Lecture - Mark Making

Artists have been making marks since the beginning of man's ascent to a language-oriented human. You can clearly see this throughout the history of art, starting with cave paintings, through the brush strokes of the Impressionists. “Marks” as the subject or narrative in a work of art came into its own with the abstract expressionist movement. Today, mark making has become the artists' unique form of self-expression and their communication process. Below you will find some examples of master artist marks in works by Jackson Pollock, Cy Twombly, Richard Serra, Henry Matisse, and Brice Marden. Spend some time exploring these artists' mark making languages.

I like students to start thinking about mark making by having them write their signature over and over on a very large piece of drawing paper with various drawing materials. Alternatively, they can begin “doodling,” making random marks and gestures with various drawing materials. In displaying the signatures or doodles, we can see that there is clearly a unique set of marks / gestures for each person. This demonstrates that each of us already has a unique set of marks and gestures that we have been using most of our lives. (See students' doodles below, Figures 1 - 3.)

This innate mark making is what I see as the foundation or beginning of the artist’s visual language. It is important to explore and grow this vocabulary of marks, constantly working to expand your language. As you begin this mark-making journey, you will soon discover your core of marks. These are the ones you have had from childhood, the ones you see in doodles or signatures. These marks are embedded in your muscle memory and should be embraced, refined, and expanded upon. This is your core language, do not try to change it or abandon it; only add to it so that eventually you will have a mark-making language of your own. The larger your language the greater your ability to express yourself in a unique manner.

Please understand that making a mark is not limited to drawing or painting materials. Marks can be made in a variety of ways and with various mediums, objects, computers, mechanical devices, tools, etc.

Examples of students' doodle mark making.

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Figure 1 - Unknown Student, Doodle Mark Making Exercise.  Charcoal stick / graphite pencil / paper / cut and reassembled.

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Figure 2 - Fran Zweiben - Student, Doodle Mark Making Exercise. Charcoal / acrylic markers / paper, 14" x 16".

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Figure 3 - Margo Karney - Student, Doodle Mark Making Exercise.  Acrylic markers / paper, 14" x 16.

Examples of mark making by artists

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Edward A. Burke ,"Marks 01".  Acrylic marker / paper 14" x 16".

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Cy Twombly ,"Note II," 2005-07.  Acrylic on wood panel 96" x 144".

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Jackson Pollock , Dripped enamel paint drawing.

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Richard Serra , Oil stick drawing.

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Brice Marden, Second Letter (Zen Spring),  2006-2009.  Oil on linen, 96 x 144 inches.

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Henry Matisse.  Graphite.