Prompt List for Holidays in Ink (plus other media) 2022-23

Here's the post that many have been eagerly awaiting....


If you haven't yet seen the post with the dates and other details of the Holidays in Ink Challenge, you can find it here.  Please read that first, as it is not repeated here.

The prompts below are an Inspiration Library for when you're stumped for what to draw, or you can do them all, or do none of them. The prompts are meant to be combined in your sketches, not just used individually. Don't get overwhelmed by how many there are; combining them in sketches is part of the challenge. There is no requirement that you do the prompts. The real goal is to finish your sketchbook! 

I will do things a bit differently this year, and skip around in my book from day to day.  You can work on pages over multiple days, and/or multiple pages in one day. You do you. Pack the pages, and fill that book!

I've divided the prompts below into loose categories. Do them in whatever order you wish, according to how much time you have, what you feel like doing, or if you are traveling. Some are quite conducive to travel, while others may require a steadier work surface. This year, some page spreads will be created at the beginning of the project, and filled in over the course of several days, or even throughout the entire challenge. Those page spreads can each fulfill many additional prompts. (By "page spread," I mean two facing pages, treated as a single large page.) Start on these multi-day page spreads within the first week, or as soon as you can. That way you'll have plenty of time to complete them during the project period. 

SUGGESTION: Print out this list if you plan to use it, and clip it into your sketchbook, or make a sketchbook pocket for it. Check off items as you go. Take note of creative ways to combine prompts to suit your interests and style. Color code or give an index number/letter to several prompts that you can group together. You'll see that the list shrinks quickly when combining prompts, and yields a more creative, integrated result.



Reserve the space for these! There are only six of them that I'm listing as prompts, but together they will take at least 12 pages of your book, or more if you extend them.

1. Random Objects - Add a small sketch of one subject to the page as you go about your day. See how the page spread evolves, and how elements knit together or overlap as the space fills during the challenge. If your book is small, you might want to do this prompt on a separate sheet, then fold it and put it in a pocket in your book, or have it fold out from the cover.

2. Portrait Gallery - Fill the facing pages with ovals and rectangles, just 2-3 inches in any direction. Allow space in between them to draw frames or doodle borders. Make one larger rectangle -- maybe 5x7" or so, depending on the size of your sketchbook. Sketch a quick ink portrait in each small frame. Although you could do them all in one day, I like the idea of doing a quick portrait each day that I sketch. 

3. Ink Library - Each time you use a different ink, make a swatch on this page spread, or a little ink and wash sketch. Label it using that ink. This will become your reference library for the inks you used during the project. I did this last year, and constantly refer to it for the colors and properties of the inks. 

4. Quotations - You can illustrate quotes, create speech bubbles for characters you design on the pages, or just use them to practice calligraphy/writing. Or write out and illustrate poetry. This should really be down in the category with the calligraphy prompts, but since it's a two page spread, done over time, I'm putting it here.

5. Master Copies - I love to learn by copying paintings and drawings that I admire, or studying Master compositions. I'm going to reserve a page spread (or more) for them this year, and keep adding to it during the challenge. 

6. Gratitude - Draw things that you are grateful for as the holidays go by, or write about them, or both. Let somebody know that you are grateful for them.



Are you on the run today? Here are prompts for when you're tight for time. Or you can just add to your previously-reserved page spreads on these days.

7. Thumbnail Sketches - Draw small rectangles on a page. Make them business card size or smaller, and vary the proportions. Fill them with thumbnail sketches, roughly blocking in compositions and values. Set a timer, only allowing 2-3 minutes for each. 

8. Overlapping Sketches - Fill a page with overlapping, quick sketches. Figures, animals, or assorted household items are great subjects for this. You can do them as contour drawings, constructive drawings, or however you wish to quickly capture the forms. Think about the composition of the page as you go.

9. Loose Sheets Collage - Take a small pad of paper (or paper scraps) with you when you're on the run. Do a bunch of small, continuous line/scribble/contour sketches on several sheets as you go about your day. Collage your favorites into the book. 

10. Trees - Sketch some trees from life. Winter is a great time to study tree anatomy. Car window sketching encouraged!



This is my nemesis. I have to force myself to do things like this, but I know it's like taking artistic vitamins! 

11. Doodled Faces - Doodle a page of faces from your imagination. Give each face one extreme feature, such as huge lips, a funny hat, ridiculous hair, etc.

