Holidays in Ink Challenge -- Details and Prompt Lists

During the busy holiday season, I'll be taking this Holidays in Ink Challenge, enabling me to just sketch with pen and paper when the going gets tough! Come play along if your life gets as hectic as mine from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day, or if you'd like a challenge to push your artistic boundaries and inspire you. Many artists have asked me to include a list of prompts. As a result, I've decided to make two lists ("Subject Prompts" and "Process Prompts"), which are included below. It's posted well in advance of the start date, so you'll have time to gather whatever you need in materials or references to complete your personal challenge.

  • Dates: Tuesday, November 24, 2020 to Saturday, January 2, 2021 (40 days)
  • Goals: Sketch or draw at least 30 of the 40 days. An average of two days off per week for holiday madness is built into the schedule. Give yourself a bonus for more than 30 days of artmaking!
  • Materials: Ink Plus Whatever
  • Prompts: Either use the lists below, or create your own, or do a combination.
  • Posting your work: If you wish to post your work somewhere, you can use the hashtag #holidaysinink. There is no obligation to post your art. 


In art and life, we all have different goals, so following somebody else's path isn't usually the ideal way to arrive at your own destination. Art is subjective and personal. Deviate as much or as little as you'd like from the prompt lists, instead of feeling tethered. They exist only for extra inspiration if you need it. Set your own goals, and follow your muse.

There are two prompt lists: SUBJECT and PROCESS.  The idea is to select a prompt (or more than one) from each list and pair them together. It's fine to follow just one of the lists, or neither list, or a combination. It may help to bookmark this page, so that you can easily refer to it for the prompts, links, suggestions, etc.

The lists are alphabetically ordered; there is no set sequence to do the prompts. I've numbered them for ease of tracking, should you wish to make some kind of a numbered checklist for yourself, or to refer to them by number. 

Some of the Process Prompts require that you do some research. It is not my plan to provide instruction during this challenge, but rather to put forth ideas. If there are techniques listed that you're not familiar with, an internet search will reveal ample information. I have put in a few links, mostly to serve as examples of what's out there in cyberspace.

Many thanks to my friend and co-conspirator, Melissa Fischer, who has tirelessly test-driven ideas with me for this project, and provided great input regarding these lists. She has been a huge asset in keeping the challenge flexible and creative.

SUBJECT PROMPTS in alphabetical order

  1. Anatomy study (animal or human)
  2. Architecture
  3. Bicycles or non-motorized vehicles
  4. Bird(s)
  5. Boats
  6. Dancers or Athletes
  7. Facial features
  8. Figures (clothed or nude)
  9. Fire/flame
  10. Flowers (Bonus: from life)
  11. Fruit/Veggies
  12. Hands or Feet (or both)
  13. Imagination Sketch
  14. Kitchen
  15. Landscape
  16. Mammals
  17. Manikin from assorted/unusual angles (Link to my manikin post)
  18. Master Copy -- Copy a sketch, drawing or painting done by a favorite artist
  19. Motorized Vehicles with wheels
  20. Movie or TV show "Pause 'n Sketch" (Nature shows are great for this)
  21. Musical Instruments (Bonus: from life or a recorded concert)
  22. Nocturne (night scene)
  23. Pathway
  24. Patterns from Nature
  25. Portrait of a Person
  26. Portrait of an Animal
  27. Reflections
  28. Rocks
  29. Sculpture (Bonus: from different angles)
  30. Seascape
  31. Silhouettes (Link to my post about the importance of silhouettes)
  32. Skulls
  33. Stack of Favorite Art Books (Bonus: with lettering)
  34. Stairs or Steps in a scene
  35. Story Sketch -- Sketch your day (or your ideal day) in thumbnail sketches on a page
  36. Street Scene
  37. Studio, Work Area, or Art Supplies
  38. Today's News
  39. Trees (Link to my post about trees)
  40. Window Sketch

