5 life lessons from Inktober 2017


Inktober was started by master illustrator Jake Parker. On his website he writes: “I created Inktober in 2009 as a challenge to improve my inking skills and develop positive drawing habits. It has since grown into a worldwide endeavor with thousands of artists taking on the challenge every year.”

Until October 2017, I sat on the creative sidelines and watched, year in and year out, as the online illustration community participated. Just to be clear, Inktober is an annual drawing challenge that sees illustrators from around the world draw one ink drawing every day for the entire month of October. The idea is that illustrators use the challenge to improve their ink skills and learn something new whether it’s about technique, style or even themselves. It’s also just really fun.

Drawings are shared on social media – usually on Instagram. What typically starts slowly, inevitably builds into a crescendo of creativity by mid-month as artists build momentum, discover new techniques and inspire each other with beautiful work.

Having drawn for most of my life, you may be surprised to know that it wasn’t until 2017 – eight years after Inktober’s inception! – that I finally got round to participating. Why? Well, I had been going through something of a creative drought that year and as Intkober approached I saw an opportunity to revive my illustration prowess and prove to myself once and for all that I wasn’t just an observer, but a participant of the illustration community I so admired.

So on October 1st 2017, I dived in headfirst. Here are the top 5 lessons I took away from the experience along with some of my favourite Inktober illustrations.

1. Discipline is your friend

In an age of endless distractions and unprecedented speed, finding time to slow down and pursue one’s hobbies can feel challenging, if not impossible. Personally, I often make the mistake of thinking I need large chunks of time to truly be productive and creative. We’re talking hours here. With Inktober though, I didn’t have the luxury of time. After all, I had to be drawing one drawing every day for an entire month! And not just any old drawings. I wanted to be drawing things that made people gasp and say things like: that is amazing!

In order to keep up with the frenetic pace and creative demands of the challenge, I knew I’d have to bite the bullet and compromise on my utopian drawing ideals. However, what at first seemed like a compromise soon turned into a profound insight that I was able to leverage to be even more productive!

You see, by forcing myself to sit down each evening and draw I quickly realised that what challenged me most wasn’t the act of drawing (or doing anything creative for that matter) but the act of actually starting – that is, sitting down after a long day at work, turning on a lamp, preparing tools and putting a piece of paper in front of me. Once I was in the swing of things I found myself drawing with ease and enthusiasm. Once I started, I often didn’t want to stop. Within a couple of days, I’d produced drawings I didn’t know I was capable of creating.

How did I do this?

Discipline. That’s what it boiled down to. Just sitting down each evening and starting. Sometimes I’d have an idea of what to draw, other times not. But each evening I’d sit down, pick up a pen and just start.

So whatever it is you’re doing, make starting an achievement in and of itself. Because once you get going, it’s surprising how quickly you find your rhythm and enter into a state of flow. Discipline takes practice, but once you build it into your creative routine it truly pays off.

2. A drawing a day keeps the inner critic away

As a creative person, I often find myself hounded by my own inner critic. I put pressure on myself to be productive, inspired and as creative as possible. When I’m not producing anything, that inner voice leads to tension which results in feeling low. I suppose it has to do with the distance between one’s reality and one’s potential. It can seem infinite and overwhelming when you let the inner critic reprimand you for standing still or not being good enough.

However, during Inktober, I experienced a wonderful silence – a sort of creative bliss. Why? Well, I was being productive on a daily basis and engaging in one of the few activities that truly give me life. I’d go to sleep feeling fulfilled and accomplished. I’d wake up excited for the day ahead. I felt in control.

What I noticed was that I didn’t even need to produce something great to feel the benefits of daily creativity. All I needed was to sit down for 20 to 30 minutes and draw something – hell, anything! Because it’s not about the drawing itself, it’s about the act of drawing. It’s the act of being creative. That’s what counts.


Well, imagine the distance between your reality and your potential. Now picture yourself moving toward your potential. What’s important here isn’t HOW you are moving toward it – what counts is that you’re just moving! That in and of itself is profoundly rewarding and – although it’s certainly up for debate – more sustainable in the long run. After all, I’m still young. I have decades ahead of me and I don’t want to burn out or work myself to death anytime soon.

Since the start of Inktober, I’ve made an effort to do something creative every day. Often it’s a quick sketch. Sometimes it’s progress of film I’m working on. Other times I write or journal. But as often as possible I create something. It keeps the inner critic quite and sustains me through each day making my ambitions and goals ever more possible and within reach.

One step at a time, people. That’s all it takes.

