The Art of Mark Making

I am afraid that too often we treat paintings and drawings as end products only, with little thought about the actual process. I would like to suggest a somewhat different approach. Think of drawing and painting as a love affair with the marks the material makes. Each tool, whether it be an oil painting bristle brush, a watercolor brush, a pencil, stick of charcoal, conté crayon or stick dipped in ink, makes  distinct types of marks.

Lines themselves, aside from what they may describe possess unique characteristics. They can  appear charged with energy and pent up tension, or languid and restful. A study of the kinds of lines found in drawings by Hokusai or Rico LeBrun will confirm this.

My first art experience was that of watching a line magically appear at the tip of a pencil as I pulled it along. I was enthralled with it. Everywhere I pulled the pencil that magic line followed, like a snail leaving its silver trail along the walkway. My mother came by, took me off the wall and gave me some paper. I have been in love with that line ever since. Pulling a brush across rough watercolor paper produces different lines or marks depending on how I hold it – vertically, at an angle, or dragged sideways. The pencil when rotated in the fingers while pulling a line produces wonderfully varied lines. I love them all-the thick bold marks to the delicate, even brittle lines of a finely sharpened tip.

I believe that falling in love with the unique marks of each tool is an essential part of serious art. I am talking about the serious art that is at its core, playful. A serious relationship is one with fun involved, and we should consider our relationship with the mark-making tools of art  a serious relationship.

I am posting a couple of examples of my involvement with the particular marks possible using two kinds of watercolor brush, the round pointed and the flat..

This first one is a little study done with brush and ink thinned with water. Instead of dealing with the trees in the usual way – doing an outline and filling in between the lines- I lay the brush down sideways and dragged it. I consciously strove for haphazard, random patterns that I could add other darker lines to. Oh, the fun I had doing this playful piece! I still love it. Every line was an act of love. The trees are suggested more than defined. I was both the artist making the marks and the observer watching it happen.


Aspen Tangle










Ephraim Barn b








Part of the joy of doing this watercolor was the marks made by twisting and turning the flat brush as I moved across the foreground. In order to duplicate the randomness of nature, I had to do this with my focus on dancing with the brush in such a way that I allowed the brush to make random marks, but in the direction I wanted them to go. If we always hold the brush the same way, it will make the same kind of stroke over and over in a boring, repetitive manner.

I encourage you to explore each tool for its variety of possible marks, from light to dark, thick to thin, flowing to ragged. Have fun while you seriously discover the range of possibilities.

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