An ER doctor’s creative interpretation of Inktober

What is inktober?

In 2009, artist Jake Parker vowed to get better at his craft. He made up a list of prompts and challenged himself to draw every day in the month of October. He posted his prompts and asked others to join him. Creatives from around the world joined him with this challenge, which became known as Inktober. Although the initial intention was to promote ink drawings, artists used a variety of different mediums. Since then, thousands of artists participate in this yearly challenge and post their work at #inktober.

I have been following this challenge since it started and love to see creative interpretations of these prompts, which change every year. Several years ago, I came across a fellow ER physician who had a creative interpretation of this challenge. I’d like to share some of his drawings and get to know a little more about him. I have included 14 of his drawings for Inktober 2019 challenge. Please follow him on Instagram to see all of his 31 drawings:



Your instagram handle is @half_artist_half_doctor. Can you tell us more about your story?

I’ve always been the one to doodle in the margins of my notebook while in school. I never went to art school, the most I ever did was take one painting class as a freshman in college. I learned mostly by trial and error, while I was [perhaps] supposed to be doing something else. I don’t come from a medical family, and in fact did not decide to become a physician until after I started undergrad. I was never able to kick the habit, though; keeping my hands busy helped keep my brain awake and would help me remember the massive corpus of facts that every physician-in-training needs to know. Even now, certain concepts or subjects at work will trigger a memory of whatever I doodled in my notebook at the time I first learned it. Sometimes I feel like I want to go back and take actual art classes, improve my approach and skills. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to be told I’m doing things wrong, so. We’ll see.


How often do you draw? Does it relieve stress from your job? 

Lately, I don’t draw as much as I want to! It’s very much a stress relief, but strangely, sometimes it brings along its own, different, stress. Nothing is quite as intimidating as a blank sheet of paper. For me at least, drawing requires a bit of activation energy to get the process going. If I can get the process going, and things just flow, I end up with a sense of creation and accomplishment that is 100% fulfilling and rejuvenating. I will go in spurts. For a few weeks, I’ll be very into sketching and drawing. And then for a few weeks, I will try to squeeze something out and it either looks like crap or just doesn’t go anywhere. I try to keep drawing as a fun hobby that I enjoy, so I don’t end up pushing myself too much. I don’t want it to become a chore. That’s probably why I never wanted to become a professional artist, I didn’t want to start hating the thing I started out loving. I guess there’s a danger of that in being a physician, too, but that’s a whole other subject.


When is your favorite time to create/what’s your process?

I find that I am more prolific if there’s an outside reason to prompt me to draw. That’s why the Inktober approach is fun, because it gives you guidelines to work within. Like I said before, a blank paper with no direction is the worst place to start from.  If I have constraints, directions, or a purpose, it directs me to try new things or find creativity within the task.  Things will end up better, or more original, than if I just started ex nihilo. For example, right now my kids have gotten way into Dungeons and Dragons, and they want me to draw the characters they play. They have an idea in their mind of what they want them to look like; certain accessories, clothing, traits, or whatever. They tell me the things they want included, and the fun part is incorporating the things they specify while adding things they haven’t.  I think the end results are better because of it.


Who are your favorite artists?

Whew! I’m going to mostly limit these to people who I have tried to emulate and learn from. The artworld is huge, but I don’t really know how to paint or sculpt or anything like that. One caveat: I know I do not even approach the level of skill and professionalism of these artists; it is the drawing equivalent of my patients who use Google to diagnose themselves.

I love the playful style of Skottie Young, @skottieyoung, his stuff was a big influence on the cartoons I did for The Littlest ER. Chris Riddell’s, @chris_riddell drawings are deceptively simple, they are nothing but lines but they become so intricate. Jorge Corona, @jorge_cor, can make evocative, colorful landscapes, and has an amazing way of making incredibly ugly characters that nevertheless are compelling and the opposite of uncomfortable to look at.  I need to give a shoutout to as well; I know her personally, we were friends in high school. She paints so well it looks effortless.

Follow this link  []  to a timelapse of her doing a painting of myself, actually, in PPE at the height of the pandemic. A little shameless promotion there. 


What would be your dream project?

Truthfully, I am in awe of people who are able to do serialized webcomics. I feel like I would run out of ideas immediately, and yet, so many of them can keep cranking out simple pieces that still can make you giggle or capture a quirky truth. If I trusted myself more to dive in, I might make the attempt someday. When I first did The Littlest ER that year, I had someone contact me asking if they could use one of my drawings in their logo. It was for an EMS crew, and they wanted the one of the ambulance. It always feels good to have someone like what you create so much that they legitimately want to use it themselves.


What is your favorite medium (ink, digital, paint, etc) and subject matter?

I’m super simple: I did The Littlest ER with a number 2 pencil and a sharpie. My notebook thumbnails were always in cheap bic pen. A few years ago I got a drawing tablet and have been teaching myself how to use it, how to get the effects that I want. Things never look as good as they do in my head!  Looking through the stuff I post, almost all of them are characters or figures of some sort. Most of the characters that end up on the screen have an entire personality and backstory that exists solely in my head, stories that mean much more to me than to anyone looking at them. If I was drawing landscapes or still-lifes or whatever, I don’t think I would be as attached to them. Also, I think that the best art comes from people who are creating from what they know. Working in the ER, it’s such a unique environment; one of those “if you know, you know” situations. I tried to capture that in the cartoons. Even the fact that all the little docs are done in one style, while everyone else I tried to do in a different style; the shared experience of working in that environment sets us apart, in a way, as a group. There are commonalities within the group about which outside spectators wouldn’t necessarily have any idea, and it was fun trying to share those things.


Do you have any advice for creatives who work in the medical field?

In practical terms, I would say, re-inhabit the body of the med student doodling in the margins of their notebook. Waiting for test results, or for consultants to call back, or between patients or whatever, instead of doomscrolling on your phone or looking up how your stocks are doing, get a pen in your hand and start scrawling on things. To get a little more conceptual, and this may sound a little pompous, but I’ll go ahead anyways: We spend years working to know and understand the Science of medicine. After being out in the field for a while, I feel like I’ve become caught up in the Practice of medicine. If we aren’t careful, it can turn into the Slog of medicine, at which point, it’s hard to remember why we went into all this in the first place. Expressing creativity can help get back to the Art of medicine, and reconnect us back to the best parts of each of those stages. 


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