While I love teaching and practicing classic artistic mediums and techniques, like drawing and painting, I am always searching for new ideas. Lately I’ve been very interested in the amazing ink drawings I’ve been seeing on social media and wanted to bring that to my students, resulting in Module 4’s Mark Making class. As you know, I usually manage to put my own unique “Miss Linda” style in most of those lessons, Mark Making being no exception, and one of the ways I do that is challenging myself and my students to create our own tools.

I find that making our own tools for artistic practice, such as in mark making or painting, can be a really important lesson for appreciating what we have access to in our modern world. We can go to the store, or shop online without leaving our homes, and purchase paper, pencils, pigment, brushes, clay, and anything else we need to produce art. But before manufacturing was so widespread, artists had to create all their own materials or purchase expensive handmade items crafted by skilled artisans. In the past, this limited those who had the means to become artists to people of the upper classes or those who could find a wealthy patron to support their work. Today there are still beautiful, luxurious, handmade materials you can find to work with, but art supplies are available at all price points and accessible to almost everyone who wants to create. Making our own tools, especially from things that might otherwise be seen as trash, reminds us of the past and gives us another opportunity to develop our ingenuity.

While researching my Mark Making lesson, I knew I needed to make my own tools. So, I went to my trusty treasure boxes and started searching for inspiration. I found a plastic 6-pack can holder that I thought could be cut up to make a brush. Disposable straws and take-out chopsticks could serve as handles. Pieces of cardboard cut into patterns were just waiting to be made into a broad, custom mark making tool called a blade. Then I realized I could enhance my blade by adding some small pieces of craft foam, sometimes called Fun Foam, to my cardboard. I felt like I hit the jackpot! I was too impatient to wait for glue to dry, so I got out my stapler and my tape and got to work.

It was then time to get out another art material I rarely use, India ink. This highly pigmented ink is permanent and dries very quickly, so it isn’t something I ever dared to use in a classroom of young students. It is incredible for line drawing, artistic lettering projects, and, though it isn’t widely used in commercial printing anymore, printmaking projects like this mark making adventure.

Mark making here is abstract and kind of architectural, with a touch of muted color, to give you a little look at what we learn in Module 4’s more expansive class. I did many trials making blades and figuring out how to best work with the ink, so please don’t get discouraged if it takes a few tries to get things right. Art is a practice, so practice until you are happy with your results, then practice more after that!

The materials you’ll need are:

  • Black India ink
  • White paper
  • Watercolor paint in the accent color of your choice (I mixed colors to get my gray-green)
  • A paintbrush
  • A handmade blade tool
    • Cardboard
    • Craft foam
    • Stapler
  1.  Make your blade by cutting teeth into one side of a piece of craft foam. Attach the flat side of the craft foam to a small piece of cardboard using a stapler and making sure the cardboard doesn’t obstruct the foam teeth. I folded over the cardboard to cover both sides of the foam and add stability. They look like this:
  1. Put some ink in a shallow dish or artists palette, then dip the teeth of your blade into the ink. Place the blade on your paper and lightly drag it across, using angular movements to create geometric marks. Continue, connecting your marks, until you feel you are complete.
  2. Optionally, use watercolor paint to add more depth and dimension. Adding in this step made my work feel more complete, so I encourage you to try it. Muted colors like the gray-green I used allow the contrast of the black marks and white paper to stand out. Brighter colors might not create as much depth but would highlight and center the color chosen in a different, more bold way.

If you don’t have access to ink, this project can be done using paint, but your results will be a little different. Tempera or acrylic paints do not have the same transparency as the India ink does and liquid watercolor, which I have not experimented with, might not have enough pigment saturation without more than one coat. But if you try this using the India ink, paint, or any other medium and have some incredible or interesting results, I’d love to see it so please share it with me on Instagram or Facebook.

I felt proud of this work and wanted to share it with everyone! I normally favor organic lines, so this geometric journey was the best artistic ride.