Whether you make art to sell or for therapy, allowing yourself to shine through your work is something you shouldn’t shy away from. You don’t have to spend years of studying to be able to express yourself. We all have feelings and emotions that we can use in our artwork. Whether on paper, canvas or clay, self-expression normally begins with some sort of mark, even for photorealistic painters.

Your marks make you special

Imagine a straight line. If you were to draw or paint a straight line without a ruler, it might be a little shaky. For some people that can be upsetting and create a feeling of failure, but for me it brings me closer to the person behind it. That singular mark is what makes you special, so embrace the shakes!

Some of the greatest artists can be identified through their marks. Van Gogh is a good example of this. When I saw his work in the Van Gogh museum I couldn’t help but feel his presence through his brushstrokes – his marks are so alive and expressive.

What makes you special is how you interpret your subject, whether through mark making, powerful subject matter or strong colour, these elements will make you stand out. Many people comment on the sense of movement in my own paintings – marks going in different directions with flicks, twists and turns are what create this impression. Every mark is as important as the next and I want the viewer to enjoy the scene through my own energy encompassed in every mark made.


Sometimes we can get too comfortable when producing our paintings. Marks can appear dull, lifeless and overworked. I can normally tell when I view a painting if someone has got bored as their marks become repetitive. A good example of this is when painting grass, lots of similar lines all going in the same direction with a tiny brush. Stepping out of your comfort zone will create another dimension to your work and help you evolve as an artist. You can make a start by:

  • l Trading in your tiny brushes for a large brush
  • l Use your largest brush for details
  • l Use your whole arm rather than working from the wrist, which gives
    ultimate control
  • l Paint a subject unfamiliar to you, even something you don’t like!
  • l Work larger or smaller
  • l On a small surface, don’t scale down brush size, use a large brush
  • l Restrict your equipment: one or two brushes
  • l Restrict your colour palette

Initially you may feel uncomfortable and awkward but it’s purely for your own benefit – no one else needs to see your experimental artworks. For me art is about exploring the different ways in which a subject can be interpreted, not being predictable.


People gasp when I show them my large brushes. I guess to most people a large brush appears scary and uncontrollable but
it’s not the size that matters, rather the marks it creates. Here’s how I develop a picture from start to finish using one 2in brush

STAGE ONE On a base colour of process cyan, burnt sienna and white I started with a loosely sketched outline using the corner of my 2in brush with a pure mix of burnt sienna and deep violet
STAGE TWO Still using the corner of my brush I applied more pressure to create a slightly thicker mark to block in areas of the dog. The face and ears were blocked in with directional strokes using cerulean blue, deep violet and white. Next I used the full width and corner of the brush in different directions to fill the body. Short and long strokes applied side by side create contrasts using various mixes of burnt sienna, yellow ochre and white, as well as separate mixes of cerulean blue, burnt sienna and white. The different strengths of the colour tints also help each mark to be seen clearly when layered or placed alongside one another
STAGE THREE Once I had blocked in the main areas of the dog I allowed the paint to settle and dry. Moving on to the background I used the full width of the brush to block in large areas behind the dog with phthalo green, burnt sienna, yellow ochre and white on the left-hand side. On the right-hand side I broke up the colour, applying a mix of burnt sienna, deep violet and white, and a mix of process cyan, deep violet and white. Introducing another colour helps to break up the monotony of a similar colour. I then went back to using a pure mix of deep violet and burnt sienna to identify my darkest tones around the dog and, in turn, bring out the shape. This also can help if you have made so many marks you have lost the subject. I had used all areas of the brush with long and short twists, drags and flicks
Boo, acrylic, 24?18in (61?45.5cm). When the first few layers had settled and dried I continued with the same colours in a variety of tints with a few more interesting brushstrokes pulling out highlights and darks, while introducing smaller marks through dragging and dabbing so they can be seen against the larger marks made earlier in the process. The highlights in the eyes were made with a tiny dab using the corner tip of the brush. For the very dark areas around the eyes, nose and ears I used the corner tip with a short drag. I saved my smallest marks til the end – they help draw the viewer into a more concentrated area within the face