Minimal Mark Drawing for Short Hand

Figure Trio
Graphite on Paper, each approximately 6×3.5″

Since I am teaching life drawing again, I have been devising new exercises for my repeat students. I was a student at the very college where I am now teaching. I took Art 243/253 four or five times. It was my way to have a model twice a week for 16 weeks. The cost was very low; something like $5 for a three hour session. The cost now is not that much more. That’s with instruction! What a deal!
I have a very dedicated group (all women). It is a joy to have such a group. They never miss a class and they work very hard. One of the concepts I wish to get across is the idea that each mark should count with no extraneous marks added. As near beginners, the tendency is to make one stroke after another and never add new information. This leads to an overworked piece. There is a simple elegance to a work that is distilled down to its essence. (Think Matisse.) A lot of information can be left out. People are such pattern seeking beings that our brains can fill in the information quickly and unquestioningly.
So the point of the little studies is to make the fewest marks possible and still communicate a figure. In order to illustrate the concept, I had to make some minimal mark drawings as examples. These are what I came up with. All this drawing ‘minimalism’ allows one to develop a kind of personal shorthand that makes for a quick and concise communication. It’s very handy for watercolors and the more viscous painting media like oil or acrylic. A tiny mark in the right place can set up a foreshortened spatial illusion or the identifying features of a likeness. No amount of additional mark making may be required if one has placed that tiny, little mark correctly. It also forces one to think carefully about each stroke. So I allow a little more time for thinking. These are ten minute studies.
The marks are always at key land marks: joints, creases, negative spaces (the space under her arms in these three sketches). The contours of some limbs can be entirely left out as long as the right cue is there. I am sure I could have left a lot more out of these. I haven’t done this kind of drawing since grad school. At the time, I was on a quest for the most economical drawings possible. This is a return to basics that will be as good for me as for my students.

T F m
September 20, 2012

More Green Paint

Meadow with Trees
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 7.5×5″


This another little watercolor made in the park just down the road from where I live. As with all paintings, I have taken some liberties by editing and adding information to the final image. This little park offered me three separates paintings from a single location. All I had to do was look from left to right to settle on a view that would lend itself to a potential image. 
One does look at the world differently when carrying art making materials. Everything within my field of vision is fodder for a painting or drawing. I am not as attentive, artistically, to my surroundings when I am on my way to class or running errands. My goal is to get what needs to be done, done. When I can get have an uninterrupted time to make art it’s golden.

T F m
September 18, 2012

Green Paint

Watercolor on Masa Paper, 7.5×5″



The summer has been so hot around here it has been torturous to go outside to paint. Now that the weather has moderated, I am venturing outdoors. I have a tiny window of opportunity now that school has started and it is the end of summer.  The advantage of going out now is that I can experience our best weather of the year. September and the first half of October are divine! The temperatures allow for shirt sleeves or a light sweater and the humidity levels are low so, it is perfect. I have always said that I am very easy to please, just give me perfect! Now that I have it I am going to take advantage of it.
This small watercolor is the first of three so far. There is a lovely little park just down the road from my home with benches made to order for painting. I can see at least three paintings from each bench. I will be going back soon as long as I have no teaching to do or planning for my son’s wedding and the weather cooperates.
Painting  summer landscape is very challenging. The problem is green. It’s everywhere! The only way to pull it off is to mix  a lot of different greens. Cool greens. Warm greens. Brilliant greens. Grayed greens. I had an instructor who required his class to mix 100 different greens before going outdoors to paint anything. I didn’t appreciate it at the time but I certainly do now! It’s a lesson I put into practice everytime I go out to paint.

T F m
September 13, 2012


Lawrence and Mary
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 10.5×7.5″ each


I am back in school teaching my usual assignment of classes. I am also preparing for my son’s wedding which is just a month away. My hubby and I are so thrilled that, finally, one of our boys is getting married! I also have to start preparing for the college’s art faculty show. I have been going through my stack of watercolors trying to decide what to include. I intend to have eight watercolors which have never before been exhibited.
I came across these two pieces while wading through all the work. I haven’t seen these in a long time and I know why I saved them. They go together so beautifully even though they were done on separate occasions. They also have the spontaneity I find so attractive with their accidental bleeds and drying anomalies. Each is a consequence of the speed of execution. Quick studies require an economy of strokes and also allowing the materials to do the work. This is on wet masa paper. If you are a follower of this blog, you know I favor this paper.I do no penciling with watercolors. I go right to paint. If one is confident in one’s drawing skills, no penciling is needed. In allowing the materials to work, I have to give up some control over them. Of course, I am very much aware of my color choices, how wet the paper actually is, and what I need to do to keep one area of wet pigment from bleeding into another. I have been painting watercolor so long all that is done unconsciously. It’s a kind of auto-pilot.

You can see some of the control that in the narrow bead of white paper surrounding the head on the painting on the left. That little bead of white is where the paper is nearly dry. That, and the surface tension of the water keeps the colors apart. The paper for that painting was pretty wet. You can tell by how soft and bleedy the edges and features are. The paper for image on the right was dryer so the bleeds are more minimal.

I could have exerted complete control throughout the whole process of painting these but, I chose not to. I like the element of surprise from the aspects of the process that happen on their own. It’s this kind of play that keeps me in love with art making.

T F m
September 6, 2012