|F.A. Moore 34788 posts||
Artist Mark Making
Consider that anything moved or placed with force along the surface of another leaves a mark. This is so, even if only temporarily,
In art, we think, particularly, of using either gravity or force to place on, or move through or over a medium, an object which will leave
This article will briefly explore marks for the fun and enjoyment of it, and marks as related to personal style. Most images
Rights of Lilth
Mark Rothko (Russian-American, 1903-1970)
ca. 1945 9
Rene Magritte (Belgian, 1898-1967)
Lovers of Light
Mark Tobey, (American, 1890-1976)
click to view any image larger
Marks can actually have a sort of recipe—most probably, one of those loose recipes of your grandmother, with instructions
to measure “to taste”. The basic ingredient list would include medium, tool, and gesture. Your gesture (applying the tool
to medium) is discretionary— very expressive, or perhaps controlled, or even mechanized.
Just as making something wonderful from a basic recipe does not require one to be a professional chef, mark-making is
for everyone. Joanna Warren, a volunteer for the free "Studio Program, in Metropolitan Museum of Art, has noted that kids
“do not need their pictures to look like a certain object, or to blend colors in a specific way. They just mark.” 3
In context, Warren is probably speaking of very young children. At a certain age, some children pull away, probably ever
encouraged and enamored with what they can make with their marks.
by 20 month-old child
by 9 year-old child
Rafael Mesa, (Tinerfeño – Canary Islands)
Special No. 32
Georgia O’Keefe (American, 1887-1986)
click to view any image larger
click to view the image larger
Smith noted that Twombly “redefined painting as an essentially glyphic, storytelling art, in which spontaneous marks almost
always did double duty as signs, symbols, letters and notations, and some sense of a narrative often hovered in
the background, even if it was simply about the process of making the painting.” 4
works, like Twombly’s, include lines which assume a likeness to the expressive qualities of traditional calligraphy
— beautiful lettering created with a broad, expressive, harmonious stroke.
Thus, calligraphy continues to be an important influence on style of marks and art, as a whole. Taking calligraphy “back to
the future”, if you will, is “asemic writing”, which has no language. Asemic writing is, rather, a calligraphic form that might
present itself similarly to everyone, as a natural language. Words and sentences are not recognizable; but to the writer, they
represent something like automatic drawing. Many of these works are highly artistic and beautiful.
click to view the image larger
Zhang Xu, Tang Dynasty
Nuno de Matos (a.k.a. “Matox”)
Asemic “graffiti”, 2010 9
Jean Christophe Giacottino
(French, b. 1970)
Asemic writing, 2012 9
click to view any image larger
Celebrated South African artist, William Kentridge, emphasizes that “[t]he ideas are not the driving force in drawing, nor
is meaning. The need to make an image is the driving force.” 6 In refrain, “The need to make an image is the
driving force” explains why children “just mark”.
Mark-Making related to Artistic Style
In the valuation of art, which falls to connoisseurs; personal, artistic style is analyzed, in order to identify a work with a
specific artist. Although the connoisseur’s goal is objectification, their analysis inherently involves their subjective
impressions of the details of the work and the techniques used. They then match this up with their studied knowledge
of a particular artist, and form a conclusion (or not).
It follows that if your marks are consistent or identifiable with you, then a connoisseur might look for these marks, 5, 50,
or 500 years from now, in order to associate a work with you.
As far as art history, which long has been “cubby-holed” by style, in 2010 Jas Elsner, British art historian and classicist,
wrote, “For nearly the whole of the 20th century, style art history has been the indisputable king of the discipline,
but since the revolutions of the seventies and eighties the king has been dead”. 7 [emphasis mine]
George Kubler, in his influential book from the 1960’s on Art Theory and History, ,
compares great moments in art to dead stars. We can see the light of a dead star from earth— and it may be quite bright;
because when the light started traveling through space, the star was alive.
Kubler’s comparison implies that by the
time we sense a moment in art as a great
one, indeed, it is already a dying light.
And in art, we know “a dying light”
implies there is already something “new”
following it. He calls art, the “graph of
an activity now stilled” (p 19) 8
Snow Storm Steam Boat of a Harbour’s Mouth
William Turner (English, 1775-1851)
oil on canvas, ca. 1842
no larger image available
If we like Kubler’s parallel as a descriptive for the greater scheme of things, what about the smaller scheme of themes—
in the artist’s own studio, their last work, their next work. Might this theory also apply on a smaller, personal scale?
