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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
(Your mileage, of course, may vary.)
I 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.”
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.
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.
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.
Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!