The exchange term at IIMA is underway and my procrastination buddies are off touring Europe. Therefore, in absence of several usual distractions, I found myself presented with some free time. This was when inktober came along.

Inktober is an internet fad where people create one painting per day throughout the month of October and share them on social media. The objectives are:

  1. To inculcate the habit of daily sketching or painting
  2. To improve art skills
  3. Spreading art-related enthusiasm to the masses

The movement is quite well-designed to achieve these. To put it simply, it asked me to spam my timeline with artworks. This is a sure-shot way to annoy friends and I had to minimize the damage by not sharing the tougher pieces that I’ve attempted (read: failures).

I had never been much into art before. In 24 years, I had produced a total of 10-15 sketches and 3 watercolor paintings, all of which were replicas of works that I had come across. Painting was one of those hobbies that never caught on. Inktober was a good opportunity to change that.

I could not keep up with the daily posting schedule (I’m in IIMA after all), but I did paint more during this October than all my previous art put together, which I consider as my biggest inktober achievement.

Digital painting

I picked digital art while choosing my medium. I was already into editing and building upon existing digital works but I was limited to basic shapes and graphics when it came to making my own. In most cases, I had to rely on stock vectors and google images, which meant that I often had to work with something that was available over things that I actually wanted. Digital Painting was sort of “a vertical integration”: it would allow me to make a wider range of designs from scratch. While this was the major personal motivation, I did not limit myself to vectors (the kind of digital art used for designing).

There were several benefits and problems that came with the digital medium.

Pros:

  1. A digital art kit typically consists of a laptop/tablet and a stylus, making it super portable. This was the biggest advantage for me, as most of my art is opportunistic.
  2. The variety of digital tools in a good app is higher than any physical equipment one can ever buy. Logistical issues – such as running out of a particular color – don’t arise.
  3. Experimenting is easier. It is possible to create simultaneous variations of a painting by creating several layers.
  4. Mistakes can be rectified with the undo button.
  5. The freedom to try out random stuff without ruining the painting leads to faster learning.
  6. Certain easy but laborious tasks of traditional painting – such as filling in a solid color – can be done instantaneously in digital.
  7. Some of the skills are transferable to traditional painting.

Cons:

  1. The output isn’t a physical piece of painting. Instead, it is an image, which might be off-putting to some.
  2. Without costly hardware, drawing on a screen is not as accurate and stable as drawing on paper. This is frustrating as even simple structures (such as lines) often require multiple takes.
  3. The user interface of any versatile drawing application has a learning curve of its own. This is an additional hurdle before one can actually start drawing.
  4. Several nice things that come naturally in physical paintings (such as paper texture and brush dynamics) may need to be consciously incorporated into a digital painting.

Required equipment

I began with sketching on paper and digitally putting in colors using a mouse. Then I started drawing directly with a mouse. Both these methods are quite inefficient, and not recommended.

I then experimented with painting on a tablet with my finger. This worked out better. According to me, a touchscreen device is a minimum requirement. Even cell phones with large screens can work. Free apps such as Adobe Draw and Paper by 51 are good enough to get started.

Over the month, I bought a stylus and the Procreate app (a total investment of Rs. 1300). This is where the bottleneck shifted from the equipment to my own abilities and hence I would not be purchasing anything else for a while.

Just for information though, professional digital artists that I follow typically use one of the following combos:

  1. iPad Pro + Apple Pencil + Procreate
  2. A graphics tablet linked to Windows PC + Photoshop

The first is more mobile whereas the second is more powerful.

Speed painting vs Controlled painting

I came across primarily two broad methodologies in the tutorials.

Speed painting is where the artist throws paint directly onto the canvas and then carves out the finer details from the mess, whereas controlled painting is the traditional brick-by-brick approach.

Speed painting example: link
Controlled painting example: link

The tradeoff here is “difficult and fast” vs “easy and slow”. Artists typically start out with the latter to hone their technical skills before graduating to speed painting if needed.

I tried out both. Many of my speed paints failed midway, though.

Skills: technical and composition

Art involves two kinds of skills.

The first is technical ability. This is the ability to put down a scene onto a canvas. It requires knowledge of a variety of styles, knowing what tool leads to desired effects and so on. We use this skill exclusively while copying someone else’s artwork or while translating a real setting or object into art. (This video shows the epitome of technical skills: link).

The second is the ability to compose a scene. This comes into play while painting imaginary settings or putting our own spin on existing things. It can lead to wonderful things even in absence of a lot of technical sophistication. (Example: link).

As an amateur, I am in short supply of both of these skills. There are resources available for the former. However, the latter is much harder to work upon. Tutorials can’t teach it well. In fact, I haven’t been able to produce a single painting with 100% original composition so far.

Whenever I attempt it, I am struck with my ignorance about how reality plays out. When do shadows have hard gradients, when do they blend? Which surfaces give off ambient radiation? How do we differentiate between multiple green leaves on a tree without hard cartoon-ish outlines to demarcate them?  All these and hundreds of other questions arise when creating a composition, and I do not have the answers. It helps to watch how professional artists deal with these, but their methods are typically based on their unique styles and are not always compatible with the way I want to do things.

Recently, I’m trying to develop the habit of observing the finer details whenever I’m outdoors. It has helped, but I have a long way to go. A major insight that I got recently: the character of a setting mostly lies in the interplay of lights and shadows, not in the actual objects present.

Learning resources

The internet is full of awesome free tutorials and timelapse videos that have been a crucial part of my learning process so far. These range from traditional art technique videos, to videos specific to digital art, to tutorials on software UIs.

Here are some of the best resources I’ve found so far:

  1. Bob Ross: for inspiration (link). This guy is a legend.
  2. Proko: for art techniques (link)
  3. James Julier Art: for Procreate specific tutorials (link)
  4. Mike Henry: for digital art techniques (link)

Further plans

Overall, I am quite happy with the way inktober panned out. Future art-related activities that I’m planning are:

  1. Work on composition
  2. Work on vectors
  3. Start a comic strip
  4. Replace all third-party images on my blog with my doodles
  5. Make memes (?)

Ciao.

5 Replies to “My digital inktober experience”

  1. Wow, this post it quite detailed! I have been trying something similar with Daily writing for NaNoWriMo 2017, but so far, I am quite behind on the word count.

    I used to try art for a while in college and am not great, but it’s a good pastime. But I am more interesting in painting by hand and have been toying with the idea of buying some equipment for a while. Let’s see.

    How’s your IIMA stint going? And how come you’re not in Europe this sem? Is it only by choice?

    1. The IIMA experience has been great so far.

      We have a system where people with previous international experience get lower preference while going on exchange. I had a foreign summer internship. I could’ve still gone but maybe not to a college I preferred. I felt it’s not a good idea to trade an IIMA term for that.

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