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.