GUEST ARTIST: “Hi. I’m Mark, and I’m Kind Of Simple Minded.” by Mark Alan Anderson

Watercolor Sketch by Mark Anderson - Doodlewash - Urban Sketchers KC

Hi. I’m Mark. And I used to be a designer. I did the art school thing, learned to hate watercolor with a passion, discovered that “real artists” don’t teach, then left and entered a world of graphic communication. I was pretty good at it, and it was exciting work; never boring. (But occasionally vicious.) Somewhere along the way a friend convinced me to come join him teaching in an art school, teaching professionals how to do the professional design thing.

Hi. I’m Mark, and I used to be an illustrator. Art school taught me that “serious artists” worked in oil paint. Regardless, line comes more naturally to me, so pens have always been a tool I felt comfortable using to express concepts and ideas. But I still hated watercolor – it looked so easy, so simple to use. In my experience watercolor seems to make diabolical decisions all on its own accord. I figured the best way to solve that problem was to buy more watercolor stuff, and I did. Lots of it.

Watercolor Sketch by Mark Anderson - Doodlewash - Urban Sketchers KC

Hi. I’m Mark, and I used to be a painter. “People” told me that “real” artists made big paintings. So, I did too. Big, huge, complex ones. I bought an enormous (and enormously expensive) studio easel and surrounded myself with four walls and bookshelves and lots and lots of inspiration. From time to time, I dibble dabbled with watercolor. But the watercolor stuff I admired most seemed to have just been poured right out of the tube, and I was too lazy to really learn how the masters achieved those remarkable results. So, I guiltily bought more watercolor stuff.

Hi. I’m Mark, and I’m a simple storyteller. Or, to be more accurate, I’m a simple sketcher storyteller. At some point it occurred to me that people learn from story. Suddenly, I wasn’t just talking about art stuff – I was teaching art. And design. And visual problem solving. (Whatever that actually is.)

Watercolor Sketch by Mark Anderson - Doodlewash - Urban Sketchers KC

I do have a very nice studio space, but most days it sits unused. Well… other than by the dogs. They love my studio, and lounge around on an old couch basking in a beam of afternoon sunlight that cascades through a wall of glass. Years ago, I stopped paying heed to what it is other people claimed to know about what “real” artists “do.”

I embraced my inner inker and now rely on a couple of favorite pens to think with. I stopped hating watercolor and learned to just enjoy the visceral experience of slopping color into my sketchbook, to watch hues miraculously do their thing as they danced around a wet page, and to appreciate the magic of various mishaps as they occur.

For me, the studio was no place to watch and listen to the stories of the world so I grabbed as few tools as possible – a pen and a (very) small watercolor kit, and a sketchbook – and began to wander around in the world. I sit in restaurants, enjoy a glass of wine or a beer, and soak in people and places.

Urban Sketch by Mark Anderson - Doodlewash - Urban Sketchers KC

I’m no longer translating someone else’s message into a design or a magazine illustration or a greeting card, so I’m free to play around, to scribble, to let my pen or brush dance just a little bit – sometimes with total abandon. “Preciousness” is the price we pay for perfection; it’s also how we handcuff creative thought. So, I avoid preciousness in my sketches at all costs. And if I catch myself at it, I stop and try something new. Something completely different. I zig when my brain gets lazy and says to zag.

Watercolor Sketch by Mark Anderson - Doodlewash - Urban Sketchers KC

Simplicity seems to work best for me. Part of simplifying has been limiting the kit I carry (and I do carry a kit with me pretty much everywhere.) Ideas never seem to conveniently occur when one is seated at a drawing board prodding one’s self along: “OK, brain… create something now!” A sketchbook in hand makes it a simple and easy thing to react to an idea or observation with immediacy.

Watercolor Sketch by Mark Anderson - Doodlewash - Urban Sketchers KC

And clarity.

Urban Sketch by Mark Anderson - Doodlewash - Urban Sketchers KC

(Your mileage, of course, may vary.)

Urban Sketch by Mark Anderson - DoodlewashI like to respond to the stories I see and hear around me. People and places, if one is observant enough, have lots of stories to share. (Objects may have a story as well, but they seldom speak to me the way an environment does. I almost never drawing a “thing” in the middle of a blank page.)

My approach is rather organic. I begin with what interests me most and draw outwards from that point, filling in visual information along the way. Details are my reaction to “being there.”

Watercolor Sketch by Mark Anderson - Doodlewash - Urban Sketchers KC

I also leave stuff out. As sketchers, we don’t have to see ourselves as mechanical. We’re not cameras. We get to decide what to include – a camera does not. Thus, my sketches evolve as the narrative playing out in front of me unfolds. I was a designer for so many years that it’s become impossible to turn off that part of my brain. Placement of elements on the page is both purposeful as well as an instinctive action.

