Go Outside to Develop Your Mark-Making Skills

“Where do you find inspiration?”

That’s a question I always asked artists when I regularly interviewed them for magazine profiles. I asked because I was curious and because readers also seemed to want to know.

shell mark making with resists helen parrott
Marks inspired by shells, created with paint and resist techniques. Art by Helen Parrott.

I received a variety of answers, but one that popped up a lot was “nature.” And not just because of the easy access to the woods, beach, or garden. Natural objects are full of lines, curves, shapes, and patterns you can adapt for mark making in art.

From a Zen doodle inspired by the swirl of a shell to lettering shaped like trees to hand stitching patterns, you can apply mark making ideas from nature in just about any kind of art.

To capture and remember these ideas for later use, I suggest you either keep a notebook or sketchbook or keep your phone camera handy. Here are some sources for mark making inspiration you can collect this summer.

Leaves and trees:
Scalloped edges
Vein patterns
Outlines of the leave shapes
Branch patterns
Bark lines and patterns

Flowers and plants:
Cross-section of fruits and vegetables
Seed shapes and patterns
Color lines and patterns
Leave shapes and patterns
Lichen patterns
Petal shapes and patterns

The beach
Curved lines on shells
Striations on rocks
Algae and seaweed shapes
Ripple and tide marks in sand
rock shapes
Shapes and patterns from sea life

snails fish birds by susan cirigliano
Susan Cirigliano’s art lettering here is
inspired by the marks found on snails,
birds, and fish.

When you find a shape or line you like, play with it in your sketchbook or computer. What happens if you elongate it? If you repeat it close together? If you repeat it in a line or a circle? What if you make it thick or very thin? Black or in a variety of colors?

Then practice with some mark making techniques and tools. Spread gesso or heavy paint on a substrate and draw your nature marks into it with the end of a paintbrush. Or use your finger and see what that looks like. Use pastels or puff paint and see what mark making with those materials yields.

You may even want to stitch the marks, varying the thickness of the thread or yarn to see how that affects the look.

In the new book Mark Making: Fresh Inspiration for Quilt and Fiber Artists, author Helen Parrott explores this technique basic to most mixed-media, quilt, and fiber artists, and shows how the simplest marks-stitched lines and knots-can be used to create graphically compelling art. The author emphasizes the importance of keeping journals and discusses how to translate sketched ideas or found images into stitched lines on fabric.


Developing your mark-making skills can help you become a more versatile artist. Check out Mark Making today and see how Helen Parrott’s exercises and inspiration can benefit you.

P.S. Where do you find mark-making inspiration? Leave a comment below.


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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