Like many artists, Cam Kendell creates a lot of his work digitally — but sometimes he misses the tactile feel of making a pen-and-ink drawing.
When working with clients, “the importance is being able to turn a project around quickly, and being able to make adjustments quickly. Digital has that ability,“ Kendell said from his studio in Orem. “Working digitally, I can easily undo the line I just did and try again. When I’m working traditionally, I have to be a little more methodical, or a little more thoughtful in the line I’m making.”
Kendell is one of thousands of artists picking up a pen this month to take part in Inktober, a monthlong challenge to produce a drawing a day and post the results online, connecting with other artists through the hashtag #Inktober (or, for this year’s incarnation, #Inktober2018).
Inktober is the brainchild of Jake Parker, a Provo-based artist who got the idea when he decided his skills with ink needed some work.
“I wanted to get better at inking,” recalls Parker, who was working in an animation studio in Connecticut at the time. “A friend had this Japanese pen that he brought back, and it had a brush tip, and it was kind of unwieldy.”
Back then, Parker said, his friends were challenging each other to perform push-ups. “What if I did an art challenge?” Parker said to himself. So he announced the first Inktober challenge on his blog in 2009.
“Social media wasn’t ubiquitous quite yet,” Parker said. “People basically showed up to watch my blog, the posting every day. A couple other blogs amplified the message a little bit.”
Hollie Hibbert, another Provo artist, used to work with Parker and saw he would bring his sketchbook into meetings. He told Hibbert about Inktober, and she jumped at the chance to draw on a daily basis.
“At first, I needed practice and I needed to get better,” Hibbert said. “The first years when I started doing it, I gained a lot of followers [on social media], and pretty soon I got talking to more people. As the hashtag got bigger, they could find me and I could find them.”
As more artists posted on Instagram and got comfortable with hashtags, Parker said, Inktober took off. The event really started gaining steam in 2013, he said, and hasn’t dropped off since. Last year, an estimated 100,000 artists worldwide put up around 3.5 million Inktober posts on Instagram, he said.
“A lot of Inktober is sharing what you’ve done,” Kendell said, “seeing what other people are doing, and sharing that community aspect.”
Artists can participate at their own pace. If they’re hardcore, they can post once a day for the month of October. Others may try the “half-marathon” option, posting every other day, and still others can attempt a “5K” and post once a week.
For the past couple of years, Parker has posted a “prompt” list, with a word a day designed to spark an artist’s creativity. This year’s prompts start with “poisonous” on Oct. 1, “tranquil” on Oct. 2 and so on, ending with “slice” on Halloween.
Some artists take the challenge even further by plotting out a series of drawings on the same theme for the entire month.
Kendell did that last year, posting a page of a graphic novel every day of October and into November. He wrote an outline in advance, but didn’t write the actual dialogue until the day he would draw it. The finished book, a mystery called “Mortimer B. Radley and the Case of the Missing Monkey Skull,” is now for sale on his website.
Hibbert is looking to do something more involved this year: a deck of playing cards, with drawings for all the face cards. “I’m a little timid to announce it just yet,” she said. “It’s a big project.”
Parker also did a series last year, building the month of 31 images into a parade of fantastic creatures. He’s combining this year’s posts into one drawing again.
Not having a project or a plan can be even more stressful, said Kendell, who may “wing it” this year. “It’s not just enjoying the process of drawing something, creating something in ink,” he said. “I’m also then taking the time to figure out what I’m going to do every day.”
Taking part in Inktober, Hibbert said, sets a tone for the rest of the year. “It gets you in that habit,” she said. “Once the challenge is over, you ask yourself, ‘How do you keep the momentum up?’ … It pushes you into the next thing, and maybe that’s the thing that’s going to be the big project.”
“That challenge of drawing something that you can’t undo tends to improve my artistic ability quicker than other things I do day-to-day,” Kendell said. “I see this little bump in my ability each year.”
Parker believes Inktober has grown beyond its original purpose, and even beyond ink. Many participants create digital art, and he says that’s OK.
“The challenge for me has changed. Now, I’m using it to get better at visual storytelling,” Parker said. “Now, I feel Inktober can fulfill whatever creative needs you have, within some constraints. … But constraints are what breed creativity. You’re pushed to do more inside a box.”