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Annie's blog about art techniques, creativity and life

ART BLOG article

Making Your Mark as an Artist

I studied Biomedical Illustration in college, where I felt that everything had to be very precise and perfect. I wanted my drawings to look exactly like the subject. (Good for me – I was a very literal thinker, but also bad for me – I was a very literal thinker!) I never once thought of putting my own “self”, my own personality, into my artwork or making my own mark.

Studies I did in college.
by Frank Netter MD

Since that time in college, I’ve learned that we all make individual or unique marks. One way to think about this is to consider that every person has their own very recognizable handwriting. When someone close to you sends you a card, you know immediately who it is before you open it. I loved getting letters from my dad – I could always recognize it was from him.

My dad

The same is true for our paintings and drawings.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been learning more about “Mark-Making” in artwork. I’ve been able to shift from my precise, biomedical-illustration style to something very different, I started to give my work my own personality.

When you’re young, you’re a natural mark-maker. Most kids don’t worry about how it looks, they’re just trying to get across their meaning or story. But then you start to care about what other people think. You start trying to impress teachers and get it “right” and “perfect.” That’s ok! It has happened to most of us. It’s simply time to re-learn it.

These are drawings by my nieces. 🙂


“Mark-making” begins as a mark on a surface. Not just paint on canvas or pencil on paper… anything!  It can be made on purpose, or an accidental spill or splatter.
It can convey energy, happiness, or strength. It might feel alive, sharp, strong, or vulnerable. It might feel powerful, delicate, big, small, elegant, or detailed. Its a term used to describe the different lines, shapes, and textures we create ​in a piece of art.

A portion of my painting. I had a REALLY hard time with the trees…I wanted to put down more, really develop them.. but I like them more, now!

And your mark is absolutely individual to you.

Some of my favorite mark-making tools

Here are some tips that work for me:

  • Choose a subject. For me, it helps to have something to look at…even the leaf of a plant, just enough to give me something to respond to.
  • Use your shoulder. Instead of using my wrist for drawing, which keeps my work tight, precise, and detailed, I engage my whole arm and shoulder in mark-making.
  • Be authentic, not perfect. The subject DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT!!! Its just paint.
  • Experiment. Try using “things” to make your mark: Catalyst Wedge, kitchen spatula, palette knife, brayer. Guide them and see what unusual/ unexpected mark they can contribute to your work.
  • Be un-precise. Don’t use small, tight tools and materials. Try broad tools: a large brush, thick pieces of charcoal, or Caran d’Ache Crayons.
  • Turn things upside-down. When you turn your painting upside down this allows you to not focus on how your subject ‘ought’ to look, but approach it from a different angle…you can concentrate on the line, color, and negative shapes, etc..

I have taken online courses from Nick Wilton, Ruth Armitage, and Scott Conary. Of course they stress technique, but they’ve given me the language, feeling, of putting my “self” into my marks.

 You can find a collection of Mark-Making images on my Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/anniesalness/mark-marking/

I would love to hear some of your struggles, and triumphs of Mark-Making.

Annie Salness

Artist, wife, mother of 4 great kids!, lifelong learner and fine art teacher.

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