Watercolor Sketch by Mark Anderson - Doodlewash - Urban Sketchers KC

Sketching, for me, is much the same process as writing. In other words, I trust my intuition, but it’s very much a stream-of-consciousness thing. As a reaction to a moment, a sketch is often only part of a narrative. A middle point, if you will. The process of making those sketches is always a beginning looking for an end. You, the viewer, get to ponder the story being told. You get to fill in the blanks.

Watercolor Sketch by Mark Anderson - Doodlewash - Urban Sketchers KC

It’s fun for me to think about what story a viewer creates.

Yup, it’s simpler that way. And I kind of like that.

Mark Alan Anderson
Urban Sketchers Kansas City

Recommended7 recommendationsPublished in Featured Artists
  1. Ellie 5 years ago

    What a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing your story, Mark, in such a terrific way.

    • Mark Anderson 5 years ago

      Thanks, Ellie. I kind of feel like one of the important things we do as artists is to share the experience. It’s a stunning realization for my students, many of whom are visually articulate but less confident with the whole “sharing with other people” thing. 🙂

  2. optibuddy1 5 years ago

    Great story and illustrations. I like the way you painted just a little to highlite your drawings.

    • Mark Anderson 5 years ago

      I have yet to decide if I draw so that I can paint, or if I paint to make a drawing. Hmmm. Now I need to ponder that thought…

      • optibuddy1 5 years ago

        I really like it. Very unique and a nice style.

  3. Melissa Elliott 5 years ago

    I enjoyed hearing about (and seeing) your evolutionary path!

    • Mark Anderson 5 years ago

      Melissa, one very concrete thing I’ve discovered is that art making is a constant stream of discovery running alongside one’s journey of equally constant evolution. (Wow. I wonder if I could possibly have worked in another metaphor or two.) 🙂

  4. Bronwyn Johnson 5 years ago

    Brilliant thoughts and words. Your words encapsulated my idea od what “art” is. Absolutely resonated with me

    • Mark Anderson 5 years ago

      Bronwyn, it gives me great cheer to hear of such resonance. And if you ever figure out what art “is,” please, please, please let me know… I’m constantly re-evaluating my own ideas.

  5. […] sure to wander over to Doodlewash, where some of my sketches are featured this […]

  6. Mary Roff 5 years ago

    Mark, got smart. Thanks for sharing your journey…Love your story and your sketches.

  7. MMcBuck 5 years ago

    What a great way to present your evolution! Your sketches and watercolors are so inspirational! Thanks!

  8. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 5 years ago

    Mark, I love the way you have rediscovered yourself so many times. Your story is funny and reveals how complex a person you are, but your art shows how you see the world. It’s only simple on the surface – rich and exciting just below and all around. Thank you for a peak into your vision. (Yes, you are a teacher – I learned so much just reading this.)

    • Mark Anderson 5 years ago

      Sharon, I figured out a long time ago how much more positive and productive I can be by not taking things so seriously. Humor and sarcasm and a healthy dose of self deprecation help me to be open to the things happening all around us.

      • Pamela Smith 5 years ago

        I like that you told us how your art evolved,,I like the simplicity of your art too,it tells the story without having to turn yourself upside down to get it,,,like some art…

        • Mark Anderson 5 years ago

          It’s very important to me – not to mention personally very satisfying as well – to distill a subject down to its core essence.

          • Pamela Smith 5 years ago

            And you do that very well…thank you for sharing…

  9. Sandra Strait 5 years ago

    Hi, I’m Sandra, and I love your humor, your art and your attitude. There’s a place for all those things that ‘real artists’ do but I’m seldom in that place and it’s a joy to meet others who aren’t as well.

    • Mark Anderson 5 years ago

      Sandra, y’know, I’ve always made my living by making art and designing, but I still haven’t figured out what a “real artist” actually is. I’m not sure that critter actually exists. 🙂

      • Sandra Strait 5 years ago

        That’s probably true, although sometimes I think it’s the other way around. Everyone’s a real artist – but only a lucky few get the chance to try expressing it.

  10. Rod Fletcher 5 years ago

    Leave things out MMMMmmmmm! I wish I could, but I am so anally-retentive, I just can’t yet. That is my goal!

    • Mark Anderson 5 years ago

      Rod, I feel your pain, man. It took a couple of decades before I could comfortably give myself permission to, myself, precisely what I most admire in sketches and paintings and designs. Restraint seemed to be elusive. It sure feels good though, when it happens.

  11. Sharon Mann 5 years ago


  12. Sharon Nolfi 5 years ago

    Great post and wonderful line work!

  13. Jill Gustavis 5 years ago

    I love the energy in your art and in the way you shared your story.

