Artists Make their Mark

By Judy Feldman |

Close Red and Yellow Bands 72" x 48"
Ron Russon 
When we look at two-dimensional art, the overall image strikes us first. But then, our eye is usually drawn to the distinctive marks that define an artist’s work. By marks, I mean the brushstrokes, the textures and whether the image is done in a loose, gestural style, or a more controlled, structured way (see my last blogs about the latter).

Artists’ mark making is so personal; it may be deliberately planned at first, but then it becomes part of the flow of creating, an intimate part of their artistic process.

When I interviewed some Wilde Meyer artists about the way they work, quite a few told me that they like to use many layers when they’re painting. Melissa Johnson said that the process of layering “shows the history of the painting.” Melissa’s unique marks are related to the variety of tools she employs – never a paintbrush because she hates cleaning them! Instead, she uses old plastic gift cards; her husband’s old driver’s license, chopsticks and crushed paper, to name a few. “Each tool has a different flexibility, which gives different textures,” she said. If Melissa wants to pull paint away from the canvas, she uses tin foil, waxed paper or tissue paper to achieve different results.

20 " x 20" oil, cold wax & metal leaf
Melissa Johnson 
“It’s not a predictable method, but I’ve learned over time the steps I need to take,” Melissa said. She noted that she begins with a realistic image, and as she builds up layers or takes away paint, the painting gets more abstract. Melissa’s marks are also a product of a medium she uses: cold wax. “By mixing in the wax with my paint, I get a beautiful translucency, even with opaque colors. Plus, I can also carve marks into it, using ceramic and sculptural techniques. When I’m finished, I give the painting a light coat of the wax, polished with a soft cloth.”

You can see an example of Melissa’s strongly textured painting in her work entitled “Structure.” Here, her abstract shapes take the form of a house, and you can decide if she began with a more detailed house, or if that image evolved along with the other geometric shapes.

20" x 40" oil, cold wax & metal leaf
Melissa Johnson 

8" x 10"
oil, cold wax & metal leaf
Melissa Johnson
8" x 8"
oil, cold wax & metal leaf
Melissa Johnson
Melissa said that her art often has a Native American influence. Her painting entitled “Ancestral” is part of a series that reference reservation life. The texture in this painting and many others is also enhanced by the addition of metal leaf. The black and white checks are a recurring element in this series, which includes “Digs” and “Village.”

Brenda Brevik describes her work as “representational, but not highly rendered.” There is definitely recognizable imagery in her paintings, but she is more interested in the physicality of the painting process. “I want to show evidence of the trip,” she said. “I use layering to add depth, and give the viewer some eye candy to explore the painting.”

2 Nudes 
60" x 48"
Brenda Bredvik
Brenda has an array of mark making techniques. In her painting entitled “2 Nudes,” she purposely includes evidence of her line drawing of the two figures, especially the one on the right. For the background, she uses another mark – rough brushwork layered over what appears to be horizontal lines. To me, the figures are very appealing, but it’s the different marks Brenda makes that are so interesting.
Breaking Free
65" x 57"
Brenda Bredvik

Brenda’s layering often takes her painting from one subject to another. She said that “Breaking Free” started out as a painting of Mt. Whitney, then became an abstract, and then she added the horse. Her brushstrokes give the painting great energy, especially the flying mane, and the pop of orange squiggles on either side of the horse and the fuchsia one under its foot. This painting also shows another of Brenda’s marks: areas of dripped paint. “I like the pattern that’s created when I let paint with medium drip from the brush,” she said.

50" x 40"
Brenda Bredvik
“Poetry” also began as an abstract. To add interest and contrast, she painted the vase of flowers in a more realistic, elegant style, using much smaller brushes, and a palette knife, to make the flowers look “yummy.” The paint drips under the slash of white and the dark shadow conform to her mark-making style.

Green Left Foot  
16" x 20"
Ron Russon

Ron Russon has a degree in illustrative design, which is reflected in his stylized depiction of animals. “I used to paint traditionally, but I got bored,” he said. “So, I started to use non-traditional colors. That opened up a whole new world, in which I could make my own rules.”

In addition to his color choices, Ron’s marks also include thinned paint dripping, along with a mix of flat and three-dimensional rendering, all in the same artwork. You can see this technique in his painting entitled “Green Left Foot.” Ron said that he likes playing with planes, crossing back and forth between realism and his imagination.

Like the other artists mentioned above, Ron doesn’t use a paintbrush very much. He’ll use one to draw in the shapes, but then takes up his palette knife to add blocks of color, scrape away areas, and create textures. “Charolais Bull” is a good example of his mark-making process: the horizontal lines are both applied paint, and paint scraped away. Ron explained, “I started with drips of oil paint and turpentine, then I drew in the bull vaguely, then I moved back and forth, like a dance, between realism and abstraction. It’s like a dance: I lead and the painting follows!”

Charolais Bull
48" x 48"
 Ron Russon 

Most of all, Ron said that his style is always evolving, and that he strives to provide his viewers with something interesting to look at and reflect on. I think that his marks, and those of Brenda and Melissa, are successful in doing just that.

See more work by Melissa JohnsonBrenda Bredvik, and Ron Russon at Wilde Meyer Gallery.