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.

14 thoughts on “Driven to abstraction: Venice (i) 

  1. Pingback: Recognition & resonance: Venice (ii) | Mari French : contemporary artworks

  2. Inspirational work as ever, how you did it with shingles I’ll never know! You are soo disciplined I am trying to take a leaf out of your book, studio every day currently. Vain hopes to exhibit one fine day. Been making art since the 60’s, on and off through life. Spell at Stockport late 60’s and textiles was my craft too! Love the blog, it keeps me ‘in-touch’ with the real me and is a driving force. Really looking forward to next post.

    • Hi Rosemarie, thank you for your lovely response to my post, and apologies for not replying sooner. I’m delighted that my blog helps with your determination to create. I only started painting seriously about 12 years ago and am mainly self-taught. Once you get in one or two exhibiting places (by renting space yourself or arranging a group show with other artists) it become easier. Good luck!

  3. Oh Mari, shingles sounds painful. Poor you, but undeterred you’ve produced some stunning sketches here. I love the abstracted images and must find out about Posca pens. I keep seeing them crop up in posts but know nothing about them. You use them and all your other materials with such style and that weathered door photo is a great reminder that you have a good ‘eye’ for an image. I shall enjoy reading the next couple of posts that follow this up. Well done you.

    • hi Lesley, thank you for your very kind comments about my post and sketching. I’m pleased you enjoyed them! Posca paint pens can be bought in a few places online, here’s their link if you want to find out more
      http://www.posca.com/uk
      They come in a variety of nib widths and colours and I find them good value for money. They are water-based but easily go over underlying paint (watercolour/acrylics/inks etc) in a opaque manner which gives a lively effect. Hope you enjoy my follow-up posts on Venice 🙂

  4. Really delightful work Mari. Venice is obviously quite an inspiring place, one of my fellow artists at The Rooftop Gallery in Corby, Fanoulla Georgeiou, went there this Summer and took some wonderful photographs for research purposes that she had printed up to A3 and exhibited there. Although it’s a long time since I last visited Cornwall, it remains a big influence over me, visits to several studios there(Roy Ray, Sandra Blow the most notable) and the Tate, where we witnessed some glorious stuff by Sir Terry Frost…

    • Thanks for your interesting and positive response to my post Martin and sorry it took me a while to reply. Venice IS very inspiring, but as I mention in the post, I’m more comfortable in the quieter off the tourist trail, less fashionable areas, including Giudecca.

  5. Loved your Venice sketches, how can you not be pleased with such inspirational views…. May I use one of your photos of the weathered doorway for one of my own collage/mixed media paintings? I’m sure our own interpretations will be very different of course!

    • Thanks Denise. And yes you can use the doorway photo as inspiration, thanks for asking first. I’d be grateful if you’d credit me for the original photo if you get your work published or awarded anytime (Photography is another string to my artist bow).

      • Thank you Mari, I’ll certainly mention you as the photographer if my work makes it out there one day! Love that such buildings have been left alone and not “improved”…….

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