, I don’t get to keep it. It’s gone with the next rainfall. If the kids want to come over and help me with what I’m doing, it’s fine. In fact, it’s encouraged. If they want to ride their scooters through it or shoot it with water guns. They can. The end result doesn’t matter, only the process of creating.
I’ve gone through buckets of chalk and I think the neighbors must think I’ve lost my mind.
As is always the case with me, participating in Inktober was a decision that was made at the last moment. I was reminded that it was October and therefore it was Inktober and if I wanted to do it I was already two days behind. Nevertheless, I completely committed to doing it. For the uninitiated Inktober is a monthlong challenge meant to improve drawing skills and habits. The rules are pretty simple. Make a drawing in ink. Post it online. Hashtag it. Repeat. You can do it daily. You can do it every other day. You can post once a week.
I wanted to do Inktober but not at the expense of my writing. The time that I can find to write is sacred and cannot be used on other hobbies and endeavors. So, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do one every day. I also wasn’t sure that I would be able to do one every other day. There might be a few days in a row where I could work and a few days in a row that I wouldn’t be able to. So, I decided to commit to fifteen ink drawings, created through the span of one month. I thought I would be able to do more than that, but I finished the fifteenth at 11pm on October 31st.
I didn’t post online as I went. I wanted to share them all together at the end here. There are prompts that are provided for each day, but I didn’t use them either. I like doing portraits, so that’s what I stuck with. My Inktober is my own bastardized version of what I think it’s supposed to be but I still think I got what I needed out of it.
I haven’t worked with ink in a while. When I first started doing portraits, I did them in Sharpie and Pigma Micron pens, but it’s been three years since I did those. Ink washes I haven’t done since college. Understandably, I felt pretty rusty. Ink (I use Higgins waterproof ink) is very permanent, in a way that watercolor isn’t. Paint can be gently lifted from the paper, softly scrubbed away. Ink, once it make’s it’s home in the fibers of your paper, is everlasting. Therefore, when you place it on the page, you should do so with confidence. Mistakes can be worked into the piece, but even if the viewer doesn’t know it’s there, you will. There were moments where I sat with my brush or my pen poised over the paper asking myself if I really knew what I was doing. I felt an anxiety working with ink that I rarely feel with paint anymore.
Still, there is something really beautiful about how ink moves through water. I had more control with pens but I quickly moved to washes when I saw how the black ink bled into the water, how it could be moved around the page, following the wet like a river. It lent itself better to texture, creating a smooth solid color at times, and transparent layers built on top of each other at others. You could have sharp crisp lines and fluid, open shapes. I could have control or I could feel helpless with the way it pooled and bled.
I was most successful when I relaxed, when I didn’t try so hard. I enjoyed those ink washes more. Still, it was difficult to accept the permanence of the ink while relaxing into the method. It felt almost contradictory at times.
It was good for me to work in a different medium for a while and I am interested to see how it will effect my watercolors when I get back to them. I hope it improves them. I also think I might want to do this again. Choose a different way of creating and stick with it for a period of time. Get to know the graphite, the colored pencil, the charcoal or the pastels that I ignore in my collection of art supplies. Get to know them and see how they can affect what I already think I know about drawing and painting.
In the end, I’m glad I participated. I will probably do it again next year with better planning and hopefully, better results. For now, I can’t wait to get back to watercolor.
My Inktober portraits:
I used to think that I had to choose which creative outlet that I wanted to give all of my time. I felt that if I was going to write, then I couldn’t paint or draw and if I was drawing or painting, then I couldn’t write. I thought that this was how my brain was wired. It’s a big part of the reason that I didn’t do much writing in my twenties. Instead, I was a visual artist. I discovered oil paint and watercolor and I went to school for graphic design. Writing was limited to college papers.
For the past two years, I’ve been mostly writing. This meant that I stopped painting. I barely doodled. I’ve loved writing, but I miss painting. I get something different out of each endeavor. Writing is harder work, and can often be very frustrating, but is very rewarding when the story comes together or I find the right words or the right phrases. It’s a workout for my brain. Painting is like a meditation. I can completely unplug from everything around me. Time slips away. The joy I find in painting is in the creation of it and less about the finished product.
I don’t like having to choose between these two pursuits and I think I might have been terribly wrong about how my brain operates. I decided that I probably should be doing both of these things simultaneously. I have this theory that writing drains the creativity from me and painting might just fill it back up.
So, this week I tried to find a balance between visual art and creative writing.
Each day, I first had to reach my word count. Right now, my daily word count is around a thousand words. That’s a nice comfortable amount for me for the amount of time that I can put into it every day. If I push myself I can write as many as two thousand words a day, but I find that’s a bigger struggle and I lose some of the joy that I have in writing. If I reached my word count early enough in the day, I could then spend my evening doing visual art. I returned to the redditgetsdrawn community and did watercolor portraits. I usually only had an hour or two to draw and paint them, but that was enough.
This was what I accomplished this week:
None of that painting got in the way of my writing. Apparently, my brain is perfectly capable of handling whatever I throw at it. I wish that I hadn’t allowed this sort of self-imposed limitation rule my creativity for the last fifteen years.
P.S. Writers who were also visual artists? There’s apparently a lot of them, so I’m in good company.