Learning to Make a Mark

This month I had the opportunity to study with an artist I've been admiring for the past couple of years since starting my own painting practice. Alyssa Monks visited the Compass Atelier in Rockville, MD, to teach a four-day intensive workshop outlining her process and beautiful technique.

For those of you not familiar with Alyssa's work, she is a highly accomplished American painter, represented by Forum Gallery in NY. She is well known for her exquisitely crafted and expressive large-scale works which focus on provocative portrayals of the figure. Earlier works feature figures abstracted with water in the context of rather confining and hard environments such as bathrooms. More recent works depict figures interacting with and abstracted by a less structured and inviting natural world. Facial features morph into florals or forests, drawing you in and inviting you to lose yourself in a vague space between one's own self-centric view and the expansive natural environment that connects us all.

There is something about Alyssa’s work that makes you look for an extra moment. Her paintings inspire the viewer to reflect on their own stories. Ultimately, this is the kind of painting we artists aspire to create. While subject matter may vary from artist to artist depending on individual inspiration, the techniques and discipline to carry out Alyssa’s methods are things she teaches in her workshop. She is generous about sharing her technical knowledge and personal philosophy about art and life with her students.

I learned a few things from spending this time with her. She works hard. Her process requires preparation, thought, and extreme patience. Subtle shifts in color define form allowing brushwork to stay honest and intact. Despite the highly expressive marks that you see on her canvases, there is time and intention put into each and every stroke. Painting is not something she hurries through to meet a deadline (her own words). The process of painting is something worth savoring (and isn't it?) This is a lesson she taught our class as we struggled to make marks with the patience needed to emulate her method. Mindfulness and appreciation for the moment are key. This is something you can say to yourself over and over, but until you practice slowing yourself down enough to make a strategic and thoughtful mark, this mindful approach can’t be fully appreciated.

Alyssa teaches making your mark on a painting and leaving it there - not blending it away. Her approach is confident yet open to learning and investigating in the moment. Each mark carries this balance and so it’s no wonder that her work is as inviting and interesting as it is.

As a woman, it is a cultural upstream swim to leave one’s mark unapologetically. This is a lesson I am willing and humbled to learn through practice. More to come.

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