Back to the Moors …

Featured

Sketchbook spread: Heather remains and stones, Staunton Moor, North York Moors. September 2022.

Fresh from a week away sketching in the glorious North York Moors, I’m now back in my studio working on a new series of ink/mixed media works on paper inspired by the wonderful array of textures, colours and shapes I encountered up there.

Autumn heather moorland above Rosedale, North York Moors.
© Mari French 2022.

I was staying at Rosedale Abbey, a small village about 30 minutes drive inland from Whitby on the northeast coast. I’ve stayed there before and you can read about my experiences (and see resulting work) in this post , this post and this post.
Rosedale is a beautiful peaceful valley now, with an interesting industrial past (remains of ironworks perch above it on the steep valley sides). This time though, I wanted to concentrate on the high moorland plateau, where the heather was just going over.

View towards Glaisdale Rigg, from Beacon Hill near Danby.
© Mari French 2022.

I took mainly Liquitex acrylic inks with me as I love their intensity of colour and pigment range, and a Seawhite sketchbook as I find they will take a lot of wet media and layers without disintegrating. Not sure if I’ve mentioned it before but I used to use watercolour pans while sketching outdoors, however I was often disappointed with the resulting paler, duller colours as the paint dried.
Acrylic inks give me that depth of pigment and keep it once dry, while also having the advantage of being amenable to working over with more ink or other media. The main disadvantage of course, is the heavier weight and bulk of little glass bottles of ink in my rucksack!

Bridestones, Sleights Moor, North York Moors. © Mari French 2022.
Bridestones, Sleights Moor, North York Moors. © Mari French 2022.

I love this landscape, particularly in the changing colours of the autumn. The North York Moors look deceptively flat in these photos but are actually a high plateau above deep fertile valleys. The whole moorland is a carpet of texture and colour, punctuated with waymarkers, rocky outcrops and standing stones. The russets and pinks of the fading heather contrast with dark rectangular areas of burnt ground. These are grouse moors and selective burning encourages the heather cover for the birds. I don’t agree with shooting for sport but the resulting patterns, textures and colours do provide interest for the abstract artist.

Stony Rigg, above Grosmont, North York Moors. © Mari French 2022.

Most of the week the weather was bright and sunny, great for a holiday, but a bit undramatic for my sketching at times – I get the most inspiration from dark moody skies. So I did spend a fair amount of time chasing big cloud shadows over winding moorland roads, avoiding sheep. Fortunately there is an awful lot of scenery and heart-stopping views on these stunning moors to discover. One of my favourite landscapes and no doubt I’ll be back!

View from Beacon Hill near Danby. © Mari French 2022.
Egton Moor, North York Moors. © Mari French 2022.

Ink to make you blink…

New light. Acrylic ink & collage on watercolour paper, 26x34cm. © Mari French 2022

Right now I just love working with acrylic ink on watercolour paper; the medium is perfect for using wet-in-wet, with a dry brush, making marks, or layering translucent areas. I’ve used acrylic ink before as part of mixed media artworks, but lately it’s become the leading player in my painting. It seems particularly suited to my current obsession with the pools and creeks of bright water on the North Norfolk coastal salt marshes.

These are a few of my latest abstract ink works. The limited palette, the washes, bleeds and back runs really appeal to me. I’m trying to capture a sense of the mercurial light on these areas of water on the marshes; mirrors of the sky which fill and empty with the highest tides.

Salt and sky. Acrylic ink & collage on watercolour paper, 26x34cm. © Mari French 2022

It can be quite meditative building up the layers of ink, the combination of control and serendipity, and I just love the way the ink reacts to the grain of the watercolour paper and the sparkle that results from the brush skipping over the texture.

Although I still add a little collage to the works, I’ve also started to apply calligraphy directly instead of onto tissue paper first as I normally do. The words come from my impressions of the location on the day I’m there, often from my sketchbook notes. Like a meditative chant, they evoke the weather, atmosphere, elements and my thoughts on the landscape that occur while I’m sketching on location.

Reflections. Acrylic ink on watercolour paper, 26x34cm. © Mari French 2022
Sketchbook pages with acrylic ink © Mari French 2022
Thornham creek and salt marsh © Mari French 2022

Below are a couple of larger ink works on paper in a very limited palette, which may be the next stage I’m working towards, or perhaps a valid part of the same series. I’ve altered one of my location photos (above) to show one of my favourite areas of inspiration – Thornham creek and marsh, on the North Norfolk coast, and you can probably see where these last two paintings are coming from.

The creek fills with light. Acrylic ink on watercolour paper, 42x60cm. © Mari French 2022
Angle of light. Acrylic ink on watercolour paper, 42x60cm. © Mari French 2022

Some of these works are available on my website www.marifrench.com Do let me know if you are interested. In the meantime let me know if you enjoy working with acrylic ink too.

Towards the sun …

Turning year. Mixed media on paper 46x60cm © Mari French 2021

Happy New Year to all my readers and welcome to my first post of this year. I hope you had a beautiful festive season and wish you a healthy, peaceful and art-filled 2022. Thanks so much for following my blog.

As the year turns, like many artists I’m reviewing my work and thinking about where to take it next. I’m now looking forward to Spring, towards the sun. In my previous post (here) I mentioned my new series of autumn sunflower paintings and wanted to share with you some of my creative process.

What caught my attention about this beautiful field of faded sunflowers as I drove past last October, was how they looked like a subdued congregation deep in thought, or a gathering of dark suns, faces now turned to the earth. I took photos and gathered a bunch of the flowers to sketch and paint back in the studio.

Work in progress on the easel © Mari French 2021

Above is one of the autumn sunflowers series still in progress on the easel, in acrylic and ink on paper. I love to paint intuitively like this – obscuring and revealing layers of acrylic paint, scoring through or spraying with water, to create lively marks – so that the result is a complex accumulation of shades, hard and soft edges, ephemeral suggestions of shapes. Sometimes these are created by wiping through the paint layers with a damp cloth. Inevitably, much of the earlier stages will be covered up (or wiped away), but this is necessary for me to create the web of colour and texture I like.

Detail of work in progress above © Mari French 2021

In the closeup crop above you can see the soft luminous light this process gives to parts of the painting. Texture is also added with the use of drier brush marks, which contrast with softer blended paint (often done with the side of my hand – it’s great to get hands-on sometimes!).
This work in progress isn’t finished yet: I want to see less of an obvious separation between the creamy yellow areas and the lower blue/green ones; the sunflower heads are spread too evenly for me and some of the smaller ones higher up need ‘knocking back’ a bit to make it less busy; and I want to bring some of that lovely subdued pink in elsewhere to balance it.

Below is ‘Constellation’, another in the series in progress, in the studio, and the finished work below that.

‘Constellation’ in progress on the easel. © Mari French 2021
Constellation. Mixed media on paper 46x60cm © Mari French 2021

Many of my studio visitors and collectors tell me that they love that they can keep coming back to an artwork and still see more in it, sometimes even after years of owning the work. This is part of what makes it worthwhile for me.

Autumn encounter. Mixed media on paper 46x60cm © Mari French 2021