It’s October, which means that your social media feed has probably been inundated with pumpkin spice, seasonal witchery, informative posts about how your costume idea may actually be offensive, and of course, pen and ink drawings.
I usually participate in Inktober but rarely am able to make it all the way through. This year I started thinking about it a couple of months ahead of time, wringing my hands over how I wanted to approach it this year. I needed a goal, something to focus on improving in my work, to make sure I held to this challenge. I am a classic Rebel according to Gretchen Rubin, which means that I often rebel against any rule that’s been set, even my own.
After spending ages trying to nail down some rules that I wouldn’t break, I finally decided that my main goal for this challenge would be to think less, make more. Sometimes I get so stuck conceptualizing things that I never get around to actually doing them. I’m hoping to confront some of that this inktober.
Here are a few more goals for this challenge:
• Increasing my range of subjects
I’d like to incorporate more of the human figure, as well as hand drawn typography and animals that I’m normally too intimidated to draw.
• Work on my composition skills
Many of my illustrations share compositions, which I enjoy as an aspect that ties them all together, but it can sometimes be limiting in terms of telling a story. I’d like to challenge myself to think a little bit differently about ways to compose an image.
• Increase my narrative potential
That’s a fancy way of saying that I want my pieces to work harder to tell a story, whether that’s through composition or increased visual lexicon. I’m so influenced by folk lore that only makes its way into my pieces in a vague sense because I’m not sure how to properly allude to such esoteric content. This will be a good way to exercise that.
So, all of that being said, let’s take a look at how week one went:
DAY 1: POISONOUS
For the first prompt I decided to draw some pokeweed. The first time I saw this plant I initially mistook it for elderberry – a dangerous mistake since pokeweed can be very poisonous unless you know how to prepare it correctly.
Many medicinal herbs are like this. They can be poisonous unless they’re prepared properly. I apply this often to our own hearts and minds. Sometimes sadness, sorrow, and pain can be our greatest teachers. The things that are most poisonous to us reveal the most about ourselves and our situations, and in that way, the poison becomes the medicine.
This idea is especially prevalent in herbal alchemy, which is a practice I’ve been reading into a bit lately. In the same way that alchemical elements and processes reflect our internal world, so do plants. We can extract the essence of an herb to make its action more potent and use their energetic properties to heal ourselves in a more holistic way. Pretty interesting stuff. To read more you can check out the School of Evolutionary Herbalism.
Poison as medicine has also been incredibly relevant in the last couple of weeks as we follow the trial and eventual confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh into the supreme court. Seeing so many women and female identifying folks in pain and great despair about their worth, and feeling that pain myself, pointed out to me the even greater need for healing during this time in our country. I’m seeing this pain galvanize the efforts of womxn to band together, to use their voices, to lift the voices of others, as well as to live out loud. And in the face of so much ugliness, at least there’s hope in that.
DAY 2: ANCIENT TALES
On day two I decided to switch from following the official Inktober prompts to following the prompts laid out by Manière Noire, which would allow me to develop a visual language more in line with my vision. This prompt was Ancient Tales and I immediately thought of the Oracle of Delphi. Admittedly, I broke my own rules and spent about four hours trying to get the composition right before deciding to scrap the whole thing and just focus on one element I needed to practice – ancient columns.
The Oracle of Delphi, also known as the Pythia, was the high priestess at the temple of Apollo. She inhaled smoke through a crack in the floor, chewed laurel leaves, and channeled prophecy from Apollo himself. I’ve been entranced by this story since I first heard it in college, imagining a gorgeous, mysterious, robed woman who contained secrets beyond the human imagination.
DAY 3: ANIMAL GHOST
A bit disillusioned with what I considered an immediate failure on day two, I decided to take it easy on day three and just draw a simple pheasant skull. Pheasants are (apparently) pretty common in the more northern parts of Minnesota, and every time I see a little animal skull on the ground or see my roommate feed her snake I wonder where consciousness goes when the proverbial light gets turned out. This piece isn’t really a depiction of a ghost, but a meditation on what it means to be alive.
DAY 4 + 5: INTO THE DARK WOODS + BELL JAR
I’m always inspired by the magic and mystery of the woods – the strange things that happen within, the stories they inspire. This piece combines that mystery with a little artifact of the story of Vasilisa the Beautiful, who searched the forest to retrieve light from Baba Yaga’s hut. Baba Yaga takes her through a series of tasks to earn her fire, and Vasilisa completes them accompanied by a little doll in her pocket and some disembodied hands.
I first read about this story in Clarissa Pinkola Estés’s Women Who Run With the Wolves, and quickly fell in love. This folk tale is packed full of symbolism that heavily influences my work and personal life now, especially as someone who spends considerable amounts of time pondering the nature of womanhood and self.
DAY 6: SKULL AND BONES
For this one I read a bit about bone throwing, a divination practice that uses bones to predict the future or give insight into the self and experiences. You can read more about it on this post on Britton Boyd’s blog, this book by catherine yronwood, and various other google-able sources.
Part of the draw to this kind of osteomancy was its relation to the Bone Woman, another story I first read about in Women Who Run with the Wolves. This northern Mexican folk tale describes La Loba – the wolf woman who wanders the desert valleys gathering bones and breathing life back into them. When I first read the story, I was in the process of breathing life into my own bones – gathering up stories and relics from my past and making sense of them to try and learn more about myself. Shortly after this period I took to the desert to find my wild soul, inspired by La Loba, who I am convinced paid me a visit.
DAY 7: BLACK COFFEE
It is said that a 7th century Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi was the first to learn of the effects of the coffee bean after seeing his goats’ reactions to eating the bean. The story is mostly apocryphal, but I can hardly resist the chance to draw two of my favorite things – goats and coffee. I chose a more botanical route in drawing the coffee plant rather than the drink itself.
Thanks for reading about this first week of Inktober! I hope you’ll stick around for the weeks to come. Have you heard any of the stories I’ve mentioned in this post? Have I gotten anything wrong? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below! You can also follow along with my Inktober process on Instagram.
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