I was low-key panicking a week before November. I’ve been doing productivity sprints with a friend, who had decided they were going to try and do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where one writes 50k words over a month. I couldn’t not do something about as ambitious, but I didn’t have a ton of writing I really wanted to bang out in short order.
In my understanding, the spirit of NaNoWriMo is about:
- actually trying to Do The Thing within a non-trivial 1 month time box.
- doing an overwhelming amount more of the thing than you would normally do, with a concrete goal to help you focus on volume instead of perfection.
- to a smaller extent, providing social shielding, both for yourself and your friends (“November is for working on NaNoWriMo, so please understand when I’m busy and can’t hang out”).
I just needed to find something big that I could do in a month. But I was also pretty busy, needing to put together a big ole’ presentation a few days before November, and didn’t have much time to get creative. So, I took the easy way out and ported Inktober to November.
- I felt like I had lots of visual stories to tell; if nothing else, I had plenty of fanart that I could produce as grist for the Inktober mill.
- I had a hand-me-down Wacom tablet from a friend that transcended a few years ago: I’ve done rough sketches with it, including work on a puzzle that didn’t go anywhere, but I figured it was time for me to actually take the time to learn how to use it, instead of leaning on vector programs to get me from sketch to final product.
- Since I hadn’t really tried, maybe I had some hidden talent at/love of digital drawing. Unlikely, but worth figuring out if it’s something I should invest more skill points into.
- November only has 30 days, instead of October’s 31, which makes doing a daily drawing sprint mildly easier.
But since it wasn’t Inktober, I had to come up with another name for it. After my productivity sprint partner ranted about the stupidity of the name “NaNoWriMo”, I had to keep with the naming scheme. So I went with NoLoDrawMo: November Local Drawing Month.
An additional constraint I slapped on top of the main “draw 30 things” constraint was that I had to be comfortable publishing the drawings I produced. Spoiler: it turns out you just have to lower your expectations.
That said, I did withhold a two drawings of family members, because casting those onto the internet seems like asking for trouble, even if they’re terrible enough that no one would recognize them.
My tools of the trade:
- Hand-me-down Wacom Bamboo tablet.
- Krita, for digital sketching/inking.
- Inkscape, for some vector work.
- Git, because programmers will never not find a way to use git inappropriately.
So, without further ado…
1: Profile Image
My current profile image is around 2 years old by this point, and I wanted something new. Something more dynamic, with more… pizzazz.
Nits (things I’m not happy with, but aren’t publish breaking):
- the eyes are a bit wonky, being different sizes, but the saving grace of profile pictures is that they’re tiny, so it’s probably not a problem. Example (36×36):
- On second thought, my chin is way too weakly defined to get picked up by aggressive resizing. I’m thinking about reworking it before shipping it.
- The glasses reflection kind of coincides with the hair shadow, making it a bit busy right around the middle of my face.
Otherwise I’m pretty happy with the linework. The process was pretty similar to my existing workflow, doing “sketch, then fit vector shapes with Inkscape”, but this time doing the sketching with Krita, as well as throwing in some gray shadow shapes.
And this time, unlike my previous profile image, I didn’t need to use my phone as a lightbox, and just freehanded the sketch. Cool.
2: Blobmoji on Vacation
The blobs have been retired, so I decided to see them onto a well-deserved beach vacation.
This uses the same sketch-then-vector technique as the first illustration, with more shapes, more color, and more complicated shadow work.
- If you look closely you can see some weird shadows: for example, the chair backrest looks weirdly uniform, instead of having some indication that the fabric is stretching.
- The surfboard kind of has a weird shape that I don’t know how to fix.
- I planned to have a margarita glass next to the blob, but putting in another umbrella just seemed like a lot of work, so I cut it.
- The pipes should have smoother shadow gradients, but laziness wins.
- I originally tried to draw the blob actually surfing, but it turned out that I suck at that sort of skewed perspective, and I gave up early.
At this point, I figured that each illustration was taking a lot of time, and I needed to learn how to do line art in Krita directly.
(It turns out I didn’t save any time with all the learning I needed to do, but at least there was learning.)
3: RimWorld Bionics
Yup, basically the rest of this run is just fan art. I apologize in advance.
I drew this almost immediately after finding the stabilization function in Krita, allowing me to actually use “pen” brushes in a way that looked ok, instead of devolving into a shaky mess at the drop of a hat.
