contemporary collage paintings
the process
Leslie Avon Miller

My life flows when I'm in my art.

Jean De Muzio

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dictionary of Marks, Scratches and Symbols

Investigation and studio work continue. I am well into a series of exploratory collage, where I am playing with marks. Brush marks, finger marks, lines as marks, found marks, drips, scratches and spatters. I have used a piece of wood, a scrap of mat board, a brush, a bamboo skewer, and of course my fingers to make marks. I think of these collages as a dictionary of my personal marks. I may place these collage in an artist book, like a dictionary, or they may have some other landing place. The point is to freely experiment – a lot.

Marks can be lyrical and suggest a rhythm. I have made marks while listening to the male quail keep his brood informed. Cluck, cluck, cluck. Cluckcluckcluckcluckcluck. I’m going to incorporate those marks into a collage and see what that does. And I am going to keep listening and looking at marks in nature and anywhere else I find myself.

I hope to use these mark making experiments to spring board into working with gesture, which I think of as really big marks, made with the whole arm in conjunction with a brush, not just using my fingers and a tool. Marks occur in a space of course so I am also paying attention to my use of the two dimensional space of the surface. I am finding it helpful to slow down, look at elements one by one, and realize I have all the time in the world to find my way.

If you like mark making here are a few resources. I have recently discovered two blogs of mark makers, Jacob Albablank from Spain and Imbi Star of Australia. Jacob has a Flicker set of marks which also show his lovely studio space. Of course Cy Twombly is a masterful mark maker. A collection of his work can be seen here.

In my exploration I can across this quote, connected with Phillip Guston and John Cage. “When you start working, everybody is in your studio – the past, your friends, your enemies, the art world, and above all your own ideas – all are there. But as you continue painting they start to leave, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then if you are lucky, even you leave.”


  1. Perhaps one could make a case for mark making being the root of all painting, Leslie. We make marks on our paper/canvas with brush, fingers, other tools, and those marks create our visual language... every person creating her own vocabulary with which she shows the world her vison. When we try to copy we simply repeat what someone else did originally, and usually better. I don't mean copy as in making a duplicate picture but copying a style, a way of working, a combination of marks.
    Thanks for the quote about everyone leaving the room as you work. I'd read that before and lost it. How very true this is. It's only in the continual working that we start to stand alone... and then finally we get to a place where the work paints itself

  2. Oh, wow, that second one is rich! Of course, I love all three. Cool-cool Twonbly piece on your sidebar.

  3. I am the first to leave a comment!
    Love all your mark making of course.
    And Cy Twombly is right up your alley. Your 'explorations' are wonderful and even though Philip Guston is one of my LEAST favorite artists in the whole world, I do like that quote at the end of your post.

  4. these are wonderful pieces...and i see you have found my skinsister Imbi!

  5. Words from your soul, Leslie. Mark making, slowing down, a dictionary of your discoveries and oh yes, listening to the quail...great afternoon visit. Thank you for the artists you have found interesting and always interesting Cy Twombly. The quote is perfect, right now my studio is full to the walls!

    I'm so pleased to see these three beauties...!!

  6. these are gorgeous! i am particularly drawn to the first one. so incredibly gorgeous!

  7. Enjoying your explorations immensely. I love the 3rd painting... a lot. The John Cage quote is very true (I've already written it up in my quote book) ....pity we can't kick ourselves out of the studio at will.

  8. I leave here having seen wonderful work, refreshed by your narrative and examples and very much longing to hear brood of quail... you have left a mark - great stuff, full circle.

    My best.

  9. Hi Leslie, there is an intimacy to your collage paintings that always draws me in, quiets and focuses my attention on each mark and line. The work is so thoughtful and your links and references so relate to our shared interests that I consider your blog an incredible resource for my own work. Wish that you had a studio next to mine and we could share insights and discoveries about the elegance of marks and gestural writing each and every day!

  10. Leslie, your post has really woken up my mind this morning. I'm thinking of earliest man and his (and hers, of course), attempts at communicating through mark making. I'm thinking of those cave drawings in what is now France. I'm thinking of the simple symbols we use for everyday needs -- stop signs, yield, and in my family we love to joke about the universal symbol for "pause" -- those two vertical lines on a button on our remote controls.

    Our lives have become so cluttered with constant and instant communication. We are forced to learn about the lives of others we know nothing about. Other people's symbols are forced upon us.

    I think it is important to know what our own symbols are. One person's cannot be the same as another's.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing what comes from your studio.