12. Imaginary Flowers - Sketch a page on the theme of florals from imagination.

13. Extend a Photo - Glue a photo or crop of a photo onto your page. Using your imagination, draw out from the photo, extending the scene.

14. Character Doodles - Find your own shorthand method to doodle characters. Try a few different ways with shapes, scribbles, line, silhouette, etc. Choose one type, and doodle action poses until they start to become comfortable. Try to get a little visual library for yourself of these characters, so you can add them into sketches and imagination work. Bonus: Try another one or two ways to do it from a different character. 

15. Grow a Page - Start from a lower corner of the paper. Make a shape or object in that corner, and let the idea expand to cover the page as you work up and across. (Tip: If you're right handed, start at the lower left. If you're left handed, begin at the lower right.)



As my art abilities improved over the years, I noticed that my books didn't look any more interesting. I learned the tough lesson that sketches are only a portion of what makes a great sketchbook. Think about billboards and advertising. What grabs our attention is great design, not just great drawing.  Our writing adds to our design elements or detracts from them. Any line work we do, such as borders, and the shapes we draw, make pages look better or worse. We have the additional disadvantage of having to piece together these elements on the fly, while attempting a compositionally attractive result. Once I started to focus on overall page spread design, and aspects other than drawing, my sketchbooks took a huge leap forward. Let's use Holidays in Ink to improve upon a couple of these sketchbook ingredients. Try to spend a bit of each drawing session on writing and line work. Some of the prompts for this are already posted above, such as the Quotations and Gratitude prompts. Pay attention to how you write when you label things in your book, and the placement of those notes. Draw guidelines for writing.  That's what calligraphy pros do; they don't just wing it like you might think they do! (Erase guidelines after, if you don't want them visible.) Explore different types of borders and doodled frames. Practice drawing lines, circles, and ellipses. Here are some prompts to help:

16. Lines, Circles and Ellipses as Backgrounds - Using a very light or diluted color, fill a page or page spread with parallel lines. Do it over a few days if your pages are large. Practice circles and ellipses (in multiple directions), either over some of the lines or between some lines. For guidance on drawing lines, circles and ellipses, check out some of Uncomfortable's YouTube videos, like this one! Once you've filled a page with your light practice lines and shapes, use it as an interesting background for other sketch prompts. Fill a bunch of pages this way over the course of this challenge. Make it a daily ritual if you can for a few minutes, or at least a few times a week. Line practice can also be done by drawing your writing lines freehand, drawing freehand borders on pages, or filling in spaces between thumbnail sketches for backgrounds. This is something I incorporate into my Holidays in Ink sketchbook every single year. 

17. Calligraphy/Writing Page - Complete at least one page of handwriting work in your sketchbook. There are loads of great YouTube videos for improving handwriting. If you've previously studied calligraphy, brush up on a favorite script, or learn a new one. If you're eager to learn calligraphy and don't know where to start, I think Textualis Semi-Quadrata or Quadrata are wonderful starting points and not too difficult, or choose something else that appeals to you. Borrow books from the library, search YouTube, or sign up for an online workshop. The possibilities are endless these days. Even if you just use YouTube videos about improving your regular handwriting, your sketchbooks will thank you. Since I'm painting and sketching out on location during the warmer months, winter is when I focus on honing calligraphy skills, and learning additional scripts.

18. Border Doodles - You can use Zentangle themes, texture rendering, combining small shapes, or use calligraphy forms, and let your line work and borders go crazy. See what you can come up with to enhance your pages and future sketchbooks. Let this current sketchbook serve as a library of your ideas. This prompt should ideally be combined with the other prompts and pages. Make frames around the little portrait sketches and landscape thumbnails, add some decoration, and practice doodle borders on other pages and page spreads. Figure out what you like when it comes to border designs. You might come up with some kind of a signature border design for your pages, or a multitude of ways to express borders for your work. Borders can hold a page spread's multiple elements together, divide confusing areas or planes, create balance, bring out a focal point, or add refinement. 

19. Pictorial Calligraphy - This is great for building line control. If you don't have calligraphy nibs, use ballpoint pens or markers. Choose one of these videos, more than one, a different one, or make one up. 



Let's explore color mixing with some of the inks we have. After all, we do it all the time with our paints. Dye based fountain pen inks yield amazing vibrancy!

