Takeaways for Inktober: what I learned from completing Mermay.

A monthly drawing challenge is certainly a learning experience. As anyone who’s participated can attest, doing the full 31 days together with all your other daily obligations is a feat. Last May, I completed a full prompt list (so 31 pieces in a month) for the first time. Here’s a few points that I will be keeping in mind for Inktober:

It requires a lot of attention: go at your own pace

I challenged myself to do all the 31 drawings because I wanted to see if I could make 31 drawings surrounding one concept. If you have kids, a busy job and loads of other responsibilities which will prevent you from sitting down every day to make a drawing, by all means challenge yourself to your own extent: make a drawing every other day, once a week, or contribute one drawing.

Keep it simple

I started out on Mermay thinking “I should be able to whip up a simple colored piece every day in an hour.” Boy, was I wrong. For the first week or so, I had no ideas prepared, no sketches on paper, and I was trying to do a “full color piece”. I had nights that I couldn’t come up with ideas, or I was spending so much time on a Mermay piece that I couldn’t get to other important tasks for the day. I also started in a certain way sometimes that forced me to spend more time on a piece before I’d be satisfied enough with it (for example, I almost never like my flat colored work, I usually try to add a little shading).

So later on, I decided to a) batch my ideas and b) do all my drawings in shades of blue linework or color. If I had the time, I went the extra mile and colored a drawing, but the blue color scheme was my acceptable minimum.

Preparing is not cheating

I reread the rules for Inktober: there’s no rule that you can’t prepare your drawings beforehand. There’s loads of studies that say that multitasking kills productivity, and focusing on a task for longer periods of time increases efficiency. There’s a few ways you could make your Inktober more efficient, depending on how you want to handle your Inktober philosophy:

  • You want to ink on the day itself:

Batch your ideation process. Look at the prompts on a quiet Sunday afternoon and sketch out your ideas for the next 7 days (or however many you feel like doing). That way, you won’t have to make a beautiful drawing and think of a concept to go with the prompt at the same time (I was pretty thankful for this at 10PM on a weekday). Inktober is about improving your inking, and having a cool concept for a prompt can be a nice side effect of this. That doesn’t mean you have to be a concept wizard every day. Another plus: you’ll have time to iterate on the idea itself and improve on it once you actually start drawing.

  • You just want to do 31 ink drawings:

Batch your images, and work ahead! If you’re on a roll, move on to the next one and save it for tomorrow. You know the 10.000 hours philosophy? As long as you’ve put the time in, you’ve learned something. Doesn’t matter if you learned it on a Sunday or a Monday.

Don’t lose out on sleep

When doing Mermay, I lost out on a lot of sleep because I was doing all my daily tasks and only then starting to finalize my Mermay drawing for the day (around 9 or 10PM). As a result, I was more ineffective during the next day, taking longer to do my regular tasks, still having to do a Mermay drawing at the end of the day, thus being more tired the next day, etc. (See the vicious cycle here?)

Instead of giving yourself the task of Inktober on top of all your daily tasks, see where you can streamline your day to incorporate Inktober. After all, as Jake Parker says: “Inktober is about growing and improving and forming positive habits, so the more you’re consistent the better”. The ultimate goal is to create a routine that you’ll be able to keep up with, ideally also after Inktober has finished.

So some of my suggestions to create some space in your day for Inktober:

  • Draw during your commute (if you’re not driving)
  • Draw during lunchtime (on a napkin, a small pad, etc)
  • Draw during meetings (there’s studies saying that doodling during meetings actually makes you retain what’s being said a lot better)
  • Forego watching TV and sketch instead for relaxation
  • Draw with your kids and do Inktober at the same time
  • Ask your partner to do a half-hour task for you so you can do your drawing, like folding laundry
  • Be more selective about your social activities (do what you really want to, just say no to the ones you’re not excited about)
  • Look at other routines in your day that can actually be counter-productive. For example, I tend to mindlessly browse social media a lot (without even engaging). I’ll try and limit that to a minimum for Inktober (and try and keep up with that afterwards)
  • Incorporate Inktober drawings into a current project. For example, I’m still doing concept work for my upcoming graphic novel, Netherrealms. I could opt to do a few concepts for the project in ink, and kill two birds with one stone.

Find an element to tie it together

I was talking to someone yesterday who said her greatest difficulty was coming up with images or concepts to draw every day, even when using the prompt list. Instead, she looked up local mythology and made drawings based on that.

As I said before, my element that tied together my Mermay drawings was the color blue. Not only does this provide you with a base to start from, it can also cause your whole set to feel like exactly that: more of a set.

I learned I can produce something every day…

I was very glad when I’d completed Mermay. I was really proud of myself because I had done something that I had not done before in my working life: produced a complete drawing every day for a month.

… but does it add to my “brand”?

However, I did notice that I wasn’t always that happy with my drawings. I sometimes wonder if I should archive most of the drawings on my Instagram feed because I feel like they don’t represent the best of what I’m capable of. If I produce a bad drawing on some days, that reflects on how people see your work.

That being said, if there’s anything that’s not in the rules of Inktober, it’s the rule about having to produce a drawing that you’re happy with every day. The value of Inktober is learning and productivity.

To summarize

Most of what I learned from Mermay is, be efficient. That will be my main takeaway for Inktober.

Bend the rules to suit your needs, or check if it’s even a rule at all. And besides, it’s not like you’re going to get disqualified. :) Make sure you get out of it what you need, be it a new routine, some new skills in inking or a beautiful set of ink drawings. Happy inking!

UPDATE 2020:

After writing this article, I went on to complete Inktober 2018 as well and learned even more about the process of completing bigger projects such as monthly challenges. I’ve combined even more tips and insights into this digital booklet called Completing your Art Challenge. If you liked this article, check it out and let me know what you thought of it!