Note: For a more in-depth look at ICAD and a retrospective of ICAD through the years, see Thinking About Index-Card-a-Day Challenge 2021. ICAD is a summer art challenge run by Daisy Yellow.
Index-Card-a-Day 2021 / Summer Art on Index Cards
It is mid-May, and that means it is time to really think about the Index-Card-a-Day Challenge (fondly known as ICAD). I have been participating in ICAD for a number of years, so I will be doing ICAD this year, too. Given that…. I have to decide what to do!
In past years, I have done a number of series, and some years contained several small series. Sometimes I have a “theme” that I explore (like teddies or chairs or windows or portraits or portraits with sunglasses). Sometimes my focus is a medium (for example, a year of ballpoint and a year of Copic markers). And sometimes my throughline involves a few repeated elements (like using alphabet stencils for lettering, using salvaged postage stamps, adding music lyrics, using scraps of fabric, or integrating collage). Some years, the small thread that carries through a series is very small. In 2020, many of my cards incorporated a small crown. It was a recurring and important motif for me, but even so, not every card had one. Similarly, I started out the 2020 ICAD season embedding words and some abstract mark-making in the hair. There was a reason for it, and I still love seeing these touches in the cards. There is a delicate whimsy to the square in the hair. Despite good intentions, I didn’t follow through with either of these series threads. Some years, that happens.
For lots of additional info on ICAD, see my Pre-ICAD 2021 post and retrospective. Much of my methodology for ICAD and the way I think about it is summarized in that post.
For all official information about ICAD, see the Daisy Yellow site.
ICAD and Prompts
I wasn’t always a “prompts” person. But somewhere along the way, I started “nodding” to prompts now and then. That process has become a fun add-on for me, an element of how I think about each day’s card. It isn’t always the “first” line of approach for me, and it isn’t always obvious when looking at a finished card, but I often think about the prompt as I select what I want to draw. Sometimes my response to a prompt is something “related” or that has personal significance in relation to the prompt. It doesn’t always have to be a direct mirror or reflection of the prompt. (It can be, but it doesn’t have to be.)
It is important to note, again, that while there are prompts and weekly themes throughout the challenge, they are optional.
You can use the daily prompts. You can use the weekly themes. You can mix and match. You can change what you do every day or every week. You can choose to do your own thing entirely. All of these approaches are okay, and all of them work.
A Series-based Approach
Personally, I’m a “series” person. I tend to work in series and having a series in mind for ICAD helps me stick with the challenge. My last several ICAD seasons have gone like this:
- 2020: Portraits in Micron (that was a switch for me) and with threads of crowns, hair deconstruction, and embedded text
- 2019: Portraits in black and white with Copic backgrounds
- 2018: Portraits in Copic, and a focus on sunglasses
- 2017: Portraits in ballpoint
- 2016: Teddy bears, and then shifted to chairs and windows
- 2015: (a mystery)
- 2014: Lots of fabric collage, song lyrics, and stenciled lettering
- 2013: Assorted
So, what will 2021 hold? That’s the question!
In May of each year, I always have to sort out what I’m thinking for the year. (I do this for projects like #the100dayproject, too.) This year, my thinking is complicated by my ongoing work for #illustrateyourweek (a free challenge I run) in my illustrated journal. As an outgrowth of my Fifty Before Fifty journals and a combination of my interest in graphic novels and cartooning, sketchnotes, portraits, daily drawing, and journaling, the #illustrateyourweek project has become a personal and meaningful project. My fear with ICAD is that I won’t be able to manage both.
That has a lot to do with my thinking for the 2021 ICAD season.
As creative people, we often have to make these choices and pick and choose how we spend our limited amount of creative time. Sometimes we have to make concessions, put things on hold, or find ways to compromise. Often, this involves some creative thinking and restructuring to make things fit, work, and balance.
I only work on projects that I find personally meaningful and that I love.
I don’t do projects “just to do them.” So I won’t do a series where I just quickly do something on a card so that it’s “done.” Instead, I want to find a project with just enough tooth and bite that it will hook me and hold my interest for 61 days. That’s a tall order!
