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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Do You Have Mark Making Envy?

'My Friend Raven'               5x7                  pastel                ©Karen Margulis

 It happens to me. I admire a painting. I study it. Maybe it is the color palette I like. Maybe it is the subject. But often it is the the marks...the way the pastel is applied. Oil and acrylic has brushwork. We admire an artist's brushwork. In pastel we don't call it brushwork  but the way an artist applies the pastel is often known as mark-making.

The way an artist makes marks is unique to that artist. It is like handwriting. No two artists have the same calligraphy or application of pastel just as no one has the same handwriting. 

When mark envy occurs we often wish we could make our marks the way we see others do. "If only I could apply the pastel like __________"  We could try to copy but ultimately it wouldn't be authentic. It would be forced. We all have natural tendencies in our way of making marks. Some of us like linear marks, some of us like big broad strokes. Some have soft feathery strokes.

close up of linear marks
I like to remind myself that I have my own natural way of making marks. The best advice I can give is for you to discover your natural tendencies and EMBRACE  your own personal calligraphy. Make the way you apply pastel your own statement.  I have some more thoughts on mark-making which I will share in upcoming blog posts.

What is your personal calligraphy? Line up 5 recent paintings. Look at them and try to define the types of marks you made....linear? Side stokes, Light hand? heavy hand? Bold marks? delicate marks? Write down your observations.

What choices do you have? Sometimes it is fun to try different types of marks. This allows you to see what feels the most comfortable. Try a simple subject such as an apple and do several small studies changing the type of marks you use.

1 comment:

robertsloan2art said...

That's interesting. Sometimes I do see another artist's marks as cool and then the next thing I do is try marks like those. They never come out the way the other artist does them. I know this. I trust it. To me that's like learning another hand in calligraphy. "Oh. This looks neat with those little linear black strokes around the subject. Gotta try that."

When I do, they come out as my little linear black strokes. I saw the effect. I may have done it backward - the artist I admired sketched in charcoal and left some of it showing, while I dashed in black accents later after blocking in color. Or vice versa.

I stopped worrying about copying anything a long time ago because mark making of all kinds is like handwriting. It will come out my way. It will not just be the thing I thought I was doing - everything else I've ever done or liked will come out in it and my peculiar anatomy will affect it too. My arm's short, and I have chronic fatigue so I can't hold my arm out unsupported for a long time. It means even large marks are going to be made in a different position with different leverage. It happens and sometimes those disabilities make it more obvious.

But even working small it's still going to happen.

Decades ago I took up sumi-e for a while. Playing with round brushes and ink, then later on with brush pens and sumi-e exercises, I got used to a certain flowing style of mark and it also affected how I design compositions intuitively. Then I stand back from some pastel mark and realize I first thought of that type of mark from something I did with ink.

I love to see art challenges where a bunch of different people share a reference, or a reference and palette or something - and see all the variety that emerges. The only way you can come out "like a copyist" would be to focus all your energy on one, just one example master and slavishly stick to everything they do. Even then it'll still be yours, not theirs, you just set yourself up as greatest fan. Or may even exceed them in the specialty and not know it.

I don't trace anything though, not photo references or anything. It's much more effective for me to sketch by eye and that opens up everything that comes from within. Tracing is a good method for some people to learn but I didn't pick it up early, possibly due to a lack of tracing paper. The things that affect artistic progress can be that random!