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  • Stefania Boiano

2 tips to improve your mark-making

When you step into abstract art you will soon notice that mark-making is one of those elements that are pretty essential to make a piece of art stand out and recognisable as yours.

Often, though, we notice that is hard to come up with expressive and appealing ways for mark-making. This post wants to suggest you just a couple of ideas / materials I often use in my mixed media art that hopefully will inspire you to experiment and explore more.

1- Marks with pencils

I love to add lines on my paintings. And I use any type of pointy tool to create them, starting from my fingernails! Among the most common materials, I do love pencils. In specific I prefer graphite, especially those big chunky graphite pencils that you don’t have to worry for the tip breaking down when you apply too much pressure.

My favourite is the Faber-Castell Graphite Crayons. Pitt Graphite Crayon on Amazon

I find it perfect to use on a mixed media piece (on canvas or wood panel) or simply on my sketchbook or just for a fine art work on paper. It’s very expressive and so smooth to work with. When used on a wet paint it helps you to scrape and move the paint away revealing the underneath layers.

Before adding lines on a final piece, I find very helpful practicing the lines just on a separate piece of paper with music in the background while closing my eyes… and then you eventually loosen up. I also try not to repeat the marks I make deliberately changing gesture every time I touch the paper. So once you work on the actual piece your wrist goes really smooth and fearless.

Of course do keep all those separate sheets of paper. You can reuse bits and pieces as collage elements in your mixed media work or simply keep them to make a visual diary of your mark-making and see how your lines change and evolve overtime.

The images below are just an example of mixed media pieces, using collage and acrylic paint. All the lines you see are made with the Faber-Castell Graphite.

2. Marks with ink

For this second tip about mark-making I suggest you Indian Ink. When working with ink (as well as any other very smooth fluid material) I love to put a background music, get 3 or 4 pieces of paper one next to the other, load a brush with ink, blindfold myself and do lots of marks while tuning in with the music. I use this approach a lot with my students as well, to allow them to reconnect with themselves and loosen up before the actual painting session.

You can use a variety of tools for this: brushes, twigs, sponges… whatever inspires you to create marks with. Have a look at this blog post where I write about using inks in this way. 

You may get something like this:

If you want to know more about this project about trees see it on this section of my website.


In conclusion I find very useful to avoid using eyes to improve mark-making, as eyes lead you to be a perfectionist. And we know that 1) there is no fun in perfectionism and 2) perfections leads to self-criticism.

If you want to be more gestural, just feel, don’t look! Make marks by following an image you have in mind, follow a mood or a music you love. Then try again with eyes open listening to your feelings, don’t give way to “be in control”.

Do you have any favourite mark-making tool or practice? Leave it in the comments below, I would love to hear and share ideas with you.


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