Research: Practitioners Who Use Drawing & Mark-making

The following artists make use of drawing and mark-making within their work or in preparation for creating final artworks.

Louise Bourgeois:

Louise Bourgeois was featured in Warp and Weft and my notes from this book can be found here. According to Robert Storr’s survey in Louise Bourgeois (2003)

‘Her characteristic line is brittle and insistent. The surfaces of the almost randoms scraps of paper she has used are scratched, scored and made irritable by the hard tools and emphatic gesture towards which she is inclined. Her pen and pencil marks are akin in this way to the gouge of an engraver’s tool or the acid bite of an etching. This is logical since much of her early work of the 1940s was done in those mediums…The need for resistance lends much of her graphic work its distinctive sculptural quality, as if she were digging out or carving the shapes on the flat page rather than rendering them illusionistically in three-dimensions.’ (p49)

Reading about Louise Bourgeois’ life, I find a kind of reassurance in that she varied her practice over the years. She moved from printmaking to sculpture and then back again as the mood struck her. There often seems to be a pressure (perhaps only internalised) to find one thing and stick to that. With a variable condition that may let me draw or sew one moment and not the next, I have found trying to narrow my field of creativity a source of frustration.

Louise Bourgeois (2008) contains extracts of comments she has made concerning why she draws. Many are really insightful such as:

The abstract drawings come from a deep need to achieve peace, rest, and sleep. They relate to the unconscious memories…[In contrast, the realistic drawings represent the] overcoming of negative memory, the need to erase and to get rid of it. (Herkenhoff and deMoraes 1997, .p29)

Perhaps taking a negative memory, casting into black and white, something substantial, allows the pain of that memory to be exorcised? A later comment resonated:

When I draw it means that something bothers me, but I don’t know what it is. So it is the treatment of anxiety. It is the transfer from anxiety to fear…The anxiety is not defined, but then if you make a drawing suddenly you see what you are afraid of. This is a conversion. This is very important because I never said it before. The drawings allow me to pinpoint and define anxiety. And to turn it at least into fear. If you have a fear you can do something about it. If you are anxious you cannot do anything because you don’t know where it is… (Interview with Ralf Beil, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 1 June 1996)

I am fascinated by the idea of crystallising your anxiety through drawing. Over the years I have struggled with feelings of anxiety and I completely agree that the inability to make a plan or coping strategy can be one of the worst parts if you cannot pinpoint what is the cause. For this reason I am often drawn to Frida Kahlo’s work as she appears to have channeled her complex emotions surrounding her accident into her art, perhaps giving her some semblance of control?

Alison Carlier:

Alison creates “audio drawings” where descriptions are recorded and can be played back by the audience. This artist has challenged my view of what a drawing is. My initial response was that a drawing had to involve physical mark making however this type of work recreates images in your mind, something that would help those with visual impairments engage with work on an equal footing with the sighted.

Alex Chalmers:

Unfortunately Alex Chalmers’ website no longer is active so the above link only has basic info.

Hilary Ellis:

Hilary Ellis uses repeated marks to show how inevitably there is a large variation due to human error and this variation creates the interesting textures of her mixed media pieces.

Michael Griffiths:

Mike Griffiths aims to create “paintings with emotion” and works predominantly in oil. His paintings are very gestural with the paint application creating a dreamlike mood or the texture of a rolling wave.

Debbie Smyth:

I adore Debbie Smyth’s thread drawings, whether because it reminds me of doodles I did a child joining dots on paper I’m not sure. The geometry of the work appeals to me whether the bark-like structure of Overgrown or the ephemeral look of the birds of Fly Away Home.

Katie Sollohub:

Katie Sollohub draws as preparation for her paintings but also as a final product. She spent 3 years creating a drawing on her iPad every day. She creates a big variety of marks in her drawings which is something I will attempt to bring into my own work as I tend to be too tentative.

Roanna Wells:

Similar to Hilary Ellis, Roanna Wells uses repetition to highlight difference. Many of her works use repeated controlled brush marks or embroidery stitches. In her stitched work such as Interpersonal Spatial Arrangements, it is the negative spaces that are just as significant as those embroidered. Traces of Progress is a collection of found marks from the process of creating other works. I have started to keep the papers that I place under my printing etc as some of the textures and marks made accidentally or incidentally are just as interesting as those made intentionally.


Store, R., Herkenhoff, P. & Swartzman, A. (2003) Louise Bourgeois London: Phaidon Press Ltd

Louise Bourgeois (2008) Morris, F. eds London: Tate Publishing

[All links accessed on 24/9/2018]




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