Setting SMART Goals for Inktober and Beyond

How many times have you started Inktober just to fizzle out a couple of weeks in after starting out strong? Have you ever wondered how others seem to stick with daily challenges?

It’s counterintuitive to think that planning and structure could encourage our creativity, but I truly believe that we can get more done and set aside more time for creativity when we plan for our creative goals. In art school we’re taught a lot of conceptual and even technical skills but I’ve spoken to many artists and illustrators who have all had a hard time completing projects or getting to where they’d like to be in their career.

So today I’d like to share the SMART method of goal setting as it relates to illustrators. This technique is used a lot in business circles, but I’ve only seen a couple of people discuss its relevance in the art world. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. This technique helps us narrow in on the specific things we need to do to achieve our larger goals.


Here is where you really narrow in on what you’re trying to accomplish with this challenge. If you do this part right, the rest of this acronym fills itself in. You might say, “I want to draw more,” or “I want to be a pen and ink illustrator.” Those are great aspirations, but now’s your chance to get even more specific about what you want.

What are you drawing? Will you share those drawings with anyone? Where? Where will you keep these drawings? A separate sketchbook? Why do you want to do this challenge?

Are there any obstacles you’ll need to overcome? Maybe you’d like to use a different medium. Maybe you have trouble holding yourself accountable. How will you combat that?

Maybe your goal then becomes, “I want to build up a portfolio of 10-12 pen and ink illustrations, so for the next 20 days I will create one drawing per day in black ink, using a variety of different techniques, including stippling and cross-hatching, and various subject matter including plants, portraits, and architecture.” This gets at what you hope to accomplish and how, and gives you something to do everyday to accomplish your larger goal of being a professional illustrator.


How can you know if your challenge is successful if you can’t measure it? Goals should be trackable, whether that’s by setting a number of days, number of drawings, etc. For example, maybe you want to draw everyday for 30 days. Maybe you want to draw every type of evergreen in your state. Maybe you want to draw an herb for each letter of the alphabet. Each of these provides a quantifiable metric to judge your progress by.

Whatever metric you choose, define it. Then determine what you need to do each day to meet that goal.


Be realistic! I’ve failed many challenges just because I put too much on my plate, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, didn’t take on enough and got bored. You don’t want to sell yourself short — this is a challenge after all. But you also don’t want to be so ambitious that you set yourself up for failure from the start. A good goal is realistic to the place in life you’re in. If you already have a full time job, a family, and other commitments, maybe your challenge should be a little more loose in nature. Instead of trying to illustrate an entire book in 30 days, maybe you could simply work on taking 30 minutes each day to draw something from life. This still gets you closer to a goal but isn’t as time consuming as illustrating an entire book.

Setting realistically achievable goals also allows you to stay motivated and excited to show up to the drawing board each day.


It doesn’t really make sense to make 31 black ink drawings in a sketchbook if it doesn’t align with your larger artistic goals. Is there some other way that you can do Inktober (or any other challenge) in a way that suits your business better? Illustrator Kendyll Hillegas tackled this in 2018, using brush pens and colored pencils to make drawings of fruit for every day of the month. The folks at Manière Noire set their own dark, witchy prompts and invited others to join in. Both of these are great examples of how illustrators can use existing challenges to further their own artistic growth.


DEADLINES. Deadlines are so important. Without them, projects can and often do drag on forever. Choose a timeframe for your challenge, whether it’s the typical 31 days for Inktober, or a specific date that you need to have all of your drawings completed by. Whatever timeframe you decide on, this will be crucial to keeping you on track to meet your goals.


When it’s time to get serious about my goals as an artist, these key elements are always in the back of my head to make sure I have something to work toward. If I need an extra push or some extra encouragement, I’ll even write my goals down according to these criteria and keep them somewhere I can see them everyday. For all of you, I’ve created a special goal setting worksheet so you can do the same. Click here to get yours!

Do you have any other methods for goal setting? How do you stay accountable? Please let me know!