A quick example:
And what I drew:
- I was originally going to draw the bionic arm with individual metal fibers, but quickly discovered that this would be wildly labor intensive, so instead opted for the lazy PCB-style traces.
- That cowboy hat is pretty wonky.
- There were vague plans for adding the doctor that had just installed the bionic arm, but that quickly went out the window as twice as much effort for 1 image. C’mon, gotta be efficient!
- I don’t like how thin the lines are, which I quickly remedied in…
4: Winking self portrait
(I lied, this is technically not fanart)
I drew this almost immediately after finding that the pressure sensitive pens combo’d really well with the stabilizer. Like, ridiculously well.
A quick example:
This would have simply had to be vector work before, and now it’s just freehand:
- I tried out a highlight on the eyebrows, which didn’t work as well as expected: it turns out that while the stabilizer allows me to draw nice curvy lines, it doesn’t necessarily let me draw the same curve twice. Still need some skill for that.
- There’s something weird about my head, to the point I look a bit like one of the Beatles. Don’t know how to fix it.
- Started to run into trouble with lines that tapered on both ends. It’s easy to start a nicely tapering line, but impossible to end one. I still haven’t figured it out, and I took to finding natural joins, like corners, that I could join the ends with. Still, it required more than the usual number of undoes to get right.
5: PRAISE THE SUN
I guess this technically counts as fan art, even though I’ve never played Dark Souls.
- Help I can’t stop using the pen+stabilizer combo.
- Discovered that I could use the vertical mirror to make it easier to do both sides of the pose. Bam! It’s like twice the work in the same amount of time.
- The feather is the last thing to go on, and it’s a sad little affair.
- I started putting in chain mail, but got tired of it after the first row. I bet some people enjoy drawing every strand of hair, but that’s not for me.
- The cowl is a bit too aggressive: I was suggesting folds without really knowing where it would fold in/out.
- The helmet would probably look better if I took the proper perspective and drew the bottom of the helmet.
- If I were really hard core, I would have written the text myself as well. But, I am not really hard core at all (evidence: have not played Dark Souls).
6: The Dark Forest, hanging up
There’s a part of The Dark Forest (which is part of The Three Body Problem trilogy, properly known as Remembrance of Earth’s Past) where the main character goes up to the mountains and hanging up is described, well: “(He) hung up, snapping the thread that stretched across the night sky and leaving the people at the two ends a little saddened, but nothing more than that”.
Well, I thought it was poetic. Maybe you had to be there.
- It turns out that inking something that won’t use the inking borders in the final product (in this case, because it’s so damn dark) just makes coloring a giant pain. Looking back, this would have been a great time to use layer alpha locking, could’ve saved myself some unwanted outlining in the final product (due to brush feathering and the flood fill tool not working together well).
- More problems with the stabilizer allowing me to make nice curves, but not necessarily the same curve twice: see the mountains with uneven backlighting (the thin lighter gray line), when I intended even lighting. Maybe vector work isn’t so bad.
- I had originally wanted to render the brake light glow, but expediency won out, and you got a sad car with plain lines. Also, who knew it was hard to draw cars? And, I struggled with getting the hood right until I gave up and drew the simpler rear of the car.
- What are these mountains, just gray expanses? Could’ve added some more intermediate shades, instead of leaving their interiors as gray blobs.
- My original idea was to animate the link breaking, but EXPEDIENCY.
7: RimWorld Again
I have a particular vision of a bunch of RimWorld pawns facing off against all the things that can kill them in a giant cluttered showdown (see something similar in form). It would be a really big undertaking, so I decided to try and just extract one part of it.
- Help how do I perspective.
- How are guns like horses (and apparently cars)? You realize they are weird as hell once you start drawing them in detail.
- Super inconsistent with the line weight, tends to get way too wispy.
- Help where is the internal anatomy? Do internal organs stop existing once you can’t see them? Like, is her left leg just floating in space?
Well, at least now I have a better idea of just how big of an undertaking the original vision would be.
8: Skull (Craft Sequence)
More fanart, but now book fanart. Supposed to be the head of the King in Red from the Craft sequence, which is why there’s flaming diamonds in the eye sockets, but it turns out that I’ve spent about infinitely less time drawing skulls than not-skulls, and even drawing from a reference image of a skull didn’t turn out well.
