How we are leaving our marks on the world

Presumpscot River Trail Collage

One night after class last week, I went for a leisurely stroll along the Presumpscot River in Gorham.

My drawing professor, Michael Shaughnessy, had told us to be prepared to spend our next class making as many marks as possible using graphite on a large piece of paper. At the beginning of my walk, I was contemplating the array of marks and textures and designs I might create. Suddenly, as I came around a bend in the trail I realized that I was surrounded by marks and texture and designs.

Everywhere I looked, there were marks created by nature. Rushing, foaming water. A splintered post. Tree roots. Pine needles. I was mesmerized — and inspired. I grabbed some closeups with my phone and kept walking.

A few days later in class, we took out our graphite pencils and sticks and little bags of powder and hunkered down over our drawing paper and made our marks.

Playing with graphite

We made lines and splotches and circles and splashes. Patterns emerged and we made new discoveries. Adding a little water to the powder does this and dipping a paintbrush into the wet mixture and splattering it does that. Hmmm … what if I put down some strips of tape and draw lines across them or dip the tape into the powder and press it into the paper. Wow! I never thought of holding a graphite stick that way. What an interesting pattern. I wonder what would happen if I held it sideways or broke off a piece or …

Sampling of graphite marks

After experimenting with lots of mark making, Michael instructed us to tape off a small piece of bristol board to make a border and create a pattern on the inside using one or a few of the marks that struck our fancy. When we were done, we taped up our work and were amazed at the results.

All different. All inspiring. All begging the question, “How did you do that?”

Here are some close-up views and explanations of how some of us left our marks on this world.

graphite marks

 Fingers dipped in graphite powder and outlined with a fine pen.

Graphite marks

Paper covered with graphite powder and portions scraped off.

Graphite marks

A combination of lines and cross-hatching and splatters of wet powder.

Graphite marks

A wet paper towel dipped in graphite powder.

Graphite marks


Graphite marks

Splattered wet graphite.

Graphite marks

A piece of well-chewed gum dipped in graphite powder and pressed into the paper. Tendrils pulled out with a paper clip. Enhanced with yellow paint.


How about you? Feeling inspired to play with graphite? Get your fingers a little dirty maybe? Go for it. Leave your marks on the world

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

At the tender age of 65, I decided to go back to college to get an art degree. What inspires me most about painting is that for the first time in my life, I don’t worry (too much!) about making mistakes and I don’t get frustrated (too much!) because something doesn’t turn out as I imagined. Instead, I find myself noticing problems and trying to figure out solutions. Over and over, I will ask myself, “I wonder what will happen if I try this?” It’s the same question I asked when I realized that pursuing a BFA at USM was within my grasp. And so, I am! I also write another BDN blog called Catching Health. Take a moment to check it out at