  11. I love the quote at the end - I think each piece of art we make is completed at some stage of the crowd departing. Some pieces are made by the "group", some just by us, and some come from somewhere beyond ourselves...

  12. Jo – making marks is a child’s first visual art too. Maybe it is in our DNA.

    Willow – I couldn’t resist that image of Twombly on the ladder, marking away.

    Donna – Thanks. I enjoy Twombly’s apparent freedom of expression. I seek that I think.

    india – I found Imbi through your blog, which is rich with great stuff!

    Mary Ann – a crowded studio may be part of my current need for exploration. I can’t hear myself if it’s too crowded in there.

    Alicia – Hi! I’ve just spent some fun time checking out your amazing on line presence – blog, zines, and more. Great stuff!

    Robyn – yes, we need more room in the studio more often. #3 is my favorite right now too. ;o)

    John – full circle indeed. Full circle may be a great name for a collage of marks…Thanks!

    Jeanne – I too visit your blog and enjoy our shared love of mark making. I loved my penmanship (penwomanship) class in grade school. You too?

    Kim – I love, love, love cave drawings, as well as the early art I have seen in person carved into the red rocks of the western deserts. I find my personal marks may have a meaning that is beyond words – something felt or known at an intuitive level. And it feels ancient.

    Bob – Good point. Collective art, personal art, art drawn from the deep well…as you pointed out in your recent post, some aspect of self portrait – which I think means “I am.”

  13. really like the second collage :)

  14. a dictionary of yoru personal marks-what a beautiful idea!
    wonderful quote

  15. Beautiful pieces. And it was so interesting to hear your take on mark making. That quote at the end rings so true!

  16. The Guston/Cage quote is very interesting. I'll have to think about that. Is he implying by his leaving the art becomes more universal and less particular?

  17. Your mark making is provocative -- I love reading everyone's responses to your entry! I often wonder whether mark-making is another form of navigation, reminding one of the ancient navigators creating those maps for others to follow, defining in some way what was once a void . . . ?

  18. To me, the first painting is the most intriguing. It reminds me of those primitive little cup and ring markings that the ancient Brits left everywhere on stone. The layering of paint and paper(I'm guessing here)and the swoop of that arc on the top left works perfectly as a composition. It says a lot about your art, too, that your paintings here have generated so many in-depth and thoughtful comments.

  19. What wonderful marks.
    Ib love looking at your works in progress.
    So glad you enjoy Elizabeth Bunsen as much as I do.
    All best wishes
    E and Buster

  20. Jeane – Hi! Always good to see you.

    Bridgette – thank you. I love artist books. I find them time consuming but rich.

    Seth – speaking of books, I love your post of your in process.

    Barry – I think it is about getting out of our own way.

    Kelly – This has been a particularly intriguing thread of comments, all much appreciated!

    Debrina – Yes, I am layering paint and papers. And yes, what a lovely conversation this has been. Thanks for adding to it. I appreciate you stopping by and leaving your comment!

    Hi Elizabeth – E.B.’s blog is a joy which I found at your suggestion. Thanks!

  21. hi there...thanks for exploring me world...marks everywhere. I love Cy, inspiring and spacious, hesitant and then all encompassing. I love your work. So light and lovely. Scratch it sister xxxxxx

  22. I really enjoyed the post and the work as usual is great.. Thanks for all the info..Marks, we all have different ones..That is what makes is so wonderful.

  23. Lovely mark-making, Leslie; I especially like the middle one. What a great quote, too—I’ve felt that, too.

  24. You have certainly made a mark on me! Wonderful work as always.

  25. I love your work and really enjoyed your post!!

  26. What a wonderful post about mark making, and how you are immersing yourself into this endeavor... Roxanne

  27. I can get lost for days in your sidebar alone,,,thanks Leslie!

    These are wonderfully inspiring marks and ideas, and I love the last line of your text:
    "then if you're lucky even you leave"

  28. Katelen – Yes, that’s true – our unique marks are like finger prints in a way.

    Gina – Thanks!

    Philip – it is always great to have you stop by.

    Manon – thanks for visiting here.

    Roxanne – and I so enjoyed your post about the Nick Bantock workshop.

    Babs – I enjoy the side bar stuff too. Fun to do.

  29. Fabulous post, Leslie.

    It is readily apparent that your work, and the way you think about it, are coming together from a very deep and authentic place.

    Do you know what the verification word was for my comment? GRACED.
    And that is how I felt after reading your post.


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