Make Your Mark

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

Getting the Hang of This-2.jpg

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!

Supplies! Supplies! Supplies!

When I was first starting out making art, I watched A TON of videos on youtube and purchased a few online tutorials (thank you Juliette Crane, Jeanne OliverMystele, and Artists Network!). One of the things I love about creating art is all the amazing art supplies out there! It was overwhelming at the beginning, I didn't have many supplies at all and I definitely couldn't afford (and still can't) to buy masses of expensive paints that I see other successful artists use. So, I started buying what I could afford, tried not to impulse purchase every time I saw a new shiny tool, and did my best to collect a bunch of stuff that works for me. It really helped me over time to see what paints, tools and mark makers other artists use every day and I especially love when they write blog articles or videos about they're favorites. Artists are inherently a very giving community - we love to educate and share with others - and I would love to join in that movement by sharing some of the supplies and tools I love the most. 

Today I'm going to focus on paints. There are SO MANY to choose from and so many places to find them, it can be really overwhelming. You can spend very little, say $1.29 per bottle on craft paints, and up to $30 or more on a nice bottle of artist quality acrylic (I am definitely not there yet!). When I started out, I focused on buying up bottles of craft paints from places like Target, Hobby Lobby and Michaels. Without question, these products are not up to the standards of the more pricey paints, but when you're just starting or simply playing around for fun, they are absolutely good enough. I actually still use craft paints every single day. I love the piles of colors they come in, they are affordable, easy to store, and I don't mind one bit that they aren't professional grade. I slap so much paint and layers on my pieces and I have come to know which brands I can rely on to give me the opacity or transparency I need in a particular layer. I am not a skilled "mixer" of paint, and every time I try to mix colors on a palette, I end up wasting so much paint and that stresses me out so much! I also paint very quickly in the early layers and don't want to have to take the time to mix up colors and worry about using them before they dry up right before my eyes. I love the way the paints mix and meld together on the paper or canvas, and that's the style I prefer for me. 

Craft paint brands I use every day, including  Americana ,  Folk Art ,  Martha Stewart , and  Handmade Modern (from Target).

Craft paint brands I use every day, including Americana, Folk Art, Martha Stewart, and Handmade Modern (from Target).

I really love the Handmade Modern paints from Target. They come in lovely colors, they are thick and creamy and I really like the little pots they come in. I can get either a palette knife or brush in there with no problem. Just love these little guys. Favorite colors are the Goldenrod and Leaf Green.

Folk Art and Americana are really the mainstays of the craft paint world. Millions of colors, not quite as thick as the Target paint, but I use them every single day. My favorite colors are Citrus Green (Folk Art), Vivid Violet and Sweet Mint (Americana).

Martha Stewart makes a really nice craft paint but I'm not a fan of the container. It has a tiny little hole, even when you unscrew the lid, and I cannot get my tool in there to scoop the paint out. I'm a big scooper, so this bottle is not helping me out. Also, I've over-tightened some of the caps and broke off the top. Big bummer. Favorite colors are Beach Glass, Wild Blueberries, and Hydrangea Purple. 


Acrylic Paints from Golden, Jo SonjaUtrecht, Liquitex, Sennelier and Chroma.

Acrylic Paints from Liquitex, Dick Blick, Jo Sonja and Masters Touch.

Occasionally I spend a bit more money on a paint with a higher quality. They typically come in bigger bottles so price per ounce, many are really still in line with the affordability of small bottles of craft paint. Others, not so much, but it makes me feel like a genuine artist when I use them!! 

I have several tubes of heavy body paint, Golden and Liquitex brands, and the Golden heavy body paints are really thick, almost too thick for my techniques. They have great coverage though, so you can really count on them to cover up something ugly! Jo Sonja is a relatively new brand for me but so far I've been happy with the results. The "background colours" was a gamble, I wasn't really sure why a paint needed to be so specific for just background, but I really like it and it was on super sale from Dick Blick when I grabbed it. I am crazy in love with the Sennelier paints. Love the pouch it comes in, love the colors and the price can't be beat. The Liquitex Basics, Dick Blick Studio and Nature's Touch are all very nice, similar quality paints. Favorite colors are Light Ultramarine Blue from Golden, Light Olive Green from Masters Touch and Light Blue Permanent from Dick Blick.

ArtMinds brand Acrylic Paint from Michaels.

This is my most recent purchase from Michaels and I LOVE this paint! Again, super affordable, love the tubs and the paint is a big hit for me. I'm a sucker for lime green and this paint delivers a really vivid, beautiful color. Both brands are somewhat matte finish, the Decor paint is more matte than the eggshell, and I love the subtle contrast I get between these paints and the more satin finish of other brands I use. I definitely plan to add to my collection of colors soon!

Lastly, two supplies I simply could not live without - Anita's Acrylic Craft Paint (Hobby Lobby) in Antique White and Daler Rowney's Acrylic Gesso (I get this at the Walmart down the road). My specific technique of painting involves many layers and these two mainstays are key ingredients in building layers and textures in my work. The Anita's paint is the perfect off-white color and is transparent when I brayer it on and more opaque if I spread it on. I love how it lets the paint below peek through in places, sends some layers to the background and allows other areas to stay forward. I use the Daler Rowney Gesso in similar fashion - I have tried other gesso brands and while I also love the Dick Blick Artists gesso for areas I want to be REALLY white and crisp, this one gives me the perfect amount of coverage I look for when building layers. I have tried the Artist Loft brand of gesso sold at Michaels and two tubs in a row developed the MOST FOWL smell and orange colored scary stuff floating on the top, I had to return them. Definitely Beware!

I think that just about sums up my experiences with different paint brands. Please let me know if you have any favorites I haven't mentioned here. 

Next week I'll focus on Mark Making Tools, oil pastels, and pencils. 

Have a lovely, art-filled week!