What I learned from participating in (and eventually giving up on) Inktober this year. Spoiler alert: I made it 17 days before calling it quits. And that's okay.
I made it to day 17 of #inktober this year.
When I started the challenge, I knew it wouldn't be easy (and in that at least, I was correct). But I really believed that once I crossed that magical halfway threshold, I'd fall into a rhythm and it would become increasingly easier to come up with sketches to post.
“Do a drawing! Anything! It doesn't have to be good, just draw!" -Enthusiastic internet person
"Just get to day 16 and it will all work out," I repeated to myself as I struggled to post something every day. On day 17, I realized that this was only a lie I had been using to get through the first half of the month.
I turned to the internet for suggestions. Or at least that's what I told myself; I think I knew from the moment I typed "Inktober burn out" in the search bar that all I was really looking for was someone to commiserate with. One particularly positive person suggested to "Just do a drawing! Anything! It doesn't have to be good, just draw!" My perfectionist soul cringes at the thought. I found myself completely unable to do a quick sketch and call it a day. I wanted to have my all my posts lined up beforehand, which kind of defeats the point. I mean, yes, I'd still be drawing, but pre-planning each sketch a month in advance is not really in keeping with the spirit of the challenge.
Everything had to be meticulously planned out. Not only was I following the prompts, I was incorporating typography in my designs, because why not add an additional level of difficulty and make what is supposed to be a fun exercise into one more thing to stress over every day for a month?
Designing a Monster
For the prompt "overgrown," my first thought was to write the word "overgrown" and draw vines on top of it. Which would have been perfectly fine. I should have just drawn the damn plants and been done with it, but I didn't. If foliage was the first thought I had, wouldn't lots of other, more talented people have it as well? Plus, I've drawn a lot of plants. Now was the time to branch out (pun intended)! I decided that instead of plants, I would draw an "overgrown" monster. I never draw monsters; this would be a fantastic opportunity to really push myself! What would the monster look like? How would I imply that the monster was "overgrown"? So many questions!
I did end up with what is, in my opinion, a pretty okay sketch of a monster. Not perfect, but passable. And more importantly, posted on the correct day, in a layout consistent with my previous Inktober posts. I went to bed feeling pretty good about myself and was drifting off to sleep when an unfortunate revelation smacked my groggy brain awake: my monster was just a monster!! There was no clever typography, no hidden word, nothing but a sketch! What the hell had I been thinking?!
Becoming An Incredibly Irrational Illustrator
I'd like to say that I came to my senses after only a few agonizing seconds of mental upheaval, but that would be a lie. I actually considered GETTING OUT OF BED to make and post a new sketch. I didn't, but not without a lot of internal struggle. I knew that from this point on, every time I looked at my feed I would see a monstrous error, my incompetence and inconsistency on display for all the world to observe as my mind sang "one of these things is not like the other" on repeat, in an incredibly mocking voice. Who needs the ridicule of others when you've got your own mind working against you? Take a hike, rational thought, we don't need your kind in here!
If this was a movie, that would have been the turning point, my "aha!" moment, the part where it all comes together and I have this grand revelation that changes my life. But alas, this was not a movie. Things didn't have to be wrapped up in a neat little package in 90 to 130 minutes. I was free to continue making bad decisions! I had to keep going, I was almost halfway there! Plus, I already knew what I wanted to do for the next prompt, "legend". So I did another sketch. Well, not a sketch, multiple sketches, until I got things just right.
I did two more days of sketches. By this time, I was completely over it. When I looked at the list of prompts, all I could see was a jumble of words (how were there still so many?!) that I had no desire to illustrate. Instead of feeling inspired, I felt dread, which we all know is great for the creative process. I saw the checkmarks I had put beside each of the prompts I had created and posted, and realized how much time each of those tiny checkmarks had cost me. I had spent part of my vacation, the only solid week of time I'd have off all year, working on art that I wasn't even going to use again after it had been sent off into the murky depths of Instagram. I thought about quitting. I told myself I should quit. I almost did quit. Then, I decided I'd look at the next prompt. Just to think on it. In case maybe I thought of a really, really good idea and all of my initial excitement for the challenge came rushing back. It didn't.
It's Official, I'm a Quitter
On the 18th day, I didn't draw. At all. I felt like a quitter. Technically, I was a quitter. A failure. And because that wasn't unpleasant enough on it's own, I threw some good old-fashioned guilt in the mix. The nice (but largely absent) voice in my head meekly whispered, "You made it more than half the way," but was promptly drown out by a much louder, much more obnoxious one that covered it's fictional ears and chanted, "Loser! Loser! LOSER!" Good times.
I considered just doing some of the remaining prompts, the ones that really spoke to me. Only none of them spoke to me. Flipping past the list of words in my sketchbook was enough to induce a mild feeling of depression. From time to time, I'd revisit the list to see if my initial excitement for the project had returned. It hadn't. I avoided opening my sketchbook, which is always a super productive way for a creative person to behave. It sat on my desk, mocking me and my self-pitying sadness.
Then it happened. After a few Inktober-less days, I cautiously opened my sketch book to a two-page spread filled with "pre-offical-Instagram-illustration-sketch" sketches and turned the page (another witty pun). A glorious blank space stared back at me, blissfully free of any of the struggles I had created for myself over the course of the last two and a half weeks. I was finally able to accept the fact that I would not be finishing the challenge. I had instead opted to complete the five stages over grief. OVER A VOLUNTARY SKETCHING PROJECT.
Why would anyone do this to themselves? Lots of reasons, actually. Inktober is a fantastic idea. It's a challenge. It's only for one month. There are no hard rules, only suggestions, and there are no consequences if you fail. It's actually impossible to fail, except in your own mind. It made me draw. It helped me develop concepts that I wouldn't have otherwise. It allowed me to get a better idea of my style, what I liked and what I didn't. But for me, the benefits just didn't outweigh the additional stress the challenge created in my life. I think that's partly because of my personality; I'm a perfectionist, which doesn't really lend itself to posting one cute little spur of the moment sketch every day. Nothing is ever that simple for me. I don't enjoy sketching with a pen. I never have. I'm #teampencil all the way. Most importantly, I've got a lot of other work/responsibilities/life stuff going on at the moment that should be higher on my list of priorities than sketching things I have no interest in to create posts I'm not really proud of to post on a social media platform that is already filled with mediocrity.*
I still think Inktober is great, for a number of reasons. It just wasn't the right thing for me, at least not this year (and probably not in any year, unless I contract amnesia and concoct some entirely new, laid-back personality for myself). And that's okay. At least I think it's okay. I don't know. Ask me again next October.
*Not trying to ruffle any feathers here; there's an abundance of good stuff on Instagram too, but there's only so much sponsored content and selfies a person can scroll through. No offense, I'm just not into whatever new thing #influencers can't live without because they've been paid to sing (gram?) it's praises, and I don't care how enamored anyone is of their own striking good looks (especially if their face has been contorted into any kind of dumb/surprised/"sultry" expression). Not everything is post-worthy (she said, as she shook her cane and yelled at the entire internet to get off her lawn).