Drawing Projects: an exploration of the language of drawing

Mick Maslen and Jack Southern

2011 - Black Dog Publishing
London UK

   
  pp. 28 & 30  
 
MARKS & MARK-MAKING
 
     
 
DRAWING IS THE SIMPLEST WAY OF ESTABLISHING A PICTURE VOCABULARY, BECAUSE IT IS AN INSTANT, PERSONAL DECLARATION OF WHAT IS IMPORTANT AND WHAT IS NOT.

Betty Goodwin
 
     
  Marks are the alphabet that forms the words that make the prose, and are the elements with which the drawng is made. Mark-making is the broad term used to include all marks that are made visible as a manifestation of applied or gestural energy. It is the gestural language of drawing, and marks are the component parts within it. There are an infinite number of marks possible, and our nomenclature for them is limited - lines, dots, dashes, smudges, etc.. It is difficult to refer to specific marks, and know that the term adequately communicates its intended meaning. Everbody makes his or her own unique set of marks and every medium has its own particular quality of mark.  
  How we 'read' and understand the meaning of a mark, or collection of marks in a drawing, and what constitutes a 'good', or 'better' mark, is both, subjective, and difficult to comprehend. We might develop our understanding of what constitutes the facility for 'good' mark-making by being aware of marks that  
 
1_Are appropriate to our intentions - right for the job.
2_Are 'alive' and embody and express the 'life-energy' of their maker, the artist.
3_Help to communicate and experess qualities of light and its invisible energy, and the material substance, form, volume, and surface of the objects we are drawing.
4_Present the eye with changes of pace and rythm that collectively offer variety and interest. [The rich and varied texture of nature and the world around us is our guide].
5_Express and stretch the properties of the medium that the drawing is made from.
 
  To a large extent our choice of medium determines the sort of marks we make. Different papers respond to different mediums in different ways.  
 
IT IS ALL A GAME OF CONSTRUCTION - SOME WITH A BRUSH, SOME WITH A SHOVEL, SOME CHOOSE A PEN.

Jackson Pollock
 
  Some mediums make harder, more durable marks, that can be controlled relatively easily, and hold their gesture well - pencils, inks, etc.. Others are softer, more flexible, and fugitive, charcoal, pastels etc.. Selecting the 'right' medium to make the 'right' mark on the 'right' surface is an important decision to make. The size of the marks we make, might, to some extent determine the scale of the drawing. Marks made with a point, that are small, and/or linear, may be best suited to smaller drawings, while bolder, broader marks might suggest larger drawings. Experience will teach what is possible, and what is preferred.  
  How the medium is held, is also a factor in determining the sort of mark made. Our familiarity with picking up and holding pens for writing creates a habitual approach to handling them, and our lack of a reason to change, results in a mark we are familiar with. Why does a pencil that is used for drawing, have to be held like a pen that is used for writing? It does not, and there are alternatives. Control is usually the determining factor when making this choice. The level of control is of great importance, but it must be in the 'right' places, and in the 'right' amount.  
  Too much control can result in a rigid drawing, that primarily communicates how anxious and frightened of 'getting it wrong' the artist has been whilc making the drawing. Artists often refer to certain drawings as being 'too tight' (rigid), and in order to avoid this they develop all sorts of ways by which to make more relaxed, and looser drawings. The opposite might be too little control, resulting in loose marks that generalise the 'looking', and produce an equally unsatisfying drawing.  
  When drawing, we generally use marks that are made by movements from the wrist, from the elbow, and from the shoulder.  
  Marks from the wrist tend to be the most controlled and smaller - often being made with the support of the ball of the hand resting on the drawing. Marks from the elbow tend to be longer and more fluent - in arcs from the elbow, and without the hand resting on the drawing. Marks from the shoulder are the most fluent, and most linear.  
  Being asked to hold the drawing instrument differently, and to draw from the shoulder, using the whole arm might seem strange at first, but after a short time, and with practice, it will become second nature. It will provide a different quality of mark, and should be seen and valued for what it is worth.  
  Changing the way you hold the drawing instrument is a positive and exciting element of choice in the language of drawing.  
  Learning how to make the right marks is funtamental to learning how to draw. The marks that you make ar the life and energy of the drawing.  
     
  FEELING THE MARK  
  'Feeling the mark' being made on the paper has to be consciously realised and learned. It is a feeling that is made visible by focusing into and squeezing out of the pencil point/medium, a lighter, darker, thinner, thicker, twisted mark which is made in response to what is being seen at that precise moment.  
  We must learn to see as we feel as we discover as we draw, as a simultaneous act. Through the continuous practice of drawing and drawing and drawing, the intrinsic skills of looking, feeling, discovering and responding in marks can be made into one synergised action. A metaphorical equivalent for this simultaneous act in soccer might be how a professional soccer player is able to pass the ball 65 yards to the feet of a team-mate, and precisely synchronise the distance, weight and speed of the pass all in one action of the leg.  
  Or in music - for example a saxophone player, it might be the simultaneous combining, in a synchronised moment, of the amount of air they control and blow into the mouth piece, with the pressing of the keys, and releasing a felt note of perfect intent.  
 
REPEAT YOURSELF, IF YOU LIKE IT, DO IT AGAIN, IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT, DO IT AGAIN.

Bruce Mau
 
  Make your drawing instrument an extension of your brain, heart, eyes, arm and hand.