3. Process is the outcome

What stops so many people from drawing is the outcome they usually have to deal with upon finishing. More often than not amateur artists or newbies will lament at the quality of their work and see it as a reason to find another hobby – or worse, abandon creativity altogether! What’s so tragic about this is that they’re missing the point of creative work! It’s not about the outcome. It’s about the process!

During Inktober I was reminded of this because I was drawing on a daily basis. It occurred to me that if I was to go the distance I’d need to focus on the present moment and embrace the process of drawing. I naturally found myself entering into a wonderful rhythm – a flowstate. I’d play music and get lost in my lines. I wouldn’t think too much. I’d just draw. It made me realise how intuitive the process is.

During Inktober something deep in me was stirred by the daily ritual of drawing. I tapped into a creative energy I remember vividly from childhood – you know – that sort of innocent, playful energy that allows kids to spend hours in their room content with the boundaries of their imagination and the simple ambition of trying to express themselves – not for an audience, just for themselves.

Drawing isn’t about recreating life. That’s called photography. That’s outcome thinking. Drawing is about moving your hands across a page, feeling the lead or ink glide across paper, getting lost in the moment while your head swims into oblivion. Drawing is about expressing yourself regardless of what others feel about your work. It’s about finding joy in observation, detail and the present moment.

The most wonderful thing about embracing process is that over time, the outcomes we imagine in our minds slowly but surely emerge.

Surrender to the process – whatever it is you do. You’ll find that, almost miraculously, the outcomes you so desperately crave, will – when you least expect it – appear.

It just takes time. So be patient and just go with it.

4. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose – just keep playing

During my first week of Intkober I was on fire. I was drawing like a madman, exceeding my own expectations and just having such a great time each evening getting in the zone and being creative.

But then one fateful evening mid-October disaster struck.

I drew a bad drawing. A really bad drawing. A drawing my 12-year-old self could have done in his sleep. And suddenly, just like that, I began to doubt my ability. I went to bed that night feeling low. I had been on such a great streak I thought. What happened?I woke up the next day. I felt deflated. I went to work. Everything seemed duller than usual. I got through the day somehow and in the evening plonked myself in front of my desk to bravely attempt another drawing for Inktober.

Lo and behold, I found my rhythm again. All of a sudden I was drawing something beautiful.

Though it may seem unremarkable to an outsider looking in, the creative process can be quite overwhelming and seemingly definitive for the artist at work. It’s like when a writer hits writer’s block and begins to doubt their ability to write. However, what I learned from Intkober, is that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

The most important thing is to keep pushing forward, trusting that as much as you’re likely to fail, you’re just as likely to succeed. So let the pendulum swing both ways. Go easy on yourself and allow the bad drawings to be drawn. They may very well be the precursors to your next masterpiece.

I mean, just observe the world you. Everything is seasonal and subject to change. Tides come in and they go out. Leaves emerge in Spring and then fall in winter.

You’ll lose – regardless of what you do. It’s inevitable. The only way to win is to keep playing.

5. You’re capable of so much more than you think you are

John F Kennedy once said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Lazy assumptions impact us in profound ways that only the curious and the brave are willing to interrogate. Some of the laziest assumptions I think a lot of us suffer from are the assumptions we have about our capabilities and potential.

In my experience, people often choose more comfortable ways of life to avoid challenges and pain. We get used to routines and habits that numb whatever emotional turmoil may exist in us. We convince ourselves that we aren’t special or capable of what we truly want for ourselves.

However, when one embraces discipline and routine and chooses not to run from pain and discomfort but work THROUGH it, very interesting things start to happen. Small improvements in performance emerge – in whatever it is you’re pursuing. You gain a new perspective by entering into a different state of mind. Your focus improves. You feel fulfilled because suddenly you’re actually doing something about the things you want for yourself. Again, it’s not about holding one’s North Star in your hands. It’s the walking toward it that matters.

The obstacle is the way. Fear is the invitation. Accept the invite. Show up. You’ll be amazed at what you’re capable of.
I realised this first hand during Intkober when I produced some of my strongest illustrations to date by embracing discipline, pushing through my discomfort and believing in my ability.

So challenge yourself somehow. You’ll be rewarded. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but eventually you’ll experience the incredible feeling of fulfillment that comes from doing what you can with what you have to achieve what you want for yourself.

That’s all there really is.

So whether it’s drawing or some other activity, don’t shy away from the obstacles of discomfort or difficulty. Do it because it’s hard. The obstacles are merely a roadmap to a state of fulfillment, purpose, and the realisation of your potential.