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Drawing anyway

Overcoming self-consciousness in Inktober

On his website, artist Jake Parker has a big heading that says:



a large black inkspot with the Inktober logo in it in white, set against a white background. There is a tiny "TM" next to the ink blot to note the Trademark. Owned by Jake Parker,

Mr. Parker started a “31 Days, 31 Drawings” campaign in October of 2009 to encourage him to develop “healthy drawing habits” (as per his website). I’m assuming that means drawing every day. Many writers believe in the myth that one must write every day to have good writing skills/habits. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron asks participants to commit to writing 3 pages of stream-of-consciousness writing daily for 90 days, long enough to form a habit of doing it. That actually worked for me; I did the 90 days and kept going. Eventually the 3 pages morphed into 1 large page, but the daily ritual stands. The habit is so ingrained that if I skip a day, it doesn’t toss me off the treadmill. I pick up the pen (and paper – it’s handwritten, an Artist’s Way strong suggestion) and get right back into it.

Perhaps that is the kind of habit kick-start Parker was after. Perhaps the drawing skills get rusty, like a foreign language, if you don’t use them. Parker invited others to participate. It grew a large following. Now thousands of people around the world follow Parker’s daily prompts by drawing a related ink-and-paper sketch and posting it to social media channels (Instagram being the most popular). Check out the hashtag #Inktober2019 for this years’ crop.

What originally was for ink, cartoon and graphic artists, soon grew to welcome any person with any level of skill. Indeed, the “most recent” column of an #Inktober hashtag search will undoubtedly bring up hysterically rudimentary drawings (but the “top” posts column can product break-taking images that hardly look done by human hands).

My drawing began in childhood, improved slightly by my teen years, and then just froze. I didn’t work on drawing as a skill or a craft again. Other pursuits grabbed my interest, like photography, sewing, papermaking, knitting and crochet. My time was spent in classes and reading books on those skills, never on drawing.

When I pick up the pen, I produce images that look exactly like my doodles in high school. This is what I mean by my skills bring frozen. It’s like a day hasn’t passed. I make the same lines, the same curves, and I always produce the same wacky proportions that drive me crazy.

I’m a big fan of the growth mindset. The growth mindset is the belief that one can improve their performance with education and practice. Instead of saying “I’m bad at math,” which is a strict dictum on the fate of one’s math ability, you would say, “I would like to practice at that, and with practice I will inevitably improve.” Time and effort leads to higher achievement. Simple concept. What makes it the growth mindset is applying it to any and all situations. When it comes to ability, hardly anything is fixed. My drawing ability can get better if I put effort into learning and practicing, just like I did with sewing or any other craft. The problem is, I’ve not been putting in that effort.

This is where Inktober and I (and embarrassment. Let’s not forget her) meet. You guys, most of my Inktober sketches are dreadful. I am haunted in particular of the drawing I did for the prompt “swing:”

a hand-drawn, basic and rudimentary sketch of two swing dancers
This is not what I pictured in my head.

This is terrible. Why? Because it does not match AT ALL what I had in my head. Sure, it may be better than what you could do, but when you have an idea but you don’t have the skills to bring it to fruition, that is a failure. It stinks. But I had to post it anyway because that is all I had, and I couldn’t spend any more time on it.

I know I could have done better, but that’s the difference between people who have skills and people who don’t: Skilled people can produce something decent in a short amount of time. Unskilled people may be able to produce something decent, but it may take then 43 stops and starts and 3 days to do it. That’s where I am. If I produce something passable, you can be sure I’ve spent too much time doing it, AND it isn’t close to the vision I started with.

It is not like me to post my craft failures. But Inktober isn’t about perfection; in fact for me it is a lesson about imperfection. My growth mindset here is about learning to live with putting art out there that people will think is basic, dumb, pathetic or worse. It’s important that I keep drawing and posting, no matter how bad the drawings are, because I need to learn this lesson. My fiction writing is never going to be perfect, but I keep struggling with it, hoping to feel better about it before I send it out. (Maybe after this Blogtober I should post some flash fiction every day. The “every day” obligation precludes perfectionism).

If you want to follow along, find me on Instagram as purplecar_cc. With each post I try to tell a little story as to why I chose that particular interpretation of the prompt. It’s super embarrassing for me, but I’m doing it anyway. And with anything in life, probably that’s the point.