20. Primary Triad - Select a red, blue and yellow ink to create a primary triad. Swatch them and label them on your page, and make a little color wheel on the page to explore the mixes, so you'll always have that as a reference. Then sketch with them with brushes and/or nibs. If you don't have inks in those colors, use diluted acrylic paint (i.e. acrylic "ink"!) or gouache or watercolor, or whatever you've got. Add linework in ink before or after or both, as you wish. 

21. Repeat the prompt above with a secondary triad of orange, green, and violet. (Maxfield Parrish used this triad a LOT!)

22. Repeat with an analogous palette, or a few different analogous palettes. Think about seasonal colors and moods.

23. Repeat with one warm color and one cool color.

24. Black and white on a colored ground.

25. Value sketch in one color.



26. Nocturnes - Sketch a night scene, or a few of them. 

27. Insects or Bugs

28. Draw your window views, including the curtains, or part of the room.

29. Anatomy - Human, animal, botanical, or fantastical!

30. A Day at the Zoo 

31. Play with Ink and Bleach. (See this Nick Stewart video for inspiration!)

32. Create a still life with a bunch of the art materials you're using for this project and draw it.

33. Draw objects without outlines. Instead, use cross contour or shading lines to describe the forms.

34. Create a cartoon strip of your day, or just a sketched timeline of objects/environments as you go.

35. Line Weight Study - Select a few pens, markers or nibs, of different widths. Sketch with the narrowest tip, using the wider tips for more significant parts of the drawing(s). Experiment with varying line weights in outlines and shading. Bonus: Try it a few different ways. Consider which way you like best.

36. Pause 'N Sketch - Pause a video, movie, or TV show and sketch from it. You can do a series of quick thumbnails, or a more detailed rendering. (Great way to study animals, strong lighting effects in dramatic scenes, or composition.)



37. Write a critique of your book. Yeah, I know... This is hard! If you don't want it visible, write it on separate paper and keep it in a book pocket. Make notes on or about specific pages and elements. Here are some questions you may want to consider:

  • What did you enjoy doing the most?
  • What did you hate doing?
  • What did you learn about your art, art materials, or yourself?
  • What do you need to improve upon?
  • Is there anything from Holidays in Ink that you can incorporate into future sketchbooks and artwork? How can you take what you've done to the next level?
  • Did you over or under estimate the number of completed pages you could do, or wish your book had been a larger or smaller format?
  • Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
  • Jot down any ideas you have for next year's Holidays in Ink. If you've got suggestions to share for next year's challenge, I'd love to hear them.


  • There are a lot of prompts to finish here. Instead of rushing through, remember to combine prompts, and take your time! You don't have to finish a page in a single day. All of the prompts in the "Color" category can be used with any of the subject prompts simultaneously, and the resulting sketch could have doodled borders that would tick that box too. Using calligraphy or handwriting work when labeling the pages/images can count toward that prompt. Hand drawing the writing guidelines can double as line drawing practice. Combining prompts in creative ways will make your book more unique, and open up ideas for composition. Some prompts can (and should!) be done by going back and adding to previous pages.
  • Fountain pens can do double duty as dip pens, and hold way more ink than dip pen nibs. (Be sure you only use fountain pen inks with these.) I always have a bunch on hand without ink in them, so I can switch from ink to ink quickly, and easily flush them out for another color. They also enable me to use the same ink with many different nib types or sizes, without having to fill a bunch of pens with the same ink. Fountain pens such as vintage flex pens with broken fill bladders, pens that aren't currently in use, and Pilot Parallel pens, work like a charm. Folded pens, bamboo pens, ruling pens, and other types of dip pens are also your friends, and can be used with other inks and paints, as well as fountain pen inks.
  • Make a plan. Choose default prompts and references every evening, and set out your materials. You can always change your mind in the morning regarding what you want to sketch, but at least there will be something you can jump right into without doing additional setup and research. It's easy to lose motivation if you have to get ready to get ready to sketch. Half the day can go by. I love when I can "get right to it" in the morning.
  • No time to sketch? Usually we have to give up something to gain time for something else. Consider letting social media and internet time be that victim over the holidays! Or make a plan to give it up during certain periods of time, or on certain days. Let creative time be your holiday gift to yourself.

Good luck with completing your Holidays in Ink sketchbook! Feel free to leave your comments, questions, or links to your Holidays in Ink sketches, in the comment section below, so we can see what you do. Let me know how it's going for you, and how you plan to go about it this year. Enjoy every minute. Learn a ton. Happy Holidays, and Happy 2023!

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