Sketchbooks provide an opportunity for artists to explore alternative mark making. There are creative painting instruments that have been introduced into my artistic process that I would have never thought of or use if it was not for my daily sketchbook practice. In the sketchbook, I am free to play and explore without limits or boundaries.

One of the things that I love to do in my sketchbooks is create engaging backgrounds that utilize tools that aren’t seen in the typical painter’s toolkit. In the detail pictures of my sketchbook pages below, you can see all kinds of marks that are being made into the surface, using a variety of non-art related tools. The color-infused, bold and graphic backgrounds are an exciting place from which to pull out a subject. 

I’ve taken the Velcro off my hair curlers when they were falling apart and used the inside plastic structure to scratch in interesting linear and circular lines into my abstract backgrounds, later pulling a subject out of them in an interesting way. I have also used wooden chopsticks to scrape into as well as draw onto a surface. Toothpicks are used for fine detail.

Above and below are pages from one of my mixed-media sketchbooks that features a color field background painting, using a velcro roller base to scratch into the surface.

I’ve repurposed my bamboo brush from my wok set and now use it as an interesting stippling tool. The razor that I use to scrape leftover paint for my pallete has now become one of my favorite tools. I use it to scrape back into a surface to reveal what has been dried underneath. It works differently than a palette knife, as it is more sensitive to the touch. The blade I use is dull not sharp.

In the sketchbook page above is a detail of an intuitive painting I did. As I was working, I realized there was a dancer coming out of the abstraction so I left it as is. When you are working in a free-form manner, sometimes interesting things rise up to the surface and you go with it.

Cotton swabs, makeup sponges, electric nail files and so many other household items are all now being used in my art making process because they got introduced into my work through my sketchbook practice. The list is endless as to what can be done.

My various sketchbook pages always seem to find a home with people who buy my books. When I sign them, I add a little mindscape original sketchbook art inside!

This mixed-media mindscape painting from my sketchbook is called Over the Horizon. It has been added into my book entitled Art Revolution: Alternative Approaches for Artists and Illustrators  

The mixed-media mindscape paintings featured above and below were originally in my sketchbooks before they found a home in my art books Experimental Painting and Art Revolution. I think it is a nice touch to have a small piece of art from the artist that you are reading a book about!

I also like to use non-traditional art tools as well. I absolutely love using paint pens and markers, such as brush pens, parallel pens, bamboo pens, brushes and the like in my mixed-media sketchbooks. Acrylic paint pens come in many different colors as well as shapes and sizes. Some of the larger ones resemble a sponge brush but in a refillable acrylic marker form.

My acrylic paint pens have a soft rounded tip and create a consistent mark. I like to use them often in opaque applications, where I draw with the paint pen onto the surface and then removing parts with a wooden stick and other tools. This additive and subtractive technique breaks up the surface, creating interesting marks. I also use them to create border treatments on the edges of work in my sketchbook. See the gold painted borders on the mixed-media mindscape paintings above that have been tipped into my art books.

In addition, I use gel pens for delicate linear accents. They have a nice even flow and are really great for drawing little details as well as writing onto acrylic painted surfaces. For more precision detail, I have a series of refillable technical pens. They come in various round thicknesses and can be used and reused as long as you keep them clean.

My parallel pen is much like a calligraphy nib pen, except it does not have to be dipped. You can get an interesting mix of thick and thin lines just by angling it in different ways. For broader markmaking, I use the Montana acrylic water-based paint markers that come in various sizes. They work great for bold and graphic strokes.

To get really interesting marks on the surface, I use my bamboo pen and vintage brush set. They are some of my favorite tools when it comes to markmaking in ink as well as fluid acrylic.

Each tool that you employ in your artmaking can be used in a different way by simply changing the handling of that tool. For instance, if you are using a brush or pen and you hold it in the same way that you would hold a pencil, your range of motion and your ability to create a certain set of marks is limited. Although it allows for a certain amount of control within a small space, you are extremely limited to the kind of marks that you could make. If a stroke or mark needs to move from thick to thin, you will struggle with the fluidity of that mark-making. But, by simply changing the way you hold the brush or pen, you now open up a larger range of motion, because you have the ability to use your entire arm to create a more dynamic stroke or mark onto the surface.

In addition, the angle at which you hold your brush or pen can also make a very different stroke or mark onto a surface. An extreme angle creates a very different look onto the surface then holding something at a slight angle or completely upright. Next time you are painting or drawing, try holding your instrument in a different way, exploring the way you hold it in your hand as well as the angle in which to apply your marks to the surface.

Whether you hold your instrument like a pencil or grab it over handed so that you are you able to use a more full range of motion, you need to also consider the distance and the position that you are working in relationship to your surface. If you are sitting down at a table, and your elbows and shoulders lift up, then you have again limited the way your natural range of motion works.

On the other hand, if you stand when working flat, you’ve now created a greater distance and can naturally keep your shoulders down to allow a more natural range of motion. If you stand up with your shoulders lifted up and try to extend your arm out as if you were going to draw. You will more than likely start to hear things cracking and moving in odd ways in your arm. So DO NOT DO THAT. On the other hand, drop your shoulders down then extend your arm out. You will see a big difference. So, how closely you work to your surface, will change your shoulder positioning.

The other thing that you want to consider has to do with practical painting best practices. If you are working flat on the surface, your fluid media will puddle and move differently than if you angle your surface upright. The higher you angle something the quicker things will move with gravity. All of these things will change the aesthetics of your image making, especially with fluid media.

Next time that you pick up your sketchbook, consider using some tools outside of your typical brushes and knives just to see what kinds of marks you can introduce into the surface. Try changing the handling of your tools and your proximity to the working surface. You may surprise yourself and add some new tricks to your process as a result!

For more mixed-media explorations check out this video on Muddy Colors:

$20.00  download and $15.00 Rent

Runtime: 1 hr, 41 min
Resolution: 1080p


Here is a sneak peek into my upcoming PAINTING SURFACES + GROUNDS video from Muddy Colors!

I am showing just some of the unique Artefex surfaces to be featured. STAY TUNED!

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