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ICAD 2020

Amy Daily Drawing | Featured | ICAD , , , , ,

ICAD2020 Amy Cowen

Note: This is an update of a similar 2019 post that contains thoughts as ICAD 2020 approaches and a look back at prior years, including 2019. The “look back” portion is unchanged. But I’ve added¬†

The 2020 Index-Card-a-Day Challenge is coming up (June 1-July 31). Hosted by Tammy at Daisy Yellow, this is an annual creative challenge and a good one! I have talked about ICAD many times through the years, and in the CMP creative group at Facebook, ICAD is beloved by many. It affects each creative person differently, but for many people, the challenge is really important for helping affirm creative goals and helping build creative routines and practices. For people who already make art “daily” throughout the year or engage in multiple creative challenges each year, the index card challenge may feel a bit different, but the forced focus on an index card as the substrate and the community enthusiasm for ICAD make it a great way to focus creative energies in summer months.

The challenge started in 2011, so this is the 10th Anniversary of ICAD as a public art challenge. That’s a huge accomplishment for Tammy!

Last year, I spent time trying to sort out how many years I have participated in ICAD. I have known Tammy since before there was an ICAD (and before there was a Daisy Yellow), but it seems like I must not have participated in ICAD in its earliest years. When trying to track my own participation and date myself last year, I found boxes holding some of my cards and took a look at each year, reflecting on what I did in that year, what my line looked like, and how I approached the challenge. In most years, I have approached ICAD with some form of loose plan, whether it involves subject matter (like chairs or portraits with sunglasses), or medium (like ballpoint), or a combination of elements (like incorporating canceled stamps or bits of fabric or quotes or song lyrics). Sometimes I don’t really understand my plan until Day 1. Sometimes I have a general idea that gives me a construct as I begin. I often start with a plan and then shift as the days unfold. There are prompts that can be used for ICAD, too, and some days I nod to the prompt, and some days I don’t.

Note: Early on, I was one of the very few people who “drew” for ICAD. I always felt a bit out of place in the ICAD community because my work was so different. As the years have passed, more and more people who do ICAD draw. And more and more people who do ICAD also now do portraits. Times change!

Podcast Episodes

There are countless episodes of the CMP that talk about ICAD and challenges “like” ICAD that involve daily art, commitment, routine, self-discipline, and a certain creative mindset (which I find to be incredibly powerful, balancing, mindful, and meaningful). To get started, you might try Episode 314 (from 2018).

What I Use

  • Smead 4×6 cards (these tabbed cards are nice and thick and were my pick for many years of ICAD; I’ve also used the 3×5 ones)
  • Thick white index cards (this is what I used in 2019 and will be using in 2020, most likely) [300 | 100]
  • Copic markers (2018, 2019) (There are all kinds of packs available. Copic Ciao markers are smaller-volume, but a good way to buy these alcohol markers. I never bought the skintones, but if you decide to invest in Copic for portraits, you should consider a range of skin tone options to give yourself some flexibility.)
  • Ballpoint
  • Black ink
  • Fountain pen (Lamy LX Safari with an EF black nib has often been my drawing pen. Currently, I am drawing with a .02 Preppy and refilling the cartridge with Carbon ink and will experiment with other waterproof inks) [Day-to-day, I use a number of fountain pens and a wide range of inks. If you draw with fountain pen, you should experiment with ink!]
  • Other fineliner pens (especially when working with Copic, finding pens that don’t smear or bleed is important — this requires testing with your pens, markers, and paper. Some of the pens I use in various situations: Pitt pen S, Uni Pin, Micron)

My History with ICAD

Here is a quick look at my experience with ICAD through the years.


2013 may have been my first ICAD. In pulling out these cards, it is immediately obvious that there is a difference in the type of cards I used and a difference in approach, but seeing these pen and ink pieces brought back the days so clearly. Many in the set from 2013 are graphic novel or “panel” in style, but there are assorted drawings intermixed in the series.

ICAD 2013 Pen and Ink
ICAD 2013
ICAD 2013 3


2014 was a year marked by a plan to have every card tick off several boxes, including the use of fabric and song lyrics. I sometimes am away from home for several weeks during ICAD, and so my plan doesn’t always end up easy to fulfill while away. I loved the challenge of incorporating the elements along with a drawing — and meeting the prompt on some days as well.

ICAD 2014 Samples


I found only a few cards for 2015, which may mean they are somewhere else, or it may mean something else. (I am not sure which.) I include one here to mark the year.

ICAD 2015


2016 was a favorite year. This was also the year I “came back” to my podcast. My enthusiasm was really high, and I started out with a plan to do “stuffed things” (Episode 185: Tracking Teddy). Mid-way through the challenge, I morphed into series both with chairs and with windows. At the end of the challenge, I started doing cards that combined collage and pen and ink and continued working on index cards on for another month or more.

