Building Your Own Lexicon

If your are going to have a Language of Your Own, it requires its own lexicon, like your own private dictionary from which you build your stories.

As children, we created these with our fingers, painting. And as adults never forget the joy of dabbing and smudging painting or charcoal to get that precise effect. But when we learnt to write we lost that sense of whole body movement. We sit at a table, holding perfectly still and move just our wrists to make tiny little marks. And the small the handwriting the more pleased the teacher was earning us greater compliments.

Many of us still paint like this, and perhaps for what you want to produce this is ideal. Small, precise, detailed.

But even in this there are a range of marks produced by different tools, pencil, crayon, both chalk and oil, felt tip, charcoal, pastel. But each of these also allows you to produce a multitude of marks, from intricate designs to wide open smudgy sweeps.

You will never have your full lexicon without exploring these and attempting to use these in your work.

Of course, some effects will fail, some might need practice. Picasso practice a particular arm movement stroke, time and time again, before he felt it was ready to use on a painting. It wasn’t accident. It was practice.

Others will not suit your lexicon and will need to be abandoned. But that is after you have tried it and made an informed decision.

Some marks will feel uncomfortable and others will feel just right, from the word go. Other marks you will struggle with but something in them will keep you persisting with them until finally they come out right….like that funny hump of the letter K when you were learning to write.

That takes me to tools. In writing one uses a pencil, then a pen, then a biro, maybe a felt tip and each gives its own mark. So in painting, watercolour brushes, acrylic brushes, hog brushes, small, medium and big brushes. Long handled or short, and now many other markers:

Scrapers, squeegee, rubber brushes, fan brushes, each and every one of these needs a different handling. Some you work from the wrist. Some from the elbow. And some from the shoulder requiring a full swing of the arm to get the full result.

Some are blending brushes to be used on what is already there, some are doodling brushes to give that accidental effect to what is in fact an intentional mark.

Each of these brushes creates a different mark not only of themselves but also for each artist. Your mood, your strength and liveliness will provide a different mark for each tool from one artist to another.

A bit like signatures, even if you try and sign like your friend, your version will be different to theirs…stronger, softer, wobblier, more hard-edged, bigger, smaller. Different and your own.

Our next workshop, Saturday 23rd February, we will be looking at a wide range of mark-making. We will be welcoming Lisa Temple-Cox who will be helping show the possibilities of dry media, graphite, crayons, both soft and oil, colour pencils, charcoal in a variety of applications.

I will be following on demonstrating a range of tools both artist and also ordinary home implements which work just as successfully in producing unusual marks. Then all these materials will be available to you to experiment on a large sheet of proofing paper and just enjoy yourselves and explore the possibilities….but just don’t go this mad!😆😆😆

However if you have the time and inclination, why not have a go at making your own brushes at home as shown here by Australian Rhoda Campbell, who has kindly allowed me to use these photos of her home made brushes and the kind of make you can make with these…you can see more of her brushes on her instagram account at

Look forward to seeing you on the 23rd February….

What to bring

  • Large sheets of paper
  • Three colours, black and white, warm grey
  • Black ink
  • Crayons (Oil or Pastel)
  • Charcoal
  • Pencils, graphite or Stabilio colours
  • Acrylic Medium (any)
  • A range of different brushes, palette knives and any mark-making tool you have

If you fancy making some brushes bring:

  • A selection of twigs or sticks (preferably straight)
  • Feathers, wool, string, bamboo, fabric, straw, toothpicks
  • Selection plastic containers and paper plates for mixing paints
  • Masking tape
  • Kitchen Towel

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