- I learned some things about skull anatomy, but not enough. Like, there should be something going on behind the place the jaw connects with the skull.
- The back of the skull is doing something weird. It seems too angular?
- I don’t really have a good grasp on rendering a void: I wouldn’t have done anything differently if the eye sockets had eyes in them with flaming diamond contacts on. Maybe it’s just a problem with line-art only work.
I did another two drawings, more properly named experiments. However, they’re based on family members, so as explained previously I’m redacting the work. You’re not missing anything special, just more opportunities for me to complain.
11: Color/shadow experiment
At this point I was burning out pretty hard on drawing, so I took to watching Krita tutorials and speed paints. Wow, people just iteratively paint things directly, without inking? Maybe I should try that.
Except I chickened out, and did an ink-then-color process, with some shadows thrown in. Subject was made up on the spot.
- Shadows weren’t as aggressive as I first thought: when I zoomed back out after doing detailed work, it was hard to tell there were any shadows at all, which isn’t a good outcome for a shadow study.
- My love affair with the pen+stabilizer is basically over by this point: fill paint does not combo well with the thin tapered starts, with the fills going everywhere if I didn’t block it in manually on a pixel level. And, the fill wouldn’t respect alpha blending of the strokes, resulting in jagged interior edges.
- I screwed up the multi-level shadow: I should have started with the lighter shadow, instead of starting with the heavy shadow. As is, there are two shadow layers multiplied with each other, which wasn’t easy to control.
- The ear is great, but probably should have segmented the shadow when crossing from the behind-ear skin to the hair, strengthening the kind-of-sort-of illusion of the hair being higher on the z-index.
12: Random Line Work
I still have lots and lots of fan art in me, but by this point I know I can’t do justice to any of it. So, another random subject made up on the spot it is.
I tried a couple different things:
- Using heavier exterior lines. Maybe I should just use heavier lines, period, but I figured delineating interior/exterior lines via weight would at least be interesting.
- After reading this post on tips and tricks, I started using the eraser tool more liberally, instead of (laboriously) turning my pen over to erase. This got me cleaner line joins, especially with the heavier lines, where just making the clean up tool more available got me to use it more often.
- Someone doesn’t understand anatomy. Necks should not be offset like that.
- Fast face is fast, but that chin maybe took that corner too fast.
- Scale is wonky in places: tiny ear is disproportionately tiny, and small hand is disproportionately small.
Just to be clear, there are a number of sketches I started, and dropped after a bit. I didn’t finish everything I started on, leaving around half the things I started in a sketch stage.
So what’d I learn?
1. Energy Depletion
When I did NaNoWriMo 2 years ago, I was ready, I had a plan, and I finished with my word goal days before the end of November.
This time, I was decidedly not ready. I had just gotten off a month of obligations, and even the month before that I was ready to just be done for a while. So I wasn’t ready to really face off with a 30 day sprint and slay it, but wanted to commit because, you know, social stuff, and I wasn’t in danger of really burning out.
On the other hand, I didn’t expect to get 12 images deep. And, they are not uniformly cringey dumpster fires!
2. Skill Calibration
I think NoLoDrawMo has indicated that if I want to be a great artist, then I would have to throw years of work into the furnace of skilling up.
I mean, obviously. I’m old enough to have learned the hard lesson that everything worth doing is hard. And, I’ve done enough art-like things that I already knew that I wasn’t the drawing Scott Alexander, I already knew that I didn’t have a compulsion to draw. This month of trying to do The Art Thing just cemented that knowledge, putting it center stage.
(I even told myself that if I could sustain the effort to get to 15 images, which seemed like a really low bar at the time, I’d spend some money to get myself better tooling. But I only got to 12, so no shiny new toys for me. Which is probably for the best, given the awful artist economics around doing anything seriously.)
On the other hand, not everything has to be a masterpiece, and maybe I can tell some stories while letting something else, like the writing, carry the work. But if I want to do that, I’ll have to figure out how to lower my standards.
3. Skill up!
I’m not highly skilled (see the previous point), but I did gain some skills around using my tools better:
- The pen stabilizer is a god send.
- Once pressure sensitive pens become viable with the stabilizer, I can just bang out nice looking lines in no time, and refined the line banging process over the month.
