Making My Mark

Recently I learned of Debora Stewart and her books on abstract art. Thank you, Vicki Hutchins, for sharing this with me.  If you haven’t already visited Vicki’s wonderful blog, just click and go! You’ll enjoy it.

I’ve had many “abstract” thoughts going through my head since I began reading Abstract Art Painting: Expression in Mixed Media. Stewart gives many suggestions on “loosening up” and getting from the realistic to the abstract in art.

Intrigued, I followed several of her suggestions, sort of rolling them all together into my own big ball of fun. She writes of the importance of playing and how a playful mindset removes a lot of restraints. I liked the thought of creating “throw-away” art — if that’s what it came to. In other words, no grand vision, no lofty expectations, just me, my watercolors, and a sense of adventure.

The ideas I combined were:

  • Using my non-dominant hand
  • Drawing to music
  • Making my own natural mark

Now, first, let me share a little background about my life — and my lack of artistic ability. I am a natural southpaw. I do almost everything left-handed. I was raised, however, by my grandfather who had very rigid beliefs about the evil of being left-handed. I was taught that it was sinister, coming from Latin, and meaning, yes, indeed, evil incarnate. I went through a nightly ritual of penmanship lessons — with my right hand, of course. I have beautiful penmanship, almost perfect, you might say, because I spent so many hours painstakingly copying the letters from an old Spencerian handwriting book my grandfather had.

I’ve sometimes wondered if my inability to draw has its roots in the “handedness-switch” I underwent as a child. I think it might. When computer drawing programs first came out, I had fun drawing lots of things, to the amazement of family and friends. It amazed me, too. One day as I was discussing it with a friend, I said, “I can’t explain it. I’ve never been able to draw. But for some reason when I pick up a mouse…” And then the light bulb went off in my brain. I “mouse” with my left hand.

For the past year, I have been drawing and painting mostly with my right hand since that’s the hand I use for writing. For art’s sake, I’ve come to think of it as my dominant hand, but either way, I think by this point in my life the two sides of my brain are probably very confused.

So, for Stewart’s abstraction exercise, I grabbed a clunky old brush — perfect for a “throwaway” painting — and started dabbing water on the paper with my left hand.

But…there’s more!

I loved the idea of painting to music. So, a little more background information. I’ve been involved in music all of my life. I began playing piano at age 4. I love music. It’s very much a part of who I am. My musical tastes are quite eclectic. Earlier, I’d turned on one of my Pandora stations — Seul Choix — and was listening to the quiet, gentle sounds.

As I approached my painting, I decided to call it after the song playing, to use that as a springboard for my thoughts and feelings. The song was Empty Gazing by Kyle Bobby Dunn.

Empty gazing? I drew a blank. What did that mean? It didn’t matter. It was fitting, though, because I was making my mark — with my eyes closed.

So I grabbed three colors and began.

I listened to the music, let my imagination wander, and I let myself make marks — left-handed — in whatever way felt best. I heard dark undercurrents in the music in some places. In other places I heard wind rushing in, and I thought about empty gazing, seeing nothing, seeing only through imagination, and thereby seeing everything.

My colors were muted and very dull when I finished, but I saw possibilities. Why not manipulate the image a bit with a photo program? I uploaded it to my computer and used an HDR filter to brighten the colors and create an almost unearthly glow.

As with other abstractions, I can see many things in this one, but most of all I see my mark upon it. In so many ways, this is who I am — in my own imagination.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Empty Gazing
“Empty Gazing” Watercolor with Digital HDR Filter applied.



  1. Soooo beautiful Judith! I can feel it. It is like a soft bird flying free. Like you let your inner you free. Loved the post and all the background. Keep on keepin on! It is absolutely stunning !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jodi. I like turning the image around, looking at it from different directions, and always seeing something different. The HDR effect gives the suggestion of a skeleton (to me, at least) so I see these marks as something to be fleshed out and added upon. It’s a real starting point.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This painting is beautiful Judith just like your story. I can see feathers….a bird maybe. I dont know but one thing for sure…your painting made me feel so free, so alive, so into the moment, so into me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a wonderful thing to say! Thank you. Have you read Debora Stewart’s book? It’s about abstract art, but I think the ideas and exercises she includes are useful for any artist, especially those like me who are just now exploring different possibilities in art. It’s worth reading. Playing with art is exceptionally freeing, and yet we can learn so much from it.

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  3. Reminds me of flight…so do you think you will start painting with your left hand? How was it? Did it feel more natural? I am so curious!!!! My mom in law had the same thing happen to her as a kid so she does everything right handed except for golf. That was a bummer cuz she wanted to give me her golf clubs, but I am right handed. She used to dabble in acrylics and said she was never any good. I wonder what might have changed had she used her left hand.

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    1. I do use both hands a bit when I’m painting. I sort of switch back and forth. Same with drawing. Mostly I use my right though since that’s how I write. Other than write, I do almost everything left-handed. A lot of things I learned to “do” right-handed, but I’m actually using my left hand more than my right (a trick I learned to appease my grandfather in many things), so I look really awkward and uncoordinated LOL. I wonder if your mother-in-law devised some of the same coping strategies.

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      1. So you are ambidextrous…mom in law stuck to the rules she was given with everything except golf. I was always intrigued by the left handed folk and the way they turned their paper to write and how they always got their own scissors! Like the way I say…they….giggle.

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      2. I tried to follow the rules. If my grandfather saw me doing anything left-handed he’d chase me down to show me the “right way” to do it. But some things were just impossible for me to do right-handed. I do switch back and forth a lot, so yeah, I’m sure my brain is irretrievably mixed-up.

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  4. Wow! That is a beautiful image. Funny, just this weekend I re-read my one book of Debora Stewart, also containing those tips. I really hope this is an avenue of creating that holds joy for you. I think that image is deep and flowing and stirs emotion. Looking forward to more.

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  5. I’m so glad you find the book useful! I loved reading this post! It made me so excited for you. And how astonishing that you are naturally left handed – will you switch permanently now? I loved hearing how you enjoyed the process, of tuning into yourself, and the music and letting your hand do its own thing. that’s being in the flow, and that’s where art is made! Fabulous!
    And also thank you for the mention 🙂 so sweet.


    1. I switch back and forth between right and left hand. Several people have asked about it so I have a post coming up which shows one of my “southpaw” paintings — one I did entirely with my left hand. I think my brain is too confused at this point to undergo any permanent switch, so I’ll just keep going back and forth as the mood strikes. 🙂 In many ways, though, it does feel much more natural to hold the brush with my left hand.

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