Could your specific marks make this work so original, even to you, that the next work, with new marks, is your next
great “movement”? …’Something to consider.
1 Carol Purcell, The Art of Mark Making
2 Carol Purcell, The Discipline of Art and the Art of Discipline
3 Mark Making: Drop in Drawing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
4 Robert Smith for The New York Times, July 6, 2011
5 Literati painting – ink wash
6 Artist William Kentridge on charcoal drawing, by Dale Berning, The Guardian, 2009-09-18
7 Critical Terms for Art History, ed. Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff; Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003, Styles, pp. 98–109
8 The Shape of Time. Remarks on the History of Things, by George Kubler, 1962 Yale University Press
9 Re. Fair use. Images dated after 1921 may be subject to copyright in certain countries, depending on the date of their author’s death. Their rational to use in this article, as covered by the U.S. fair use laws: a. these are historically significant works that could not be conveyed in words; b. inclusion is for information, education, and analysis only; c. their inclusion in the article adds significantly to the article, because they show a major type of work produced by the artist; d. the images are a low resolution, small copy of the original work, and would be unlikely to impact sales of prints. The works in the article above which may not be in the public domain, and are used under the policy of fair use, given the rational described above, are the respective works of Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko, Mark Tobey, and Rene Magritte. Luckpine by then 9 year old Rafael Mesa, by permission of his father, Jose Mesa, under Creative Commons, Attribution 2.5 license. Asemic Graffiti, by Nuno de Matos, a.k.a. Matox is used under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. numeric art, by Jean-Christophe Giacottino, is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
More References and Reading
Rick Valicenti ‘Notes to Self’ (this link is a direct download)
Adventures of a design student
Mark Making Course, Cornwall, England – Nov. 30, 2013
Metropolitan Museum of Art. On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century
Art Criticism and Formal Analysis, University of Wisconsin, course outline
Art Criticism, California State University
Calligraphy and Asemic Art
- Asemic etymology: Greek: ἄσημ-ος – ásēm-os “signless” (from a- “without” + σῆμα – sēma “sign” + -os “adj. suffix”) + -ia “property suffix”.
- Asemic writing
- Gallery: Asemic writing: an International Perspective
- The New Post Literate Gallery of Asemic Writing
- The landscape as poetry by Jane Somerville – G. W. Bot’s asemic art
- Daniel Shea – photography, found asemic graffiti
- Nuno de Matos [Matox] website
- Recent works: Jean-Christophe Giacottino
- On Asemic Writing, by Michael Jacobson
©2013, F.A. Moore.
1. What are your favorite tools for making special marks?
- what kind of marks do they make? how do you use them?
2. What do you think of Kubler’s theory that once a work or movement in art is recognized as “a moment” in art, it is already a dying light?
3. Obviously Kubler is referring to the bigger picture.
- how would you apply this to your own body of work?
4. What artists or works have inspired you with their “marks”?
This discussion is for fun and sharing. If you can share your answer to even 1 or 2 of these questions, it would be great! We love to hear what you are doing and excited about, what inspires you, and so forth.
My teammate, Lynda Robinson is off this week; but I hope she would approve of our team features, related to marks, just below.
Presenting “Artist Mark making”, featured art by Women Painters
Oil and mixed media on block canvas
60 × 90 cm.
Paint and markers and zentangles
from “Life Pattern” series
Ink on paper
Pencil on charcoal background
black and white study for Into the Woods
Ink on paper
Mixed media on paper
12 × 6 in.
Pyrography, natural pigment and pastel on wood
Acrylic on stretched canvas
6 × 6 in.
Watercolour on Arches Not paper
Oil on canvas
Congratulations to Vicky Mount, Phyllis Beiser, Janis Zroback, Kerry Scally, Fay Helfer, Cindy Schnackel,
Natasa Ristic, Karen Gingell, Solotry, Lisa M, Sandrine Pelissier, and Sue Nichol!
Stunning selection and interesting read, great to be featured here!
