Recognition & resonance: Venice (ii)

Venice lagoon series. Mixed media on paper. © Mari French 2016

Venice lagoon series. Mixed media on paper. © Mari French 2016

I had a creative block after getting back from Venice (see previous post here). Floundering around wondering whether I should be painting inspiration from my holiday or continue with the ongoing saltmarsh coast series. Seems obvious now, but anyway, as suggested by a facebook artist friend I cut up a pile of small pieces of Hannemuhle watercolour paper and decided to just please myself and experiment with whatever medium took my fancy, taking the pressure to perform/produce off and have fun.

To my surprise what emerged was a collection of abstract little jewel-like images in which, without too much effort, I could recognise imagery from my recent experiences of Venice and its lagoon. After a few days of experimenting like this I felt confident enough to work in a similar fashion on larger pieces of watercolour board. As you can see from the images posted below, there’s a lot of splashed about ink (acrylic and Quink), oil pastel, Posca paint pens, inktense stick and acrylic paint.

Mixed media on watercolour board. © Mari French 2016

Mixed media on watercolour board. © Mari French 2016

Around the same time whilst researching Venice’s lagoon online, I was delighted to come across the beautiful and evocative La Venessiana blog/website. Set up by Venetian resident Iris Loredana, it shares seasonal family recipes for Venetian food and perfumes and celebrates the seasons and secret places of the city and lagoon. One post particularly fascinated me, giving little-known (to me) facts and background on the islands of the lagoon and the lagoon itself. For instance, I had no idea that the sea lavender that I love to paint on the north Norfolk coast also grows on some of the quiet lagoon islands (plus many more unexpected and interesting connections and resonances for me between the saltmarshes of Norfolk and Venice). Recommended reading for anyone with an interest in authentic Venice and her environs.

Approaching Mazzorbo. Mixed media on paper. © Mari French 2016

Approaching Mazzorbo. Mixed media on paper. © Mari French 2016

Driven to abstraction: Venice (i) 

 

Cannaregio in the heat. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Cannaregio in the heat. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

I recently spent 2 weeks on holiday in Venice. I’d assumed September would be more temperate, but most days were around 35C (in the 90s Fahrenheit, and I’m crap in hot weather). Unbelievably, I also got painful shingles the very first day. So this could have been one long lament of a post. However… I persevered and did lots of sketching in the second week, mainly among the less celebrated narrow streets (calles) and quiet squares (campos) of Cannaregio and Castello, away from the hordes of tourists and trinket shops.

The sketch above (Cannareggio in the heat) is an abstract impression of my first (short) forays into these areas as soon as I felt able. Completed at our apartment dining table in gouache, posca paint pens, oil pastel and inktense block. You can see, by comparing the sketch and the photo below, how I’ve ‘edited’ the image with white gouache etc, leaving parts of the underpainting to show through in places. The thicker gouache paint can then be inscribed into while still wet.

Sketching in the apartment, at rooftop level. © Mari French 2016

Sketching in the apartment, at rooftop level. © Mari French 2016

Grand Canal from Chiesa Santa Lucia. © Mari French 2016

Grand Canal from Chiesa Santa Lucia. © Mari French 2016

Venice from Giudecca. © Mari French 2016

Venice from Giudecca. © Mari French 2016

Above the shops. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Above the shops. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

So, this year I made less use of watercolours in my sketchbook and more of gouache, Posca paint pens, oil pastel and inktense pencil. Some of this on top of collaged Venetian newspaper. These gave me a more robust repertoire for evoking the textures of the ancient buildings and to make more use of my recent experimental mark-making in mixed-media. I used a new concertina Seawhite sketchbook which I’d seen used to great effect on the blog of friends’ who’d shared a residency at Brison’s Veor in Cornwall. I have to admit I struggled with it a bit, although I almost always use Seawhite books, but the concertina is a format probably more effective for landscapes, seascapes etc. Having said that, it’s now really useful to be able to spread it out along a shelf in my studio and be able to view my many Venice sketches at once.

Sketching in the Rialto fish market. © Mari French 2016

Sketching in the Rialto fish market. © Mari French 2016

Rialto fish market, Venice. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Rialto fish market, Venice. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

One of the things I found myself struggling with, was my determination to sketch in an abstract fashion, rather than depicting what was in front of me with too much adherence to detail and representation. This was so hard! I think I managed it in some respects, though. Much easier to achieve when back at the sketching/dining table. Although I think the effort of attempting this actually pushed my on-the-spot sketching further than usual.

Grand Canal, night. © Mari French 2016

Grand Canal, night. © Mari French 2016

Washing, Cannareggio. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Washing, Cannareggio. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Details, Campo del Mori. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Details, Campo del Mori. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Weathered door, Cannareggio. © Mari French 2016

Weathered door, Cannareggio. © Mari French 2016

Venetian abstract. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Venetian abstract. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

 

Beautiful canal basin, San Polo. © Mari French 2016

Small canal basin, San Polo. © Mari French 2016

Fish graffitti, Dorsoduro. © Mari French 2016

Graffitti fish, Dorsoduro. © Mari French 2016

Rooftops abstract. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Rooftops abstract. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Towards the end of my stay I also discovered a fascination with the huge lagoon, in which Venice nestles like a gemstone among many other islands – some inhabited, some abandoned, some cultivated, some nature reserves – and the saltmarshes, reedbeds and sandbanks.

I’d need more time, with a boat, out there, to do it justice (who knows?). As it was I had to make do with staring avidly from the vaporetto motoring out to Burano and Mazzorbo, and greedily watching from the plane banking over the lagoon on takeoff from Marco Polo airport – the channels, fishing nets, ruined campaniles, boat wakes, bricola, all within the glorious mercurial sun reflecting off the water.

Venetian lagoon, taking off from Marco Polo airport. © Mari French 2016

Venetian lagoon, taking off from Marco Polo airport. © Mari French 2016

So here are some of the images and sketches from that two weeks and in the next posts I’ll show you how the experience has evolved so far in my subconscious and emerged in some experimental pieces, abstract photography etc.

too hot, but painting anyway…

Sea lavender and marsh pools

Sea lavender and marsh pools © Mari French 2016

It didn’t take long for last week’s sketching inspiration at Thornham Saltmarsh (see my previous post Seeing purple) to find its way to my easel.

I really didn’t feel like going into the studio today, it was so hot (around 28 to 30c). I’m no good with heat (before those who live in really hot countries object!). The studio is in a hayloft, basically the roof space above an old stables, rustic, interesting, but baking today. Anyway, bearing in mind one famous artist’s wise advice (possibly Louise Bourgeois) to make yourself go into the studio even when you really don’t want to, in I went.

Glad I did now. Just painted for a couple of hours before lunch, but once I’d decided on this palette of sludgy purple and bronze, the rest followed. It may need a bit more work yet, but I’m feeling positive about it and enjoying this slightly different colour combination. The piece is painted in acrylics, with oil pastel and Inktense pencil scribbled into it.

 

Sea lavender and coal barn, Thornham Saltmarsh. © Mari French 2016

Sea lavender and coal barn, Thornham Saltmarsh. © Mari French 2016