Inktober challenges artists to find daily inspiration

Chris Suarez
Staff Writer

VCU junior Rachel Smith was inspired by her family to illustrate iconic American actors and classic movie scenes. Photo by Brooke Marsh
VCU junior Rachel Smith was inspired by her family to illustrate iconic American actors and classic movie scenes. Photo by Brooke Marsh

The VCU artistic community always pushes the limits of what it can achieve. Inktober, a national monthlong ink illustrating challenge, is another platform local illustrators are using to improve their skills and connect their art with social media.

VCU students who are artistically inclined seem to love a challenge. Whether being a member of VCU Arts or using their art to provoke deeper self-reflection or awareness of social issues, students are constantly pushing themselves to improve as artists.

Originally started as a personal challenge in 2009, freelance illustrator Jake Parker came up with the idea of Inktober. Inspired by the inking of artist Willie Real, Parker said he chose to make a sketch or drawing each day of October to improve his skill with ink.

“It’s cool seeing people get into it,” Parker said. “I think the reason people are getting into it is because it speaks to a core, innate desire for us as humans. We want to improve ourselves, we want to get better at things. It’s hard to do that, but we need something to challenge us.”

VCU junior Rachel Smith is one of the many student artists taking part in Inktober. Introduced to Parker’s concept last year, Smith said friends from her communication arts classes inspired and encouraged her to participate in this year’s iteration of the challenge.

Smith says her grandfather — an artist commissioned to paint dioramas for displays in the Smithsonian — and her parents’ affinity for classic American films inspires her art and the drawings she has made thus far for Inktober. Smith’s Inktober submissions, which have taken anywhere from two to four hours to complete, are photo-realistic portraits of iconic actors and scenes from memorable television shows and movies.

“As I got older and came to understand art more, I was drawn to the stuff I loved as a kid,” Smith said. “Those movies had gorgeous posters, artists like Drew Struzan did those airbrushed posters, it combined what I loved, movies and art — it seemed like the best option.”

While the challenge of making a sketch everyday may seem arduous, Parker says one of the best sensations from participating is reviewing the work you have done and assessing what you did or did not do well.

When Smith first learned of Inktober, she said she was intimidated by the consistent demand for a drawing while taking difficult classes. Despite dedicating several hours of a day to complete a piece, she says the experience itself has been rewarding.

“It sounded like fun to be in a community where everyone is pushing themselves and each other to keep up with it,” Smith said. “It’s a really good opportunity to sharpen my skills working with pen and ink. It’s a good excuse to focus my energy on that … In communications arts, the work is very regimented, so it’s nice to have an outlet to do whatever I want.”

Following Parker’s first attempt at the challenge, he decided to post an open invitation for his colleagues and fellow illustrators. In its first year, Parker says only a small handful of artists participated in the challenge.  After publishing several book collections including Inktober drawings, a year reprieve and then another Inktober in 2012 with only a humble amount of participants, Parker asked for submissions to be shared on social media include the hashtag #Inktober.

Last year, after introducing more social media elements into the challenge itself, Inktober became what Parker called, “mildly viral.” On Instagram alone, over 45,000 uses of the hashtag were listed in 2013. Eight days into Inktober 2014, there are more than 190,000 posts with #Inktober.

As posts pile up on social media accounts, more and more artists at VCU are becoming interested in the initiative. On Parker’s personal website, the invitation page now says participants are welcome to submit their drawings as frequently or infrequently as they like, so long as they take away the message of developing good drawing habits and trying to improve their skills.

“I know a lot of people saying they wish they had done it and will probably do it next year,” Morgan said. “People have been really supportive of each other. Maybe it’s the nudge they need.”

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