One of our talented artists, Maria Walker, exploits her passion for mark making in this four-part series, where she encourages us to explore and “play” with making marks.


“Mark-making” is very much like Marmite – artists claim to either love it or hate it!

But making marks is actually an essential aspect of our creative practice. We make marks with pens, pencils, brushes, paints, a needle and thread, and all kinds of other instruments that allow us to express our creativity.

As Phoenix artists are always up for a challenge, our members have been specifically exploring what mark-making means to them and how they use it in their work, the results of which I shall share over the course of this four-part series.


“Marks are the alphabet that form the words that make the prose, and are elements with which the drawing is made.”
Mick Maslem and Jack Southern

Lynne Butt  – Line Samplers

Artists make marks using all manner of drawing media but more often than not, they start with a pen, pencil or crayons. Over time the marks artists make to create a piece of work become second nature to them, so every so often it is beneficial to ‘perform an artistic reboot’ and experiment with materials and document the sort of marks these drawing materials are capable of making. Early in 2020, before Covid 19 forced us to move our monthly meetings to Zoom, Lynne facilitated a short mark-making workshop for us. The workshop was inspired by the ‘Line Samplers’ workshop in the book ‘Expressive Drawing’ by Steven Aimone and it certainly got the ball rolling for us.

As Lynne explains,
“Line Samplers are based on the idea of traditional embroidery samples and the exercise is designed to make the artist observe the differences in the nature of lines made by different tools. In the workshop we used a variety of tools including ballpoint pen, felt tip pens, graphite pencils, charcoal, crayons, pastel sticks, brushes or sticks with paint or ink and we worked on smooth paper. The exercise can also be done on rough paper.”

By the end of the workshop we had each created an A2 Line Sampler, which we shall be keeping to use as a reference in the future.

Writing and Language

The written language is a particular form of mark making. Writing developed from the pictorial marks our ancestors made into the letters that make up the written languages of the day. Artists use writing and calligraphy in their art to communicate in literal and abstract ways.

Robertta McPherson has created this striking image on a workshop with Debbie Lyddon where she made pages for a notebook using phrases. Can you work out what it says?

Jo Coombes has been using calligraphy to inspire and express positivity and hope at the end of a year decimated by COVID, in the expectation that 2021 will see a return to normal life. Her work “Pill of Hope” is based on ancient Greek script and is made with a wooden coffee stirrer. The main word translates as ‘Hope’ and the background says ‘I heal’.

Maggie Barber is currently writing her thoughts and ideas in a multi-layered way, making the text illegible. By using different pens of different colours and sizes, brushes, inks, acrylics and fine markers, she is achieving depth and interesting elements worthy of further development. In this work she has transformed a negative concept into something beautiful by repeating and overlaying the word ‘isolation’.

Maria Walker has been recording the new vocabulary that has emerged as a result of the Covid pandemic to fill the pages of her sketch book with asemic writing. She collects these ‘Covid Sound Bites’ (words and phrases from the media and politicians) and puts them to paper using homemade pens such as sharpened sticks and pens made out of soda cans. She writes quickly and overlaps the text so the meaning becomes obscured and the words become mixed up to create interesting surface textures. It is her intention that the phrase will not be instantly recognisable, rather the viewer will have to search for meaning using the occasional legible word.

The majority of Maria’s sound bites come from Boris Johnson as his language is so flamboyant.

But mark-making doesn’t have to be done on a small scale or on your own and group projects can be fun and creative. I was reminded that a couple of years ago we enjoyed a communal mark making session at our meeting, using a very large piece of paper, paint and sticks as drawing instruments.

….. to be continued …..

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