Simplicity in Mark Making

Snowfields, oil painting abstract

What do I mean mark making?  It is a term that indicates the types and variations of brush strokes, drawing lines, gouge marks….. really, any visual evidence of your hand or tools upon the canvas or the paper.

Snowfields, oil painting abstract
Snowfields oil painting

“Snowfields” is  featured once again, as it really does tick all the boxes for ‘mark making.’

The painting makes ‘mark making’  pretty evident even without enlarging the image. And, it happens to be one of my favourite paintings!  I find it has a most pleasing balance of calm area to busy “marked up” area.

The post it first featured in was Fred Williams master Australian painter.


Whether you are using pastels, inks, charcoal, watercolours, oils, acrylics or any combination of those, the marks you create on the canvas set a ‘tone’  and a ‘mood’ that the viewer picks up on.   Bold or timid; erased or non erased; outlined or inferred; coarse or delicate, those marks upon the paper are telling.


“A Golden Grove”  encaustic mixed media painting,  is another good example of Mark Making.  When enlarged, you will see the tiniest of brush marks, lines, drizzles of wax that gives you a great idea of what mark making is about.

This is a Mark dominated painting. Nearly all of this painting has quite visible marks, leaving little volume of space for calm and rest.

A Golden grove wax encaustic
A Golden Grove wax encaustic


Van Gogh, Degas, Rembrant, Seurat, Picasso, Matisse, Renoir each of these artist have very  unique mark making on their canvases and papers.  They way they slash, curve, downstroke, scrape, twirl, rub and blend…. are filled with individual nuances.

Delicate light airy feathery marks vs. big dark gouging slashes across the canvas… communicate two radically different stories.


watercolour landscape
Salt Pan Lake landscape watercolours


“Salt Pan Lake” landscape the only visible marks are the burnt sienna horizontal lines walking you back into the flat arid plains in the distance. It has a much smoother feel to it than the encaustic above.


Once you think about it and become more aware of the impact mark making has on the overall outcome of your image, you get more excited by the possibilities. Its like a new language to add into your repertoire.   A new spice for the stew.


Wabi Sabi

Simplicity  (Kanso) is one of the 7 elements in Wabi Sabi.

7 Elements of Wabi Sabi

  • Simplicity (Kanso)
  • Freedom (Datsuzoku)
  • Tranquility (Seijaku)
  • Natural (Shizen)
  • Subtle Grace (Yugen)
  • Weathered (Koko)
  • Asymmetry  (Fukinsei)

Wabi Sabi is a wonderful approach to art, see my previous article Zen of Art: Taming The Dragon, which will give additional insight into this lovely Japanese way of viewing the arts.


In Simplicity there is also Freedom (datsuzoku.)

There is no tight drive to coerce the natural forces to go against themselves “to Make the Paint do what it does not want to do.”  But in this Freedom we work with nature, co partners.


paint Flow Blues by sandra
Paint Flow Blues by Sandra

In Simplicity and in Freedom,  there is Tranquility (Seijaku.)

Seijaku, Tranquility.   A lovely calm inner serenity springing from simplicity and freedom, that works with us  to help us in creating more harmonious organic art images.

I love creating a sense of simplicity even while I explore a variety of mark making and tools on the canvas or paper.

I strive to remember to maintain a subtle  grace and elegance; and not overdo the mark making. This ‘overdoing’, is all to easy to do, for all of us.

tree ridge acrylic landscape
Tree Ridge acrylic landscape

I try to remember

“Less Is More!”

Published by debiriley

The act of creation, in any media is a fascinating and magical process. I simply love to create. Expressing in color, line, tone, texture - as if, they were words upon a page. Creating a uniquely me, interpretation. Enjoy More of my "one-of-a-kind" expressive art at and,

12 thoughts on “Simplicity in Mark Making

    1. long ago, I had no idea and it just wasn’t explained in terms I could understand at the time. You’ve got quite a lot of experience and mark making is not a new term by any stretch for you; so thank you for your very kind comment!! Debi


  1. Your work is so beautiful and inspirational, Debi. My favorite is the golden encaustic. Oh my memory is bad and I can’t see your post now but there was a river or stream leading us into the painting at the bottom. Really lovely. Anyway, thanks as always for the instruction and inspiration.

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    1. thanks Laura! the Golden encaustic, has quite a long and convoluted genesis too, but now is one of my favs as well. Mainly because of the orange gold colour that glows and the complementary blue above. thanks Laura 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I must agree to Laura above. Your work really is fantastic and very inspirational. I love all these paintings a lot. Really wonderful art work, Debi. Have a wonderful day, regards Mitza

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