I have lots of ideas for simple things I could do to “fulfill” ICAD. But I think the problem is that my history with ICAD gives me a framework of expectation. I have trouble thinking about how I will feel if I let that down.
My ICAD 2021 Short List
I don’t like to spoil things or put all of my ideas out here before I decide, but here are some of the things I am considering (or considered in previous years):
- A series of explorations of perspective with a focus on interiors (Why? I could really use this. It would free up portraits for my illustrated journal, but the daily interiors practice would really help me build skills I am lacking for other work I do.)
- A series of explorations of perspective with a focus on exteriors, a la urban sketching (but not necessarily from life). (Why? Again, it’s practice I could really use. Plus, All Over Coffee. My love of that book always makes me want to practice drawing buildings.)
- A series of drawings that include text from a specific book (e.g., a philosophical book) to combine art and text in a meaningful way. (Tried this a few years ago and didn’t see it through.)
- A set of portraits that each reflect the daily prompt word.
- Something that combines portraits and pattern.
- A series of daily cartoon panels (just one a day).
- A series of drawings based on magazine images.
- Portraits in black and white.
- Portraits in color.
- Portraits that combine black and white with color. (Like 2019.)
I worked on the updated ICAD Retrospective post today before turning to this, and I didn’t expect it, but seeing the old work really tugged at me and swayed me. Clearly, that happened last year, too, because there is a reference to the siren’s call of the Copic series. Copic had not been on my mind at all this year. I was really focused on two of the ideas from the above list. But seeing the old images, I felt the tug. I felt the bright, colorful, energy and power for me of that series and that year.
Last year, approaching ICAD 2020, I wrote:
“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. 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.”
It was interesting to see that and to see that last year, too, I was torn because I was deeply invested in my 50 Before 50 journal, which was coming to a close. Even so, I felt the tug of Copic. But, I guess last year, I resisted it. I didn’t give in. I thought I was doing some form of evolution with how I did the series, but when I look back now, 2019 is definitely a favorite ICAD year for me.
I’m not sure I can resist diving back in this way. One of the things I was thinking about for this year (that I didn’t list) is definitely related to what I saw myself doing in 2019 and even, in some ways, to what I was doing in 2020. So maybe I still have an evolution coming but can work with black and white and color again.
I’m a bit scared to say that because I’m not the same person now. My line isn’t the same. My voice isn’t the same. I really don’t know what will happen. And I will need to buy a few supplies, which I was hoping to avoid. (Personally, I need to work as free as possible, but I know that one of the most-used Copics may need to be replaced. Maybe I’ll try one of the many sets of knock-off alcohol markers.) But after spending a good portion of my day today sorting through cards (and counting how many blank ones I have left), I think I may have turned my attention to the call of the sirens.
I think I may have to do this. At the risk of overstaying my welcome, it is still a look I really gravitate towards. It is also something I can’t do in my illustrated journal because it doesn’t accept Copic.
As much as I thought I would really like the exploration of perspective, I think I may have solved my own question by thinking out loud here. I really encourage people to stop and think about what they might want to do for the two months of ICAD. You can just do something random each day, but you might also find that you would like the continuity a series offers.
50 Ideas for an ICAD Series
So what will YOU do for ICAD 2021? If you like the idea of having some thread of continuity, I encourage you to think about what that thread might be and how, if at all, you will also address the daily prompts. Here are some ideas of things you could build a series around to get you started thinking:
- Use hand-made stamps (like eraser stamps) on your cards.
- Add a collage element to the surface of every card, like torn paper, torn maps, or other paper bits. (I’ve done this with paper and paint swatches.)
- Use a repeated element in the background of your cards.
- Use alphabet stencils to add text. (The use of stencils standardizes the text so that it becomes its own element.)
- Incorporate fabric.
- Make a series of maps.
- Plan a series of drawings on a theme, like flowers, coffee cups, or office supplies.
- Use Sktchy (or another photo source) and explore portraits.
- Select a specific type of portrait to focus on, like drawing kids, drawing men, drawing women, drawing full bodies, or something else to limit your selections.
