May 8, 2014


959_Art and SoulDetail from “Berkeley No. 33″ by Richard Diebenkorn, oil on canvas, 24″ x 29”, 1955


Even though I have spent since January painting it has really been in the past 4-6 weeks that I have done most of the work. Things have finally gotten easier. Paintings tend to almost make themselves now. After months of consistent painting I am now painting more from the feeling, more from the heart, than the mind.

The other day an artist friend stopped by the studio. We got in a conversation about marks, brushstrokes, or anything you do that leaves a paint residue on the surface.

We came to the conclusion that there are two kinds. Decorative and Soulful.

Decorative marks are easier to make and require little thinking. These often end up making the picture pretty. They are, after all, decorative. They are pleasing in general, but usually they don’t add anything hugely significant to the work. I notice if I am not paying attention I tend to mostly make decorative marks. They at first feel good but tend to lose their impact within an hour or two. Painting in a decorative way is fun, but like decorating a Christmas tree, it is only fun for about 45 minutes and you also only really need to do it once a year and then you have had your fill. A painting that is mostly made up of decorative marks is pretty for sure, but often can fall kind of flat.

Soulful marks, however, are more rare. These are harder to make and take a bit more intention. A mark that is powerful is one that is made with an awareness of the entire painting. It holds potency because it relates, it contrasts more dramatically with what is already there in the work. So in order to produce this kind of mark the artist must be paying attention, she must be thoughtful, sensitive to resisting habitual repetition, willing to try something different and to sit with a feeling of vulnerability that always comes with trying something untested. Soulful marks carry strength within them because they are made when you are not entirely sure of the outcome. You have a hunch. You are following the feeling inside you.

There is risk involved.

Marks that we make, whether decorative or soulful, are simply answers to questions we have asked ourselves in our creative process. The sum total of these answers, results in our art. Hopefully, over time, our decision-making improves, resulting in stronger artwork.

Sometimes in my life, not just my art, I see that the answer I give to any question that is important can be made either from the mind or from the heart. Often a choice to be made can mentally be a yes, have all the practical, pretty reasons to be a yes, but something inside me is quietly and persistently saying no.

From my art I have learned that decisions I make from the heart, rather than from the mind, are stronger, more enduring and more in alignment with myself.

The parallel to our art making, the decisions made, not just in our lives but also in our creative process is quite obvious. It is all about improving our mark making, more accurately responding to the important questions that arise. The more awareness, the more soul we can bring to our creative process, the stronger and more like ourselves our resulting art will become.

Do you see this in your practice? Does this relate to your life too?

Regards, Nicholas

Nicholas Wilton

Hi! I’m
Nicholas Wilton
the founder of Art2Life.

With over 20 years experience as a working artist and educator, I’ve developed a systematic approach that brings authenticity, spontaneity and joy back into the creative process.

Join me and artists from all over the world in our Free Art2Life Artists Facebook Group or learn more here about Art2Life.

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