Very interesting. As for Kubler’s theory, he may be correct in a way. Art is an evolving entity, even in my own little world. We grow, learn, gleen, struggle, almost like a constant transformation. Our style may remain somewhat the same but we are all evolving artistically even if we do not notice the growth. This came to my attention a little more than a year ago when I pulled some older prints from the back of the closet in my studio. I was shocked and almost embarrassed at what I thought “good” then and my perception of good now. Thank you Frannie for featuring my work in such a fascinating subject. Phyllis
Thank you so much for featuring my Chicken Ranch! Beautiful work everyone, congrats! At first I thought the Turner was one of Janis’s. Interesting topic and techniques. As usual, well thought out and researched, thank you for these topics!
@Sue, Phyllis, and Cindy, thanks for coming by and participating, too! I’ve addressed each of you, in turn, below.
@Sue, I’d love to hear more about your marks for your oil paintings, as you are quite an avid “marker”, even if you are not aware. Is it all impasto work, underneath? I have a feeling it is not and would love to hear more about it. Congratulations on your fine painting, “The Cod, Rose of England and Three White Vans, Staithes”.
@Phyllis, Kubler sure makes sense to me from a bird’s eye perspective of history. And like to think in terms of universal patterns. What is seen in a larger perspective, might be repeated in the smaller perspective. Thus the question.
When I see your work now, I cannot imagine it ever having been at a lesser stage of development. You are such a good artist, Phyllis. But certainly, I can personally relate to what you are saying. In fact, next year, I’m sure I will feel the same about this year’s work. Kubler’s dying star theory, makes really open my eyes wide to the fact that each work I create could actually be my own next big moment in art. I don’t know why that is so enlightening; but it is. I think it’s going to result in me experimenting more.
Thanks for your notes on that. I really appreciate your view point. And congratulations on your exquisite peacocks. The feathering, and way in which you handled the delicate marks made you a shew-in for this feature set.
@Cindy, always great to see you! Ahhh, I know Janis will be happy to read your note about mistaking Turner’s work for a Janis Zroback! It is amazingly beautiful, isn’t it. I had to include it, because his turbulent marks show a hand that was so very energized and dynamic, YET controlled. The effect is a maelstrom, so fantastic, that you fear for the passengers and crew of the steam boat.
Cindy, I had to find all of your works in Women Painters. When I have searched in the past, it seemed that all were featured. I’m not sure if you might have updated some, or my search method was just better. Having your art represented in this feature was a must. I love how you show your hand in all of your drawings, and many of your paintings— referring to your marks, specifically.
I wonder is this something you do naturally? Did you ever think about marks. I’m guessing they come so naturally now, that there may not be a conscious thought toward them. But obviously you like a loose result. (We know that “loose results” actually come from a depth of knowledge and experience drawing.)
Congratulations on “Chicken Ranch”!
Once again you made a fantastic introduction and an excellent gallery of features for all to enjoy.
Superb compilation of artworks.
Congratulations to our fantastic artists Vicky Mount, Phyllis Beiser, Janis Zroback, Kerry Scally, Fay Helfer, Cindy Schnackel,
Natasa Ristic, Karen Gingell, Solotry, Lisa M, Sandrine Pelissier, and Sue Nichol!
Wonderful curation and a fascinating article on the topic….thank you so much for including mine…
Thank you, @Mada, and for providing us the forum to do so. I love writing, when I have time. So ultimately it’s great to
research and share these articles. And it always fun to curate a collection of featured works. Appreciate your kind words of support.
@Janis, greetings and thank you. Your watercolor, Retrospect… perfectly represents mark making. In fact, it almost looks like you
dragged a thin twig through the foreground, as the grasses there make time and place so real. Also your use of salt gives the impression of light.
Congratulations on your work!
Frannie, what a remarquable research! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I have bookmarked a few pages too.
I am fascinated by the Ink wash! Something that has always attracted me but never tried…
Kubler’s theory who compares great moments in art to dead stars, is a great philosophical thought! Personally when I have created a very good work crafted for hours, I want to forget all about it, turn the page.
It is time to think about the next project and yes, the previous work that was very good, in a way for me is dead!
So great moments in art are probably the ones that nobody will ever forget. However we all have to turn towards of what comes next!