- Do daily paintings of your window view, or the sunrise, or the house across the street.
- Go to a cafe (if they are open) and draw something you see that day (and practice urban sketching).
- Use your cards as mini nature journals and head outdoors to sketch, diagram, and annotate what you see.
- Take photos of houses in your neighborhood and draw them.
- Dig out old family photos and draw one a day.
- Draw the jars or cans in your pantry.
- Draw the mugs and tea cups in your cabinet. (When you run out, solicit images from others or use online photos.)
- Practice mindful doodling and fill cards with marks and patterns.
- Set up a rainbow series and focus on a color a week, or cycle through the colors, one each day of the week, and repeat. (Others have done this beautifully in the past.)
- Put your cards in conversation with one another, each card responding to the card before it. (You could attach them in the end in an accordion-style book.)
- Fill cards with mandalas or circles.
- Illustrate favorite quotes (or letter them).
- Make your 61 days a giant list, listing 1 thing each day on a topic you choose.
- Record gratitudes.
- Draw your pets (and your friends’ pets and your family members’ pets).
- Draw bowls of fruit and fruit in varying positions. (You can learn a lot from fruit.)
- Explore working with colored pencils.
- Journal your day.
- Make a mini sketchnote of a video you watch.
- Draw your children’s toys.
- Draw stacks of books.
- Draw trees.
- Fill squares or circles.
- Draw your hand (every day).
- Use lyrics from favorite songs.
- Record the covers of favorite books.
- Have a conversation with the universe.
- Freewrite all over the card and then partially cover it up with paint, collage, or color.
- Practice drawing simple icons in multiple ways to build your visual vocabulary. (This is great practice for sketchnoting.)
- Do quick thumbnail sketches of things you see on a walk. (Try doing grids of four and keeping them loose.)
- Draw birds.
- Draw steampunk characters.
- Draw dragons or wizards.
- Draw characters from your favorite TV shows.
- Draw your dinner (every day) or your morning meal. (If you are someone who eats a morning meal, it might be prettier.)
- Draw contours. (You can just choose “contour” in general or choose a subject you will do in contour, like “flowers.”)
- Draw the various bags and containers in your house (bookbags, purses, totes, pencil jars, etc.).
- Use your cards to create thumbnails for a story or graphic novel you want to create.
- Draw people from magazines.
- Use your cards as mini pages for a zine. (Yes!)
- Use your cards to write affirmations. (We all need them.)
- Draw self-portraits. (Leaving this last because I’m a big fan of self-portraits, but daily for this long would be hard.)
These are all simple ideas but great starters. You might expand an idea and take it in a new direction. You might combine ideas or pair up a medium (like using neo-colors) with a focus (like drawing toys). Whatever you choose, it should be fun and make you happy. ICAD works best when you look forward to each day’s drawing. And if you do start with an idea for a series, know that it will probably shift and change over the course of the 61 days. 61 days is intense, and as you keep pushing at your work (and keeping up), you will probably find that things shift and evolve. That’s natural. Let it happen!
ICAD and Index Card Art on the CMP
ICAD has been talked about in many episodes of the CMP over the last decade. You might start with Episode 314: Gearing Up for a Challenge (2018).
What is ICAD?
Tools/Materials I Use (or Have Used)
The only required material for ICAD is index cards 4×6 or smaller (so, 4×6 or 3×5). You’ll need 61 cards to do ICAD proper, plus 1 for a “cover card” (sort of a tradition) and maybe a few for warmup activities. If you build in room for mistakes or do-overs, having a set of 75 is a good idea. The packs I buy tend to come in 100.
- 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. The tabs are awesome, and when I look back through my cards from years past, I have to say that the tabs make it SOOOOO much easier to sort through cards. Some years, I wrote the date on the tab on the front of the card (or the card number, x/61), and that system is really one you appreciate when you look through your cards later.
- Thick white index cards: This is what I used in 2019 + 2020 and will be using in 2021. [300 | 100] I love these cards because they are a bright white and very thick. I miss the tabs of the Smead cards, but especially when using Copic marker, the white is really nice.
