Line by Line

Alphonso Dunn and InkTober

Posted September 16, 2020

Tags: art, InkTober

September is upon us. October is now only half a month away. I'll set aside the whole pandemic-time question of how it can possibly be September already when it was just March only eighteen years ago. What matters is that the time is fast approaching when artists around the world will be picking up their pens and brushes and taking up the now-traditional InkTober challenge of thirty-one ink drawings, one for every day of October.

Since we're all going to have ink drawing on the brain, I think this would be a good time for everyone to check out the work of Alphonso Dunn. He's the author of Pen and Ink Drawing: A Simple Guide, and he has a YouTube channel full of tips and tutorials.

So far, the videos that have been the most useful to me are “Top 3 Cross Hatching Mistakes | Tips on how to avoid them,” “Pen and Ink Crosshatching | A simple introduction,” and “How to Avoid Overworking Your Drawings | 3 simple tips.” The main things that jumped out at me were the importance of pen control and of not rushing. You can certainly point to my InkTober drawings from 2016 and 2018 and find drawings that suffer from the exact pitfalls Dunn warns about.

Naturally, this inspired me to get out my trusty microns and a sheet of paper, and practice. I played a few more of Dunn's videos while I practiced creating even, consistent strokes and tried out some crosshatching techniques. Here's what I came up with:

Rows of strokes mixed with shaded cubes, cylinders, and other shapes, and other doodles including a tree or two, in black ink on white paper.

Not exactly high art, obviously, but it was fun, and it served its purpose: By the end of it I felt like I had a little more control over my strokes than when I started out.

So now I'm all ready for InkTober, right?

Sadly, no.

Jake Parker, who created InkTober, has (or had) a how-to book coming out this month about pen-and-ink drawing. I was really excited when I first saw it: An ink drawing book from the artist behind InkTober? Sign me up!

This is where Dunn comes in. It turns out that quite a bit of Parker's book is just Dunn's book, rephrased and rearranged a little. Dunn has a video explaining this in depth. I'll admit that some of Dunn's examples of Parker's alleged plagiarism are iffy (most notably the page layouts in the materials section), but overall I find Dunn's argument convincing. There are just too many cases where Parker uses the same categorization, the same examples, and very nearly the same phrasing for this to be a coincidence.

So I followed through with my plan to treat myself to a pen-and-ink how-to book this fall. It's just Dunn's rather than Parker's.

What about the challenge? My initial plan was to do the challenge, but call it something other than InkTober. I figured that's what Pepper and Carrot artist David Revoy did when he took the challenge in 2017, since he likes to keep his artistic output Free-as-in-speech and open-source, which means he can't very well plaster a trademark-encumbered name all over it. (Well, sort of; I'll get back to this.)

It was Dunn's comparison video that changed my mind. Dunn praises Parker's ink-drawing challenge as a great contribution to the art community. The book was Dunn's own contribution. The reason for Dunn's anger and disappointment toward Parker is that an artist should never try to take another artist's contribution and pass it off as their own, just as Dunn would never try to supplant InkTober with his own version of the same thing.

If Dunn, the person who was actually hurt by this debacle, wouldn't try to take the challenge away from Parker, who am I to do so? Besides, two wrongs don't make a right.

For that matter, I was wrong about Revoy, too. He didn't make any effort to disguise what challenge he was participating in. He deliberately excluded any trademarked names from the final PDF of his 31 drawings, but he freely used the name InkTober in his blog posts, including the one about the PDF.

So that's a hard no to #OffBrandOctoberInkChallenge. At the same time, I don't feel like it would be right to do another InkTober as if everything is normal. The offending book was explicitly tied to the challenge. It's in the title: InkTober All Year Long.

I've decided that I'm just going to keep working on other art projects, including that comic that I theoretically would like to finish before I die. That said, I will try to do some ink drawings this fall (not specifically October), using Dunn's book and his excellent YouTube channel as my guides.