My favourite personal mark: Oil painting :)
I love the paintings chosen with this article.
Lynda would surely approve of your choice! Congratulations to all featured members.
What a fascinating read…something which I never tire of looking at is mark making, from very young children to the very old.
Thank you for including my painting here and it’s been a pleasure to view other artists work.
@Beatrice, I’m delighted that you found some references to bookmark! There’s so much more related to this subject than I could ever wrap into one short article. Ink wash is beautiful, isn’t it— soulful?
Thank you for taking the time to respond to the question of relating our own personal work and the “next thing”, to Kubler’s larger philosophy on art “moments” as delayed light from a dead star. It sounds like his broader theory, also holds for you, in the smaller space of your own studio and work; in that you consider your last work, in a way “dead”, and are ready to focus on the next.
Yet we know of course, that the previous canvas or work on paper continues to shine its light, and others see it and enjoy it (similar to the dead star lights that continue to travel through the universe).
LOL: So for you, oil painting is both a medium and a mark? You have wrapped something very clever in that statement, Beatrice.
Thanks so much for joining the conversation, and adding these personal views.
@Vicky, it’s great to hear that you love viewing mark making so much! I have always loved how you handle the various elements in your paintings, from the very small and delicate to the broader expanses. Beautiful work. Congratulations on your beautiful Blind white cat on a moonlit night. Thanks for letting me know how much you appreciate the article, too.
Thank you, Frannie! Strangely, (or maybe not so strange), I never really figured out much of how or why I make the marks I do or where the concepts come from, until a few yrs ago I was updating my resume/bio and writing an ’artist’s statement.’ There was no hurry so I went thru several variations and as I went, realized the ideas, marks, colors, everything was coming from the subconscious but did have meaning, even if I wasn’t aware of it at the time. The meanings were pretty basic things, the whole human condition. I had never been offended before if people saw their own meanings in my work, but in this realization, I came to embrace that. So the marks, spontaneity, etc, all stem from something, they are not random, even if they have randomness in them. Scribbled lines throughout a background, e.g., must represent something. Might not be the same for everyone. For me, that makes art a conversation, to invite people to find their own meanings. What seems like a way to fill background or set off a light or dark edge, is in fact symbolic in itself, it seems. The fact I don’t always have the answer doesn’t bother me. I like the mystery.
Great answer, @Cindy; I sure enjoyed reading how you came to the realization that your subconscious was actually at work in the background; imbuing your work with symbology and meaning, even if you were not consciously aware of it.
I am in tune with your appreciation of finished artwork opening conversation and communication— people finding their own meanings. The way I look at it, is that each viewer, in a way, completes the painting for themselves.
Thanks for coming back!
The variety and differences in the marks made, really made me think and opened my eyes too – also provided a lot of inspiration to get out of same zone and try so other things. Also I was really surprised by the Rothko – hadn’t seen that before and not what I would have expected. Thoughtful feature-great work Frannie
@Karen, thank you. I truly love your study here, of Into the Woods. The way you descirbed your medium, it seemed to me that you might be using white charcoal and pencil running through it. Or maybe it is white pencil on charcoal. I’m so curious. I love the woodcut look I’m getting from this.
Rothko arrived at his color fields later (about 1947) and, indeed, that is what he is known for. Of course, even then, he considered himself as painting emotions, etc. and not color fields. Some of his older work is marvelous, with beautiful lines, like this one in the article, and some are modern allegories, Karen.
I found this link for you, where you might explore Rothko’s work, in brief, at The National Gallery of Art. It is a self-guided tour, with little maroon arrows, below the current “picture”.
The work shown in this article, Lilith, is actually featured in the “toward abstraction” section. It apparently marked the beginning of his large canvases. After that you will see how he moves directly toward his “classic” period. Be sure not to miss his early works. He was really experimenting with style. It was all over the place.
Thanks so much for joining the discussion, and Congratulation, again, on your delightful study for Into the Woods. I’m delighted that the article has inspired you. That’s the only reason I write… hoping that even one person is inspired to thinking differently.
Thank you so much for including my work in this amazing feature. Deep apologies for my late response.
@Lisa, greetings and congratulations. If you happen to venture back in, I’d love to hear what you have to say on your “mark making”. Your lines are distinctive.