    • Mark Anderson 5 years ago

      I appreciate the good vibes, Jill. I attribute the energy to high quality dark chocolate and my proclivity toward stories to my Irish roots. Turns out it’s genetic. 🙂

  14. Shari Blaukopf 5 years ago

    Great post Mark. Your sense of joy in discovering is refreshing. Thanks for this.

    • Mark Anderson 5 years ago

      Thanks for the kind words, Shari. It did seem to take a lot of years of playing Whack-A-Mole with approaches to drawing and painting before I gave myself permission to stop being so self consciously serious and simply explore. But what a liberating feeling it has been since!

  15. SnehLata Maheshwari 5 years ago

    Great to sharing awesome 🌷 art with us .
    Mark really appreciate your story too. As firest hate of water colour .than u come forward. .
    I liked your beautiful sketches.
    Thanks to you and thanks to Charlie who introduced. So lovely creation.with us.


  16. Eleni 5 years ago

    Hi, I enjoyed your candor and the discrimination in your work shared … it allows one to enter and meld their imagination with yours. I’m intrigued in what you mean by “ preciousness “ and the need /goal to avoid it?

  17. Mark Anderson 5 years ago

    What I mean by “preciousness” … think about it this way: Very often I find that my drawing and painting students get very wrapped up in perfection, in being perfect. They are so set on some inner vision of what art is “supposed” to look like, what the process is “supposed” to be like, that they develop tunnel vision. They miss the possibilities of “what if” and the potential for chance to play a role in the creation of an artwork. Some are stymied by pretense, but usually what gets in the way is an internal road block, a sort of terror to allow things to just happen. Sketchbooks, for example, are by their very nature quite messy places. Some of my students feel intimidated by empty pages or apologetic when the margins get smudges and fingerprints and notes. But heck, the sketchbook is an extension of an artist’s mind – and boy! Is that ever a messy, messy place! Techniques are vital, but not the “be all, end all” of art making. I have a kiddo who spends a mind numbing amount of time rendering perfect gradations. But getting lost in the artwork (good thing) is different from the kiddo who is paralyzed (not so great) because a gradation isn’t perfect. I don’t know if this makes sense or not, but the bottom line is that art making is not a search for perfection. It’s a journey of discovery. Artists make mistakes over and over and over again. Mistakes are, as I’ve been told, one of most artistic of human behaviors. We learn from mistakes and mishaps; we don’t learn anything new from doing the same thing over and over again to perfection. If our sketch is so precious that we can’t bear the thought of adding another wash of color in fear of that being some kind of mistake, then we’re taking it (and ourselves) all waaaay too seriously. Instead, I would encourage a philosophy of play. Get messy. Don’t stop to wash your hands. And enjoy the process. Because even those of us who get paid to do it don’t see it as “work.” It’s more like getting paid to have fun. Have a great day!

  18. Lisa Spangler 5 years ago

    Mark, I really enjoyed reading this and seeing your sketches! Especially loved this line —>
    Details are my reaction to “being there.”
    So true!

    • Mark Anderson 5 years ago

      I’m glad to hear that comment connected for you. The idea means a lot to me – details just for the sake of detail… well, at least when I make such an attempt – they just turn into texture or background noise. I always liked that Andrew Wyeth considered himself to be an abstractionist because HE decided what to include and what to leave out. The details simply fleshed out those elements that remained in a composition. I feel like details are what we pay attention to when we immerse ourselves in a place or subject by drawing it.

  19. Peggy Bjarno 5 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing your humor, your experiences and your art — it’s all terrific, and you’ve encouraged me to take my very tiny art kit and get out there and DO IT NOW!

  20. Janneke Booister 5 years ago

    Thank you for your story. It makes me feel that ‘ there is hope’ for all of us, including myself 🙂
    So I just go on doing what I like best and everything will be allright – I hope!

    • Mark Anderson 5 years ago

      Janneke, I firmly believe everyone can draw and paint. The roadblocks we encounter are most often those we create ourselves when we place unreasonable expectations on ourselves. One of my favorite books to share with artistic learners is titled “Art and Fear.” It’s a small, yet remarkable book because it shares insights that are both obvious and eyeopening at the same time. The authors say “Artmaking involves skills that can be learned…art is made by ordinary people.” People are inherently flawed, and thus, so is our art. It’s what makes handmade marks on paper interesting, frankly – rather than perfection. “Art happens between you and something – a subject, an idea, a technique…” My best wishes to you!

      • Janneke Booister 5 years ago

        Thank you for answering me.
        What I did try to refer to is that I also am not doing “what a real artist should do”.
        Seeing where you are now gives me the encouragement I sometimes need to go on doing what I like best. (and that is not always what a real artist should do) 🙂

  21. Kenny riley 9 months ago

    I picked up a painting at yard sale with artist name mark anderson. Its of what looks like maybe in the street of dutch city. Large beautiful painting. Is this one of yours ? It looks like it is old but in good shape.

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