Lines and marks in a work of art connect the viewer very directly with the hand of the artist. They can express individuality, add structure, and show evidence of the artist’s process. Perhaps because these visual elements can reveal so much, many artists are self-conscious about using them and when they do, the results can appear contrived, awkward, or random. How can we use lines and marks in purposeful ways that feel right to us? What might more intentional use of lines and marks bring to our work?
Similar to the urge to view a Rembrandt or Van Gogh from inches away to see their individual brushstrokes, we are often drawn in to examine a work up close when it includes lines and marks, and we can sense the artists hand at work. There is often an immediacy and directness in part becasue just a simple tool has been used--a pencil, crayon, or brush. In abstraction, marks and lines as visual elements can be created for their own sakes or for expressing a huge range of emotions and ideas.
As artists using marks and lines, we need to remember that not that every line or mark works or should be retained. As with any visual element marks and lines need to work within the context of the piece. It often takes trial and error, and thoughtful editing to discover the right placement or type of mark. Yet we also need to resist the inner critic who may caution us that lines and marks are too revealing or too quirky. On the other hand, a good way to shake up a painting that is too tight is to apply a spontaneous mark that you then need to react to.
Although there is much to explore with mark-making it is a visual element with which many artists never become fluent. Making marks and lines for their own sakes does not always come easily. Certainly, many wonderful abstract works of art do not include this element, but it is worth asking yourself if it’s one you avoid because it is too challenging, and to consider what a focus on mark-making might bring to your abstract work.
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