What is The Difference Between Mark Making and Line Drawing?

Christine Alfery

Posted on February 10 2021

What is The Difference Between Mark Making and Line Drawing?

Featured image: Gestural Sunflower


Recently a friend of mine asked me a very interesting question that I had never thought of before, she asked:

“I'm interested in why you call what you do "mark making" and do the marks lead you or do you have a vision of where they go before you begin the line?”

I answered her quickly. I said:

“Because I was taught to call it that.  A mark is different from a line. Marks do not conjure up thinking of the usual like straight lines and curved lines do. Marks conjure up personality, spirit and soul.  That, I just made up but it is how I feel.“

But, for this blog I thought I had better look it up and see what others had to say about it, C. Dianne Zweig and others said this about mark making:
“Marks can be lines, scribbles, scratches, smudges, dots, dashes, patterns, textures. All different types of artists use a variety of mark making ...”

Tate describes mark making this way:
“Mark making describes the different lines, dots, marks, patterns, and textures we create in an artwork. It can be loose and gestural or controlled and neat. It can apply to any material used on any surface: paint on canvas, ink or pencil on paper, a scratched mark on plaster, a digital paint tool on a screen, a tattooed mark on skin…even a sound can be a form of mark making. Artists use gesture to express their feeling and emotions in response to something seen or something felt – or gestural qualities can be used to create a purely abstract composition.”
So what is a line then? There are many teaching aids for drawing and line making. The online Student Art Guide describes it this way:
“When we first picked up a pen or pencil and started making marks on paper, we began with line. Whether self-taught, through trial and error, or guided by others, we learned how line defines form, creates structure, divides a frame, traces contour, creates tonal variation (cross-hatching, for example) and leads the eye from one part of a work to another. Initially a mechanism for getting outlines onto paper – identifying edges – we begin to applaud lines for their own merit: celebrate their presence…whether a quiet flick of charcoal on paper or a streak of graphite.”
There were plenty more examples online if you are really interested. Bottom line, I think I hit the nail on the head with my easy going way of describing it to my friend. Not only is the word part of my foundation, it also has personal meaning for me as an artist.
“Because I was taught to call it that.  A mark is different from a line. Marks do not conjure up thinking of the usual like straight lines and curved lines do. Marks conjure up personality, spirit and soul.  That, I just made up but it is how I feel.“

“Mark making is just a “new” term for drawing a line. If you explore blind contour drawings and gestural drawings, you will see the insertion of the artist's spirit into the line back when the lines were called blind contour and gestural.”

The more I think about my friend's question, the more I think she had her own answer and knew what I was going to say. But, she asked anyway because we are friends and I appreciate thinking about these things and am glad others like to think also.

So, the work I am posting with this blog is a flower piece I just finished. Remember, I said that I like flower pieces because they loosen me up. Well, this one did just the opposite. It began with watercolor washes and my intent to paint a large red flower with green complementary colors. Green and Yellow. And this is how it ended up some 20 layers of paint later. This one did anything but loosen me up! But you have to say the mark making in the work is very evident – or are they lines?

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