- Plastic clipboard with storage: As silly as it sounds, this is one of my most treasured parts of ICAD! The exterior provides a great surface for drawing, and it opens up to allow you to store index cards and assorted papers and even pens/pencils inside. I don’t put my card under the clip (for fear of dents), but I often keep a mop-up paper clipped in place for testing markers, colors, etc. as I work on cards. Very handy! ICAD happens in the summer, which sometimes means travel. I used to visit my Mom during ICAD, and so this board was a lifesaver for keeping my “right then” materials handy and easy to grab and go.
- Note: I have two of these. Both are sized for regular paper (so slightly larger than printer paper). Some of these are sturdier than others. One of mine (which I repurposed from my mom’s shelves) is super hard and durable; the other was a gift another year and is softer plastic and less durable for drawing. These come in lots of colors. Check out this yellow! This one is an even bigger, deluxe model with interior compartments! And this one is legal size. It may be because I don’t have a lot of space that this really works for me. If you have a dedicated creative space, desk, etc., then you may not really see the charm. But if you’ve ever worked in your car, or from a cafe, or from a waiting room, there’s a lot to love in a handy surface that also opens up for storage.
- Plastic index card box: I have index cards in several of these. (After a bit, my cards have all landed in a shoebox, which I had on hand for free, but these plastic card holders are really handy and perfect for carrying around your blank cards and cards in progress during an ICAD season.) Other options: 4×6 plastic box, 3×5 plastic box, 3×5 plastic box (clear), clear acrylic 4×6 box
- Copic markers: I used Copics (alcohol markers) for ICAD in 2018 and 2019. There are all kinds of packs available. Copic Ciao markers hold less ink, but they are cheaper and can be a good way to buy these alcohol markers in a range of colors. I never bought the skin tones, but if you decide to invest in Copic for portraits, you should consider a range of skin tone options to give yourself some flexibility.
- Note – Copic markers are incredibly expensive. If you are only going to be using them for index cards, you might explore other alcohol markers that are less expensive. After all, index cards aren’t a great medium to begin with. I don’t have experience with other brands, but there are tons of options. For example, see skin tone options like: these, these, these, and these. Multi-color (non-Copic) alcohol marker sets to check included: these, these, these, and these. You’ll want to pay attention to the kinds of tips offered. I only use the “brush” tip, but many versions come with the chisel tip instead.
- Copic marker packs: Skin tones (sketch), skin tones (Ciao), Yellow (Sketch trio), Red-Violet (Sketch trio), Violet (Sketch trio 1), Blue (Sketch trio), Orange (Sketch trio), Floral, Earth Essentials, Sea and Sky, Perfect Primaries, Pale Pastels, and on and on and on.
- Old podcast episode: Considering Copic (2017)
- Ballpoint (2017)
- Black ink: For fountain pen — I used the Sailor black ink for years. This year, I have used Platinum Carbon Black for most of my drawing and love it.
- Fountain pens: Lamy LX Safari with an EF black nib has often been my drawing pen of choice. A Preppy can also be a great way to try fountain pen. In addition to the 03 Preppy (fine), there is an 02 Preppy (extra fine), which I love. You can use Carbon ink cartridge refills, refill the cartridge with your own inks, or use a Platinum converter. You can also convert this pen to an eyedropper-filled pen using o-rings and some silicone grease.) [Day-to-day, I use a number of fountain pens and a wide range of inks, and what I like for drawing is often different than what I use for writing or for lettering or even for filling space and mindful doodling. If you use fountain pen, you should experiment with ink!]
- Fountain pens: If you are just starting out exploring fountain pens for drawing, look for extra fine (EF) nib options. Some inexpensive choices to try include: 02 Preppy, Kakuno EF, Lamy Safari (EF) or Lamy Joy (look for an EF). You might also experiment with a Pilot Metropolitan (in F), but it’s a heavier pen. I prefer lightweight pens for drawing. (One of my favorite fountain pens is a TWSBI, but I don’t tend to draw with them.)
- Other fine liner 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)
Cards from 2019: