Aim: exploration of media.

Method: Use a surface that has two differently coloured layers. Make several drawings by scratching through into the second layer.

Reflection: If you have any doubts about the validity of this kind of exercise, take a close look at some great masters of the past.  Many artists will have an old pot scourer, toothpick or hat pin in their tool box which they have learned over the years makes just a certain sort of mark. Next time you’re in a gallery pay special attention to the variety of marks used and note your discoveries in your learning log.

You can also use the zoom function on the Bridgeman Education website to isolate small areas and note the range of marks used. Try doing this with the drawings below. (Use the link on the OCA student website.)

Seashell, A4, Acrylic painted paper with scratched surface
Male figure, A4, Acrylic painted paper with scratched surface

There was a steep learning curve abiut what would work and what would not!  I painted a few sheets with acrylic paint but after the issues encountered trying to scrape off the seashell I abandoned that as a bad idea.  The paint was too tough, beingf impossible to remove without scraping back and forth to remove paint.  This had the side effect of tearing the paper with little spontaneity or finesse to the marks being possible.

Next I tried oil pastel, ideal.  I utilised several sheets and different shades and colours of oil pastel with quite predictable results which allowed for a variety in mark-making without resorting to sawing the upper surface of the media.  Utilising several scrapers such as a steel rule, screwdriver, bawl, I was able to produce several pictures which in process imitated the initial stages of etching.

The broad scrapings of the background above where produced by the wide flat of a steel rule acting like a chisel head.  The rest had a much narrower tip – a small sized cross-head screwdriver, employed to remove the oil pastel and ‘mark’ the surface.

Still life, A4, Acrylic painted paper with scratched surface
Bowl and spoon, A4, Acrylic painted paper with scratched surface
Memoriam mori, A4, Acrylic painted paper with scratched surface


This series of drawing turned out to be very enjoyable.  I had some issues at times removing the wax (oil pastel) and lightening the line where the line should have been dark, essentially drawing in negative.  Where these have been ‘very’ wrong I have re-introduced the oil pastel to eliminate the erroneous line by overlaying again with pastel.

Further investigation into the mark making of Rembrandt and Turner is noted below.

Teapot, A4, Acrylic painted paper with scratched surface

My favorite drawing of the series produced in this exercise is the one below, the green still life of a jug on a table cloth.

Jug, A4, Acrylic painted paper with scratched surface


Variety of Marks


Image from  Bridgeman Library : ref : CH36610

Title: Two Thatched Cottages with Figures at the Window (pen & brown ink), by Rembrandt”route”%3A”assets_search”%2C”routeParameters”%3A%7B”_format”%3A”html”%2C”_locale”%3A”en”%2C”filter_text”%3A”Two+Thatched+Cottages+with+Figures+at+the+Window%2C+Rembrandt%2C”%7D%7D

Rembrandt uses a pen with brown ink to make these marks.  He seems to keep his pen in contact with the surface for much of the drawing, lifting only to stop making a mark.  He moves from one section to the next with the pen still in contact.  This is seen from the lines doubling back over one previously drawn.

In the close-ups above he merges one element with another until the drawing becomes one sinuous line wriggling all over the page.  Such as the woman and child on the left outside a window, the thick overdrawn line becomes the shadow at the junction being these two characters, two?, probably though they merge into one being.

In other areas the economy of line is what says the most – the bare straight strokes of the pen represent the window in the gable end of the cottage.  Whilst the addition of a few strokes turns a shape into a piece of timber and a few directional lines a roof into a thatch!  These sparse lines turn a flat object into a textured material we can identify.


Image from  Bridgeman Library : ref : XKH179022

Title: The Raising of Lazarus (pen and brown india ink and black chalk on brown paper), Caravaggio,

Caravaggio, utilises brown paper making his marks with brown india ink and using white and black chalk to set the lightest and darkest tones in his work.  He uses a more ‘academic approach to his drawing, it being neater more structured and deliberate.  He counters the white chalk against the brown paper and further puts the tone into relief by the use of the dark, black chalk.

In places the white light forms are structured and sculptured by the use of line and darker tones; see the garments of the two ladies to the left of the group.  The form of the figure half into a hole is sulphured by the light and dark along with the mid-toned brown ground.

Overall this is a much more complete drawing than the example by Rembrandt above.  However, both relay extensive information about the scene, the textures and the materials within them.  Caravaggio utilises the light chalk to denote light and heightened stem of foliage as well as highlights in the topography of the scene.

Another device utilised by Caravaggio is the use of the light tone to create a focus and drag point for the viewer’s eye.  These light tones continue to attract our attention as we let our gaze wander the scene.

The description of the materials and media used is by pen, however, with the variety of dark tones utilised I believe Caravaggio uses a brush to spread this dark tone utilising the brush as a means to spread the ink and to dilute the darkness of the tone employed.