- I knew layers were great from using Inkscape/GIMP/Blender, but hell yes layers. Lock them, throw them away, make ’em blue.
And that’s disregarding all the stuff I learned about general workflow, and how to deal with Krita quirks.
4. On subject matter
As I got more and more certain that I wouldn’t hit my target of 30 images, or even 15, I was pretty bummed. Think about all the long form graphic stories I would have to accept would never exist! Like… hmm.
Most of the art I produced in NoLoDrawMo was fan art, and upon introspection, most of the art I would have produced in the future would have been fan art. Spending lots of time skilling up just to make fan art seems anti-climactic, a sort of misuse of potential. “Here lies thenoviceoof, who could have contributed mindpower to MIRI and prevented the machine uprising, but instead made fan art.” I just have one really original story inside me right now, and it’s not even high definition at this point.
This mirrors the outcome of NaNoWriMo for me two years ago: I wrote a bunch of fanfic, and discovered I didn’t have much in the way of original work. And on introspection, I was exercising the fiction side of my writing muscle when most of my future writing was decidedly non-fiction, including writing for work and this blog.
So maybe it’s not worth it to try and level up, since while there isn’t much internal supply-side talent, there also isn’t much internal art demand. And, if I needed some work done, and didn’t want to outsource it, I could just dump time into it and iterate until I got something good out of it.
At least it only took a month to figure out it doesn’t make sense to deliberately cultivate this skill.
Final verdict: for a last minute NaNoWriMo replacement, NoLoDrawMo worked out fine. Probably won’t do it again, since I don’t know what I would do with a fully operational art skill.
 ↑ NaNoWriMo especially puts an emphasis on volume instead of quality. Obviously, you’ll go back and edit if you want to actually publish, but you don’t have time to edit while November is rolling on. More importantly, you don’t have time to obsess over minute details, either.
 ↑ The Inktober site seems a lot more focused on selling things than NaNoWriMo, which doesn’t sit well with me. Sure, there’s more stuff to sell, but it does feel like more of a just-this-side-of-helpful mindspace marketing grab.
 ↑ Into that black hole in mid-California they call The Bay Area.
 ↑ It’s certainly not National, so…
 ↑ It’s true, November and Month are redundant. Whatever.
 ↑ “How paranoid are you, sir?” “NOT PARANOID ENOUGH.”
 ↑ It appears that the Bamboo tablet line has gone through massive changes, without any marketing identifiers to help distinguish versions. Thanks, Wacom.
 ↑ In this case because binary blobs don’t diff well, and they get written into “immutable” history. On the other hand, the binary blobs in question are only megabytes in size, so it’s not such a big problem.
 ↑ It turns out that utter crap is publishable! You just have to be okay with it.
 ↑ I ended up learning how to use Krita half a year ago while working on a puzzle that won’t see the light of day.
 ↑ For the shadows, I had to take a union of all the objects, diff it against a rough shadow area, and use that as a low opacity overlay.
 ↑ Depending on how you look at it, the blobmoji one is also fan art.
 ↑ Isn’t it healthy if you’re a fan of yourself? Not crossing into narcissism territory, but an appropriate level of self-confidence.
 ↑ She was a great shot and better doctor; I was bummed when her husband died of a roof falling on him (due to bad construction habits on my part) to the point of rage quitting.
 ↑ The King in Red might not actually have any flaming eyes. I’m not a good fan.
 ↑ To be fair, I didn’t realize this was a shadow study until halfway through making it.
 ↑ That is, for things I want to endorse. I don’t really endorse these images: just gotta ship early, ship often.
 ↑ To be honest, it would be re-accepting, since being realistic about the number of hours in a day would indicate I couldn’t do all those things.
 ↑ To be fair, I think at least one of those long form pieces of fan art would have been pretty cool. An absolute ton of work, but cool.
 ↑ Not that going to MIRI is important to me, but it’s a thing that would plausibly have a big impact on the world if it pans out.
 ↑ On the other hand, there’s specific prior art for doing fan-stuff and also doing stuff for MIRI.
 ↑ If I get the urge to whip something up, obviously I can do it, but I’m not going to put it on the same level as writing every day for 30 minutes. Mind you, I don’t get there even most of the time, but I still maintain this aspiration and pay the emotional costs when I don’t maintain it.