We Each Have Marks to Make

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in our part of the world. After the exhausting process of cleaning up from the flood in my studio and the stress of dealing with my computer issues, I was ready to get out and RELAX!

I headed to our City Park — only five minutes away — and spent a little time beside the lake, sketching a few scenes in my 2021 Nature Journal. My little journal is filling up, and I like to sit down in the evening and look through the pages. Now that I’ve learned that art journaling — and nature journaling — isn’t about creating sketchbooks or drawings that are works of art, I’m finding it a rewarding and enjoyable activity.

I’d taken my small — and very messy — gansai set with me along with a waterbrush. I had an ink pen for sketching, and I was all set. Indeed, it was a beautiful day, but it was also very windy. I wrestled with keeping everything secure while I did a couple little drawings.

But I had more on my mind. I wanted to have another go at sketching with nature, so a short time later I headed for the trails and began hiking. Everything around me was so beautiful! I was especially fascinated by the various leaves. I took a lot of photographs.

The real fun began when I collected a few tools. Just as I did during the Sketchbook Revival workshop, I gathered a few natural mark-making implements: a twig, a piece of bark, a single leaf, a dandelion bud, and a whole cluster of leaves.

During the Sketchbook Revival workshop, you might recall, we worked with ink to do our mark-making. I didn’t want to try carrying ink with me — other than what was in my gel pen — so all my marks today were made with gansai.

I really enjoyed this, more so than the first time. I guess that’s because I had a better understanding of what I needed to do, and how to do it.

First, I used the twig. A twig that’s been dipped in ink or paint isn’t a lot different from working with a pencil. Well, all right, yes, it is different, but it’s the same idea. With enough paint on the twig, it can make lines very similar to those of a graphite pencil.

It took me a little time to get accustomed to it, but I liked the marks it made, especially the “double lines” that formed in places. At one point I accidentally touched the twig to the page and created a dot. Hey, I love dots! So I added more. This drawing was done with a blue-black hue from my gansai set. The rest of those splotches of color were added later.

Moving on to the bark, I found it a bit more awkward to use. A stray piece of my hair attached itself to the bark, too, and it became part of the resulting drawing. The bark drawing is the one on the left. Because it was a chunky, almost rectangular shape, I used it to form chunky petals for a flower.

The right side of the page shows my scribbles with a single leaf. It was a bit flimsy, so I just let it move about the page, making its own sort of marks. Again, these drawings were done with blue-black gansai, with the other colors added later.

Next came the dandelion bud. This resembled a paintbrush, so I thought it would be easy to use. It’s the drawing on the left. I quickly realized that while it looked a lot like a paintbrush, it was not a paintbrush. The stem was loose and limp, and I let it make its marks.

Finally, there on the right, you’ll see my “cluster of leaves” drawing. It was hard to get a lot of gansai on the leaves, but I did what I could, and I loved the effect as I swept the cluster of leaves across the page. I mean, seriously, folks… what else can you do with a cluster of leaves but sweep it around?

And that, my friends, was when I learned a very important lesson. I understood — fully — how each different tool I used had its own unique sort of mark to make. I couldn’t force the leaves to act like a twig, anymore than I could expect the twig to make marks like a piece of bark. I felt like I was spending my time with five very different individuals, and I loved how each one had its own style, its own character, its own way of painting.

Are we as artists any different?

Of course, I couldn’t resist dipping my cluster of leaves in different colors and using it to add more “splotches” to the other drawings.

I love these drawings because I learned such a beautiful lesson from them. Just as everything in nature has its own purpose and makes its own mark upon a page, so too do we have a particular purpose, a certain style, our own unique mark to make.

Indeed, nature teaches us so much, and I’m glad I had the chance to sit there along the hiking trail and listen as she spoke so eloquently to me.




    1. For me the big problem is the hassle of carrying art supplies around. It’s easy with my little set of gansai and waterbrushes, or with a sketchbook and pencil. I just don’t know any easy way to do it with my oil paints. Maybe I could make up a very basic kit with a few colors and a versatile brush. The second problem is that I’m still intimidated if other artists are around, so except for a bit of sketching I’m just not comfortable in group art settings. One of our clubs will be going to an arboretum later this month, and I do want to go. I’ll probably just take a sketch book and watercolor set. I truly can start off painting a tree and end up with a seascape, so I’d be really embarrassed for anyone to look at something I was doing “plein air”. Getting out to the hiking trails to sketch and paint a bit feels good though, and I’m comfortable with that as long as I’m alone.

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      1. I just typed and it vanished! I meant to say, it is a hassle lugging your supplies out there. I have 2 carts, one for the beach and one for a trail, but I don’t need a group either. A sketchbook and small watercolor set is fine. You can leave before the group does show and tell. That part of the group meeting is boring anyway. You can make an excuse or just make a quiet exit. The reasons I’m not in a group is because I don’t want to pay $35 to get my name on an email list and I already know they don’t like my style or me either. Plus you have to go where they go, at the time they go and I’ll be working on something else that day. Going out alone is pretty safe around here. I think some groups need the safety of others, but no one bugs me in plein air. And if anyone of the public sees your unfinished painting they will think it’s great even if you think it’s not good, so don’t disillusion them. Just thank them if they show an interest or compliment your painting. It takes some time to get used to plein air. I listened to an iPod while drawing for a year or so to block out other people but they still talked to me sometimes. You get more confidence as you go out more. You’re doing great! Rock on!

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      2. Definitely going to go out more with my gansai and waterbrushes. That’s easy enough to manage. Doing my nature journaling has been really helpful. Baby steps, you know. 🙂

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  1. Nice. Your sketches are interesting. And I love this, “Just as everything in nature has its own purpose and makes its own mark upon a page, so too do we have a particular purpose, a certain style, our own unique mark to make.” So important to hear, especially these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Yes, learning that important lesson about having our own “marks” to make was mind-boggling for me because even though I’ve heard it many times, it wasn’t until now that I fully understood it. The message came alive for me through the leaves and twigs. It was one of those deeply profound moments that I’ll never forget.

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  2. Judith, lovely sketch book work, keep it up. I still refer to mine for print inspiration and some of them go back to the mid-1960s. When we holiday, if we ever do it again, the kids used to sat ‘don’t photographs dad, fill a sketchbook instead, much more interesting’. Keep it up, I love to see a sketchbook, a view into someone’s life when you are offered the chance to view. Stay safe, John

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    1. It’s been so much fun! There’s another post — More Mark-Making or something similar, where I let the two young grandsons do “nature art”. They had a lot of fun with it.

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