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Learn to Draw: Mark Making

Learn to draw and rediscover the primal enjoyment of mark making. Just watch a young child’s face as he or she first discovers crayons. We all did this, delighting in the experience of having an effect on something outside of ourselves.

Some of us were encouraged, others not. A lot depended on the surfaces we chose to demonstrate our enjoyment!

With no access to crayons, children use sticks to mark the earth, or mud. We also draw with stones on the beach – making marks is not just about paper and pencil.

We can use anything to learn to draw – skewers and chopsticks dipped in ink, eyeliners and lipsticks – if it will mark a surface, it can be used for drawing. If you’ve ever leant a pair of aluminium stepladders against a wall painted with matt emulsion you probably regretted it – but why not use that knowledge? Stepladders may not be practical for drawing with, but a small piece of aluminium is. Silver will make marks on paper primed with Zinc white gouache – over time the marks oxidise and turn sepia brown.

Whatever tool you use for learning to draw with it makes sense to really get to know it – to fully explore everything it is capable of.

Drawing is not just about lines and tones, it’s about creative, interesting ways of expressing what you see – whether you see it in your mind or out in the world (it’s also about expressing feeling, but we’ll come to that in a minute).

Mark making is your vocabulary – learn to draw by exploring mark making to develop the best possible ways od describing what you see and wish to share.

Learn to Draw: Mark Making

Try this:

Pick a pen or pencil or twig and ink, open up your sketchbook and start doodling. Explore all the possibilities of the drawing tool you are using – learn to draw straight lines, curved ones, dots, scribbles, smudgeswith each different tool. Discoveries of what doesn’t work are just as valid as discoveries of what does. As you can see, stippling with a pencil is not very effective (top left corner).

Fill at least a page of your sketchbook. Do this every time you get a new drawing tool. These pages are your own highly personal reference library, they provides examples of ways you can use a range of marks to describe texture when you are drawing or sketching.

When you are first looking at your subject think about how it might feel under your hand – hard and smooth? Rough? Soft? Then consult your sketchbook – perhaps you have marks recorded in there which might be suitable to use.

Learn to draw: Hatching

Hatching is a traditional style of mark making used to add tone and shadows to drawings.

As you can see hatching consists of groups of around 6 or 8 parallel lines. The closer the lines are together, the darker the overall effect. Cross hatching is two (or more) sets of lines, one on top of the other.

Avoid cross hatching at right angles – the effect looks unattractive, keep the angles shallow instead. Learn to draw hatching marks by moving your whole arm: with practise you’ll develop skill and control. And unless you are left handed, as I am, you will probably want to hatch in the opposite direction!

Learn to Draw: Expressive Marks

Marks express emotions and feelings too – they might be firm and confident, tentative and nervous or perhaps angry – even defiant.

They all express what you felt about drawing itself and your subject when you did it. Whilst some things are not within our control, understanding how marks convey feelings and emotions and starting to learn to draw expressive marks deliberately is part of the language of drawing and something you can use to add further dimensions to your drawing.

For example:loose flowing lines convey softness or languor and sometimes undulating movement. They suit organic shapes, soft curves and water.

Have a look at some of Matisse’ charcoal drawings of nudes for an example. These lines can also convey joy depending on how they are used.

Try the following exercise – there is no right or wrong with this, it’s about your personal expression of different feelings and emotions.

In your sketchbook, draw at least half a dozen boxes approximately 2.5″ square.

Now choose one, close your eyes and imagine the feeling. Now, what does your hand want to do? open your eyes and let it move across the paper.

Whatever comes out is your personal expression of that feeling. Explore as many as you can think of.

I’ve found all of these exercise fun to do and very useful – they have been a valuable part of my personal ‘learn to draw’ journey. They can also be a good way of warming up for a drawing lesson or session. I talk more about the importance of warming up in the Sketching section -why not have a look?