PROCESS PROMPTS in alphabetical order

  1. Abstract I - Line Doodle (Link to my post about doodles)
  2. Abstract II -- one color plus black on white paper, or one color plus white on black paper*
  3. Ballpoint Pen sketch I - one color
  4. Ballpoint Pen sketch II- two or more colors
  5. Black ink on white paper, using a brush, brush pen, or marker, without midtones. This is a design study. Look for interesting shapes and patterns. Consider the composition as a whole. A page of thumbnail sketches is a great way to do this exercise.
  6. Black & White on toned paper*
  7. Black, White, Red
  8. Blue and Orange
  9. Calligraphy I -- work on your signature, chop, create a font, copy a font, or just work on improving your daily handwriting. (Search YouTube videos.) Idea: You can copy these prompt lists into your sketchbook or onto a checklist for this calligraphy practice.
  10. Calligraphy II - Use your calligraphy as part of a sketch, incorporating it into the artwork
  11. Calligraphy III -- create or copy a headline font to use in your sketchbooks
  12. Color/Value sketch -- Mix three different values using analogous colors, one value per color, and then use only those three as your light/medium/dark in a sketch.
  13. Contour I -- Contour Drawing (single line)
  14. Contour II -- Blind Contour Drawing (Draw with a single line, looking only at the subject, and not at your paper). Do a bunch.
  15. Contour III -- Cross Contour Drawing - One great way to do this exercise is to combine it with the Fruit/Veggies Subject Prompt. Draw the cross contour lines directly on the fruit/veggies with a non toxic marker, then sketch it from life, including those cross contour lines. (Example:
  16. Crosshatching - (Inspiration from Alphonso Dunn:
  17. - Do any lesson on this website, or sketch along with one of the videos.
  18. Draw boxes in perspective, and then objects inside them, using the perspective of the box. (Note: visualize the subject before making the box for it!)
  19. Drip Painting -- It's your day to be Jackson Pollock. Go BIG if you dare. If you've got Golden Tar Gel (Amazon Affiliate link to the tar gel), now is the time to pull it off the shelf!
  20. Five Minute Sketches on a page.
  21. Gestures -- References: Quickposes.comLine of Action FiguresLine of Action AnimalsFigurosity Better yet, work from life with a timer!
  22. Ink and Wash
  23. Ink and Watercolor
  24. Ink Making - Make your own ink and do a sketch with it. Ideas: research making alcohol inks, ink pads, walnut/tea/coffee inks, pomegranate ink, acrylic ink, mixing a new color from inks you have, using powdered pigments or glittery eye shadows to make ink. There are loads of websites and YouTube videos for this.
  25. Line Quality - focus on long, clean lines directly with ink. No chicken scratch!
  26. Line Exercises -- Practice straight lines, curvy lines, circles, and ellipses, tracing over all curved lines several times. Consider making this a regular warm-up. For circles and ellipses, be sure they are symmetrical, so you don't practice mistakes! (Use a template of some kind for those, like this one for circles, and this one for ellipses.)
  27. Line Variation with a flexible nib, brush, marker, or pen. Focus on where you want your lines heavy and thin, and how they transition from one to the other.
  28. Memory Sketch -- Study an object or landscape (preferably from life) for several minutes, then go somewhere else (so you won't be tempted to peek) and sketch it. Hint: while studying it, close your eyes and try to draw it in your mind, then open your eyes and check, and correct your memory as needed. After doing that, draw it on paper.
  29. Mural Sketch -- start on the left side of the page spread and work your way to the right, taping more pages on as you go. If using a sketchbook, you can fold them into the book. You can see one of mine and my post about it here.
  30. Orange, Green and Violet
  31. Penmaking I -- make a twig pen (or a set of them) and sketch with it. 
  32. Penmaking II - Straw sketch -- use drinking straws to sketch and blow ink. You can cut and reshape the ends too. Experiment with effects.
  33. Penmaking III - Follow this tutorial to make a folded nib dip pen from a tin can , or find your own tutorial, or make a pen out of a feather or other found object. Do a sketch with it.
  34. Pointillism
  35. Primary Colors -- Red, Yellow, and Blue (or yellow, magenta, cyan)
  36. Printmaking -- Ink is also a verb, so let's ink some plates! Do some monoprints, gel plate prints, use ink stamps, etc. Lots of online resources. Warning: Set up for this the day before, and have a plan in place. You can do Printmaking with many of the other Process Prompts if you get hooked and want to do several days of it.
  37. Shadows -- Sketch only the shadows, leaving light areas empty.
  38. Sumi/Chinese brushes and ink
  39. Ten Minute Sketches on a page
  40. Use One Reference in Three Ways

*You can tone the paper in your sketchbook with paint or diluted ink if you're not working on loose sheets, or don't have toned paper. There is no need to buy special paper for this purpose.

If you'd like to print out the lists to check items off or to have them handy in your sketchbook, Melissa Fischer made PDF files that you can download and print. One file has both lists on a single page, and the other has the Prompts as a two-sided printout. Here is a link to her post with those files. Thank you so much, Melissa! 

A few suggestions:
  • Choose your subject and process the night before, and set up your art and reference materials then too. That way, you'll avoid the inertia that can result from morning decision-making and gathering materials. It's a game-changer to be able to jump right in.
  • Work from life whenever possible; it's so much more emotionally fulfilling. The combination of the pandemic and winter can make that tough, so make use of whatever opportunities come along, regardless of the results. 
  • Remember: You don't have to show your sketches to anybody! Enjoy the journey and the process. Explore. Free yourself from the feedback of others. Give yourself permission to do new things and push your boundaries. Experimentation often results in failure. That's how we learn and grow, and discover new techniques.

New posts relating to this project:

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for these inspiration lists. No more excuses for creative block.