This consisted of a series of warm-up exercises designed to ease out those overthinking muscles and engage your creative core. Making use of conventional and unconventional handmade tools, the exercises involved making marks with dots, lines, dashes and squiggles. A series of words were given to prompt the mark marking, such as soft, heavy, flowing or agitated. The medium and tools ranged from black and white ink, brushes, oil pastels, black pens and various grades of graphite to a plethora of handmade implements. My tools instinctively took on a plant theme and with Autumn well under way, I had a bounty of dried seed heads, pods and fruits as well as the end bit of my horses’ tail and some felted sheep fleece.
The Warm Up
These exercises proved to be more in-depth than first thought; not helped by the control freak in me overthinking everything! The results are not only difficult to predict but also to control, particularly when using tools that can disintegrate or break easily. Plus, mark making can be pretty random - but isn’t that the point?! So, trying not to get too hung up with the result, I plugged away and tackled the exercises.
Conventional v Unconventional
I loved the marks that the chunky graphite sticks and pencils created. They could be soft using sides, sharp using corners and edges as well as somewhere in between. The wide brush proved to be a big surprise achieving one mark that felt incredibly three dimensional. The effect reminded me of fibres (see below). Oil pastels and pens proved the most predictable with much less interesting results. Moving on to the handmade tools, there were a mix of successes. The majority offered something of interest with the dried heads of the peony, echinacea and achillea producing the most exciting results. At first, the masking fluid didn’t look overly promising as the chosen tools looked to be under performing. Or so I thought. The plant brushes triumphed again!
The Learning Process
To start with, I was more confident making tools than I was making marks. I also hadn’t used masking fluid before but overall, I was really pleased with the results. This mark making exercise also proved that cropping (through photography or other means) could transform an image into something compositionally quite striking and dramatic. For me, working through these exercises really did highlight the need to concentrate on the process rather than the end result.
Generally, I found the conventional tools didn’t produce the best results compared to the seed heads as I felt they lacked variety. Peeling off masking fluid to reveal hidden, underlying marks was extremely satisfying! Influenced by the tools and given words, marks differed enormously; this ranged from shape and size to almost having an energy or movement about them. Other marks in comparison felt quite still or static.
Tools of Preference
For the larger, final stage of this brief, I recreated some of the marks from earlier, opting to use the mediums of masking fluid and black ink. As well as the seedheads, I re-introduced the horse hair and felted sheep fleece. Reversing the process slightly, I used a brush for applying the masking fluid and the unconventional tools for painting on the ink. This was followed by using the same tools to paint on both the masking fluid and the ink. Results were mixed; some were more successful than others but this method is definitely one I’d like to explore more.