Monday, 21 November 2022

Taking part in the Inktober challenge - with Mini Grey


When I’m being a so-called ‘illustrator’ I will go to enormous lengths to try and avoid actually drawing things. (For the evidence here’s an entire post I wrote on How To Not Draw Things.) So what could be more good for me than a challenge to make an image every day for a month?

So this week I wanted to tell you what I’ve learned from doing the odd Inktober challenge and similar things, and how discoveries from Inktober-type activites can come in useful to a terrified illustrator.

So what’s Inktober?

It’s a challenge to make a picture for every day of October, possibly in ink. There’s a set of prompt words you can use if you want. Here are the prompt words for 2022:

There are other daily drawing challenges. In 2018 John Vernon Lord inspired a One Inch Drawing a Day challenge for September with Quentin Blake’s House of Illustration (now the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration).

John Vernon Lord’s drawings were about 3cm square, and he kept up his Drawing-a-Day challenge for an entire year. He didn’t have any themes or prompts, saying “I would just plunge into something that occurred to me on the spur of the moment.”

Some of John Lord's Drawing-a-Days: can you guess the month?

I particularly liked JVL’s life-size objects and creatures, like this fly, woodlouse, and beetle. 

It felt like you could pick them out of the picture. I decided to do an insect every day for the September 2018 one-inch challenge. I ended up calling them Meet the Relatives. Each one had  a name label a bit like those cases of pinned insects you get in Natural History Museums.

The Drawing a Day challenge with the House of Illustration inspired lots of joining in. Here are just a few of the collections at the end of September 2018.

By Sojung Kim-McCarthy: litter found on the beach transformed into tiny beauties

One inch miniatures by John Shelley

A Drawing a Day from Freya Hartas (John Vernon Lord's granddaughter)

But back to this year’s Quinktober.

This year I set myself some rules. This October, for my Quinktober2022, my rules were:

µ A size rule: the picture had to be 10cm square.

µA materials rule: had to use Quink ink somewhere.

µ A theme rule: the theme was ‘animals’.

And what did I find out making Quinktobers this October?

That scribbly response doodle you did first: that’s your friend.

I discovered that I love the surprise of responding to a word, it’s like going fishing in some magic lake where you never know what unexpected creature you might pull out.

I discovered the value of the quickest sketch ever – that first response scribble – as a crumb, a clue, a starting point to draw from. Leaving a breadcrumb trail of rough starter sketches for the days coming up make it easier for tomorrow’s you to get started.

Sketches for Quinktober 2022

Responding – to a prompt word – is a thrilling process. Your own response can be surprising and take you to new places. Sometimes you have to drag a response out kicking and screaming. Sometimes you have to worry away at the word to find something in it that you can use.

I think the act of responding…is at the heart of picture book making. Pictures respond to words, words respond to pictures, they dance together.

Once you’ve caught an idea you like, the rest is easy….It’s having that starting point that’s so valuable, you’ve got something to work with – rather than the endless possibilities of a blank page.

Tracing Paper is my friend... experiment, to make copies, to cut up and move around on my 10cm grid for working my drawing out. I can’t just draw something right how I want it first time, so now I don’t expect to be able to.

Working out day 25 TEMPTING

Impossible prompt words – can be good.

Some of the prompt words just didn’t fit in my animals theme, or didn’t appeal; for example, Day 23 BOOGER and day 29 UH-OH. But it’s good to be pushed away from your familiar territory and have to work at how to find an image.


I do love the square. I do love breaking the frame.

For me, the fun of having things escaping out of your border never gets old!

Making your daily drawing can become your happy place...

…and you can start to look forward to going there – especially when you know your rules/method.

There’s a relief to doing a small solvable thing: especially when it’s relief from smashing your head against the brick wall of a story idea that refuses to work. There’s also the relief of images not having to be consistent or related in any way.

Determination to complete the challenge creeps in, so it becomes important that it has to be done – which is motivating.

This activity can’t take too long – so there has to be a bit of acceptance when you’re unhappy with it. I never allowed myself to start till after 5.30 pm.

I was VERY unhappy with day 19 - PONYTAIL.

Also your prompt words provide something to mull over when you’re driving up the M40 again (or whichever is your motorway of choice.)

And lastly:

Making a collection is nice.

It’s fun to see if the collection seems to belong together.

It always takes longer than you think. (Even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.)

 John Vernon Lord notes that his Drawing-a-Day average time was 36 mins per drawing. I think my pictures often took most of an hour.

Your pictures can sail out into the world.

It was fun to post up an image every day on Twitter and Instagram, and discover that nice people were following them. So at the end of October I sold them off at exceptionally reasonable prices. And now they’ve flown off in the post to their new homes.

Day 29 UH-OH now in the collection of teacher and illustration fan Mr Ben Morgan.


 Mini’s latest book is The Greatest Show on Earth, published by Puffin.



Pippa Goodhart said...

Just WOW! Like an array of boxes of assorted chocolates, but better!

Mini Grey said...

Thanks Pippa! Now I'm thinking - what about a draw a chocolate a day challenge....mmmmmm.....

John Shelley said...

Such wonderful work, and you nail the attraction, absolutely agree with every word. thanks for including my humble little doodles!!

Mini Grey said...

Hi John - thanks for your comment - I definitely had to feature your one inch and other size pen & ink wonders. And the scale of the one-inch-ones! Amazing! Always in awe of your ability to stick to B&W too and never shy away from drawing a densely twigged wood by moonlight!

Penny Dolan said...

What a delight of a post! Have written an early morning blogpost elsewhere, my head is still too full of words so seeing these sets of images was a joy.

I already love seeing John Shelley's work on twitter, so might start looking into Instagram. Prompts do inspire such fascinating responses.