ICAD 2016 bears
ICAD 2016 Samples 2


2017 was an important year for me and ICAD. I had started drawing portraits (for the first time in any real way) in the Fall of 2016 (shortly after ICAD 2016 ended, in fact). By summer 2017, I was entrenched in (and entranced by) the portrait drawing process and practice. I was drawing portraits daily and maintaining a daily drawing habit. In response to “life,” I latched onto the idea of a “simple pen” (a remnant found on a shelf from a stay at a hotel), and I started experimenting with ballpoint drawing. In the process of this exploration, I discovered the world of ballpoint pen artists, which is incredible. (There are amazing ballpoint artists all around the world!) There are all kinds of ways to use ballpoint (which is important to remember). Because I have an affinity for hatching, I was using ballpoint in a specific way and building up multiple layers of very light lines and always trying to find ways to get even more even tone. Because the approach I used took a great deal of time to build up tone, these drawings ended up being very time-intensive but calming and meditative in ways that taught me something new about what I need and look for in my daily practice. My skill with portraits wasn’t all that great in the summer of 2017, but I still enjoyed the exploration of “blue” and ballpoint. I loved seeing each portrait come into being in blue ballpoint each day. For 2017 ICAD, I also played with the surface of the index card, layering random paper on top of the card to create a varied substrate. I loved this part of the project and how the tone of the ink would shift over the different papers.

(Note: I had forgotten until looking at this post later and seeing card 1, the first one shown, which I drew on an airplane during a redeye flight, that part of my goal for this series was to also read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and incorporate a line from my reading each day. I still love the idea of that, but I wasn’t able to keep up with it.)

ICAD 2017 Day 1Week 6 Roundup - ICAD 2017Week 7 Roundup ICAD
ICAD Week 8


In 2018, I explored Copic (alcohol) markers. I am, at heart, a black-and-white artist. I love pen and ink. I love the refined feel of an extra-fine nib and very precise hatching. Markers are completely the opposite for me. Inspired by the work of artists at Sktchy, I became enamored with the idea of Copic markers in 2017, right around the time I committed to the ballpoint series. At the time, I wanted to explore Copic, but in almost a reaction to the overwhelm of the high price point (per marker) and the zillion colors available (how to choose), I went with the humble ballpoint (and splurged on a pack of Bic pens). As I geared up for ICAD 2018, I was still experimenting with graphic novel style (which is part of a project I always keep in process). In my portrait work, I had been experimenting with more color (various ballpoint pens and/or colored fountain pen ink) and combining my black and white approach with color. I was thinking about how to use color and how to really push myself to go all in with color. I decided to try some really comic-style pieces modeled, first, after Lichtenstein. I had been given a couple of Copic markers (but I had no skin tones), and as ICAD got started, I decided to work in color for the summer. It wasn’t the easiest fit for me, and at the same time, there was something addictive about the process and the vivid feel to the pieces. Summer 2018 ICAD turned into a “sunglasses” series. Many of the pieces include reflections in the lenses, and some of those reflections (not all) nodded at the daily ICAD prompts. In terms of technical skill, this series doesn’t match up to work with pen and ink. The lack of control with the markers and the feeling of the clunky nib was very hard for me. I had to just “go” with it. I was still using pen and ink with the Copic, so the feel of my line is embedded throughout. I love this series for many reasons. (And I just printed postcards from this series to help support the podcast.)

ICAD 2018ICAD 2018


I wasn’t sure how 2019 would unfold. I used Copic markers, as I did in 2018, but the series became a thing of its own. (That is so very important when doing a similar series.) The 2019 cards blended black and white portraits with full-color and, in some cases, patterned backgrounds. There were small sub-sets along the way, but a series near the end that all include rainbow bands of some form are definitely a favorite. I also switched index cards in 2019. The Smead tabbed cards I had used before wasn’t available, so I ordered a thick white card from a seller on Amazon. They were very white, and they worked well. (They’re available in multiple size packs. Last year I got the 100-card pack. The 300-card pack is a good deal.) I haven’t ordered anything yet, but I think I’ll be ordering these again. I liked the shift from the cream-toned manilla cards to the bright white. I’ve also toyed with the idea of just scrounging things up in the house rather than ordering anything. If I really get a series underway though, I know me…. I’d rather have the art on a nice thick card!


Cards from 2019

Cards from ICAD 2019

Stack of ICAD 2019


I haven’t decided what I will do this year for ICAD. Because I am really invested in my 50 Before 50 project (and the journal that goes along with it) and because I have been very much enjoying a really loose form of drawing and #drawithme inspiration in the Creativity Matters Podcast Facebook Group during the COVID-19 pandemic, I debated about participating in ICAD this year at all. I help a small amount in the ICAD group at Facebook, however, so mostly I think my musings were idle. But what will I do for ICAD 2020? I am not sure. Most of the things that come to mind are too simple somehow to really work for the long stretch of it. I think, personally, it has to be a bit meaty and a bit symbolic for me to invest in it with my time and energy. I have had a number of things running around in my head. Most of them do intersect with portraits. The pandemic is playing a bit into my thoughts at this point, too. I look at the series as a very personal series….. that won’t change this year. Having used color and Copics the last two years, that is definitely something I am considering again. It’s like a siren’s call, use Copics again, use Copics again. So we’ll see. I think, as is most often the case, I’ll just roll into something on the first day or in the days right before it starts.¬†There are so many options!

Looking back through these last years was a good process though. It let me see, all at once, how my work has changed and evolved, but even in the earliest cards, I see “me.”

More about ICAD

I talk about ICAD every year because I support this challenge and most of my community is involved in it. There are many shows from prior years about ICAD and about working in series (which is super important for me).

This post contains some links to prior posts and pages:

ICAD 20919 Retrospective

ICAD 2018 (pre-challenge thoughts)

I encourage you to do ICAD and to make it a part of your summer, too!

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