Expressive Mark Making

by Lisa Larrabee

Not everything we make needs to become something.  I cannot stress enough the importance of experimentation and play without an end result in mind.

This is a demo where I modeled a variety of different types of mark-making using graphite and charcoal.

There is absolutely no wrong way to do this.  Give yourself a nice large sheet of paper and explore how much variety you can create using drawing tools that you already have.  Turn pieces on their side.  Twist the pencil or piece of charcoal or graphite between your fingers. Vary the amount of pressure. Smear the marks with the side of your hand.  Draw with a blending stump.  Make marks with your fingers.  Use erasers to create marks.  Change directions or explore a rhythm that feels new or awkward.  Create flowing marks, then make your hand shake/tremor as you draw.  You get the idea.

Consider the variety of marks that your regular ol' drawing tools are capable of that you hadn't explored before.  

It's like buying new art materials, except you didn't need to.  You are just beginning to explore their potential.

Once you have created a whole bunch of different marks, think about their different qualities.  How do they feel?  What mood do they communicate?  Choose a feeling and try to draw a neutral subject that communicates that feeling using different types of marks.  

I like to have students begin with "angry" drawings and "peaceful" drawings because of their clear contrast.  This is my angry drawing verses my peaceful drawing.

Both were based on a neutral subject (a still-life with leafy branches), but I had the option to alter or edit out whatever I wanted to best communicate the feeling.  In the "angry" version, I included the pot, in the "peaceful" version, I edited it out on my second attempt because I liked the simplicity and I didn't want the pot to weigh it down.

It is important to recognize that the feeling or mood is not dependent upon the subject.  In fact, choosing to make artistic decisions that feel contrary to what we typically associate with the subject can create a compelling image that allows the viewer to build a story.  It invites interesting questions:  "Why did the painting feel happy at first when the person depicted looks miserable?" or "Why does a bouquet of flowers feel so lonely?"

It is equally important to recognize when your artistic choices align with or contradict your intention.  Do these marks (or values, or shapes, or colors) conflict with or support my feeling?  This is a much bigger discussion, but you can begin by exploring what kind of marks you can make and how those marks feel when you begin to put them together.  Take a chance and see what happens.

~ Lisa