This article was first published in the ImagineFX magazine, issue 3, 2006.

Artist Theory – Mark Making

A larger version of this image is available in the
Digital Paintings gallery.

Digital painting software is getting more and more versatile for each new generation of programs. In today’s painting packages even a simple brush stroke holds enough detail and elegance to be regarded as beautiful, and this opens up a wide range of possibilities.

A brush stroke can communicate huge amounts of information. It may describe a shape, a motion, or even tell the viewer a bit about the person holding the brush. Even though there is no real physical paint involved, the same basic principles apply as in traditional painting. By letting “paint be paint” we can add an extra dimension to a painting and open up to near-limitless possibilities in the borderland between form and expression. 

This picture began as a series of abstract marks on a white canvas, without a defined idea of what the end result would look like. By keeping a relaxed and intuitive attitude you allow for the subconscious to take an active part in the process of painting. It’s a very fine line to walk; if you get too relaxed you risk losing yourself in the experience, but if you’re too rigid and controlling the end result might turn out stiff and lifeless.

There is a lot of raw power in the initial brush strokes in a painting. When I work on a piece like this one the foundations are laid down within the first twenty minutes of painting, that’s when all the major decisions are made. After that initial attack each modification will inevitably soften the impact of the image in favor of better drawing, values, and composition. It’s important in this stage to know when to stop, to allow for fresh and expressive marks and still offer enough refinement to make the image appealing in terms of realism and suggestion. 

There is no rule to apply to this process, other than to be confident in your gut feeling. If you end up with a face that consists of a few squiggly lines and three dots of red, clearly defying everything you’ve learned at life drawing classes, chances are that your gut is trying to tell you something. Be confident in your marks, and they’ll show you new and exciting things that you would never have thought of yourself.

All material on this website (except where noted)
Copyright © 2008 Mattias Snygg.