Looking back on October and what I learned from the decision to participate in #inktober2017 at least the Northwest Coast Native edition anyway. Browsing instagram the end of November I came across a post from an artist that I follow. I was intruiged as she reposted an inktober challenge list. For those of you unfamiliar with inktober it's a month various groups largely, Illustrators participate referencing a daily assignment for the day. In this variation the days included subjects that are particular to Northern Northwest Coast Native style art. There are regions that have distinguished characteristics and from an academic view it's sort of simplified that way. Most groups make use of the ovoid and u form shapes that comprise what has largely become known as 'formline' art. This is particular to regions of Southeast Alaska yes, northern style in southeast it can be confusing but stay with me.
When I started out learning Native art despite growing up in a Native community emmersed in my culture I was unaware of the art style that had been largely forgotten where I come from in Southern Puget Sound. I assumed that totem poles and all the artifacts in the local museums were characteristic of my tribe but they weren't. In fact the tribes who practice the art form that is most prolific in western Washington would raid our villages in pre-contact times. That said I learned this style as it was most recognized and it's what people in the art collector world wanted so to make a long story short I spent much time among Northern artists who lived in the Seattle area and learned how that art relates to their culture and how it functions as not just art but an expression of wealth and cultural knowledge that surpasses monetary value but insues a sense of pride.
There are several books on the subject of the formline art tradition but are focused on the academic view and don't tend to examine the arts functioning purpose. It's to preserve history and lineage that tie far back as a written history in many ways. I have learned this style and practice it in a way one would write in another language knowing it's not my first language but one I can respect and allows me a window into a way fellow Native people view the world uniquely. The work I do in this style now are not made for sale more than they are design exercises to keep myself 'sharp'.
So back to the inktober subject. After buying an iPad pro 10.5 model with an apple pencil I was excited about hand drawn art, even if digital the tool set is fun to explore. This challenge gave me a spark of inspiration to challenge myself with ink and paper which I hadn't done in years so I dove right in. The first week was mostly Northern element forms so I followed that as the guide to adhere to the list. After the second week however I shifted to my Coast Salish roots. Along the way I used various papers and pens developing a preference for ones that felt good to me. Which brings me to one major draw back about using the iPad and apple pencil is this, as an artist we develop sensitivity to feel from pens, brushes papers etc. Those feelings all go out the window when using two hard surfaces and it takes some getting used to. So needless to say I was happy to jump back in to using paper and pen, brush pens in particular that have flexibility to them with a feel of sweeping curves back and forth.
The challenge gave me just that, when I woke in the morning I would think of how I was going to tackle the subject of the day. As crazy as it sounds it is often more challenging to have some open ended subjects such as 'favorite animal' or 'different kind of animal'. I looked ahead on these when browsing the list and decided I wanted to make an impression with those paying attention to the Instagram feed and because I follow an account of a Japanese woman who owns three meerkats I made that one of the challenges personally. It's this kind of thing that makes making art fun again. The question of whether you think you can pull off something that's outside of the norm. Equally so my animal of choice, no, not my 'totem' as there's no such thing in the Disney or new age sense. I've designed many wolves before but I wanted the day of my favorite animal to be something new as well so I went with a crawling wolf. White on a black background.
I wanted to be sure to keep the challenge not so predictable but also keep to the list. For example the day of hand(s) I decided to make 'director hands'. A fun play on modern views that can be expressed with an ancient art tradition.
From these excercises I ended up developing two pieces that have made their way into fully committed prints in my portfolio as well as a commission piece. The day of 'design in a circle' I decided to use the iPad pro as my starting point and use the mirror feature that is really useful in the Autodesk Sketchbook Pro toolbox.
In all it was a good experience and for any fellow artists who may be facing a blank page doing these design challenges are a good way to kickstart your imagination. What was most rewarding in it was to know I was doing the illustrations, not for commissions or competition but to challenge myself daily for that month. I definitely look forward to next year and may jump in to the larger challenge posted on forums using the unique Coast Salish style as my approach but stick to the list online. We'll see. Happy illustration my fellow artists, and to close out, my final day post 'anything you want' which ended up being a Nuu-chah-nulth serpent.