Make Your Mark

So, one of the techniques that I believe can really elevate abstract art is the process of mark-making.

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Mark-making is exactly what it sounds like, adding random marks, scratches, textures, anything that adds depth, interest and character to a painting. These marks typically hide out in the layers, sometimes barely there, but they are definitely doing an important job. A good example can be seen in a detail shot of my most recently completed piece, Getting the Hang of This:



Every artist that incorporates marks into their work has their own style. It's like a signature - you get to the point where your muscle memory takes over and the marks you make are yours alone, totally recognizable as a style belonging to that artist.

My mark making begins at the beginning - I cannot dive into a big, white space without first starting with marks. Even though I know these early marks will never be seen in the finished painting, they help guide the emotion of the piece. I always start with my Lyra graphite stick. It's water-soluble graphite and it's available in a couple different degrees. I prefer the 9B - it's really dark but also soft. I scribble with reckless abandon over my paper or canvas, give the surface a couple good squirts of water and let the drips happen. I also use a large paint brush to make random strokes all over.

Throughout the process of building layers of paint, letting the colors and shapes guide the composition, I often get stuck. Adding more marks at this point is a great way to break out of whatever trap I've set up. I sometimes break out the Derwent Inktense Blocks and use them in the same way as the Lyra stick. Scribble, using the flat side for a broad, bold stroke and using the corners to make sharp lines. Add a couple more sprays of water, brush it around or let it drip. It's lovely! Stabilo Woody Pencils are also great to use in the same manner and give a more subtle, but similar look.

To keep me moving forward when I get frustrated, I also pull out the handmade stamps and stencils and create more dimension in the composition with these and other household items. I have a few squares of drawer liner and rug-stay rubber that make fabulous texture when pressed into wet paint. If I feel myself struggling to stay loose, I will use scrapers and brayers to either add or remove paint. Because these give me less control than a brush or my fingers, it forces me to let go of the outcome just enough.


When I start to feel that the painting is close to being done, that's where the marks I make really get a chance to take center stage. I love to pull out the oil pastels and add dimensions with shading, small bright spots of color and emphasize the round shapes I've come to use in all of my pieces. I use a variety of brands of oil pastels, they are all great for different reasons, I even love a super cheap box of Crayola pastels. Some brands are more creamy than others, some don't blend as easily, but I've learned ways to make their qualities work for me.

Depending on the painting, one of the very last steps is to create borders and dots using the  FineLine Tip and either white or black Golden High Flow paint. The FineLine tool combined with the white High Flow paint is really a must-have if you want really thin, consistent white accents. Love those two together!

You could keep making marks until the end of time if you don't have any self-control! They are so much fun and can really change the look and feel of the painting. Give it a try, find some cool things from around your house to use as tools, stamps and stencils, and see if it works for you!