Making Our Marks in the World

Frank and Rothko in Manhattan
Frank and Rothko in Manhattan
Frank and Claude on the bridge at Giverny
Frank and Claude on the bridge at Giverny

I’ve just been reading an article about the ways different artists “make their marks.”  “Markmaking” is a topic that often engages artists as they talk about their work.  Or it engages critics and gallery-goers as they view the work.

When I was in art school in Maine, our drawing instructor, a well-established painter,  gave us one key rule about our drawings – no erasers allowed.  She emphasized the importance of every mark to an artist’s work.  She also called on me as a writer to talk about this related to writing.

Yes, we eventually edit our work, but in the beginning the words all stay.  I strongly believe that computers have played a negative role in the writing world because it’s so easy to instantly erase a word or a phrase or a page.  Writers were a lot more thoughtful about their words when pages had to be retyped for the smallest mistake!  (Without intending to offend anyone, I think computer generated art has the same problem.)

Artists also eventually “edit” our work – cleaning up a painting, redoing a line that’s not quite what we want, adjusting here and there – but not at the beginning. My favorite writing guru, Miss Fidditch, says:  “Get the words down.  Then fix them.”

Miss Fidditch, who has joined me on this art journey, now advises: “Get the paint down. Then fix it.”

In the writing world, I’m what’s known as an “organic writer.”  I didn’t start out with a plan for a story, but with an idea – a character, a scene perhaps, a seed.  It turns out that I’m the same kind of painter.

I have an idea in mind, colors I can see in my head, shapes – a seed.  But I like to see what happens when I make the first marks.  I used to live in a city where there was a wonderful little store that advertised:  “Come in with nothing in mind and leave with something you love.”

Apparently that advertising line is my artistic spirit guide.  I could do worse.

As I wrapped up my “Deconstructing Frank Lloyd Wright” series of ten paintings in which the architect meets various artists, I realized that my mark making had changed.  After a lot of work with brushes, I’m now a devotee of the painting knife.  I proved this to myself today when I began a new, larger color field piece.

The pieces I did earlier were done with brushes.  But this one got right in my face and put the painting knife in my hand instead.  I am already in love with what’s happening.

When architect Louis Kahn was asked how he came to design certain buildings, he said:  “I ask the bricks what they want to be.”  And writer E.M. Forster said:  “How do I know what I think until I see what I say.”

For me who has taken up residence in the color field, a painting is not about a plan.  I ask the paint what it wants to be. Then I load up the palette knife, begin, and see what I say.

Making my marks, for better or for worse.