New coastline, fresh eye…

Salthouse coastline. Acrylic paint/ink and mixed media on paper. © Mari French 2021

Now that my body of artwork for the Babylon Arts exhibition in Ely in May is complete I can start experimenting again and thinking of new work. As you may know from reading my posts I’m fascinated by the huge and ever-changing East Anglian coastline and a recent visit to a different part of the coast from my usual sketching ground (in a bid to find a quieter spot) had me playing around with ink and ideas in the studio this past week and I want to see where this takes me…

Shingle beach at Salthouse, North Norfolk © Mari French 2021

The weather has been almost unrelentingly stormy, grey and wet recently, apart from one gloriously sunny and mild day spent at Salthouse, on the North Norfolk coast, where the land starts to rise before the cliffs at Cromer. Back in the studio I began to channel this experience, in collage/mixed media, in my workbook, which also turned out a bit stormy!

Salthouse coastline. Workbook collage/mixed media spread © Mari French 2021

The studio has also been pretty cold so I’m pleased to have produced several initial experimental works in acrylic/ink on paper and board, although I have to say I didn’t think they were working at the time. In my mind’s eye I had envisaged something much more abstract and with brighter colours, so was frustrated to find I’d spent several hours messing around with quite monochrome colours in acrylic inks and paint, with loosely representative results.

Abstract coastal painting in mixed media by Mari French 2021.
Salthouse coastline. Acrylic paint/ink and mixed media on paper. © Mari French 2021

Does this ever happen to you? Non-abstract artists may wonder what on earth I mean – surely I could use exactly what colours I wanted and applied them exactly as I intended? You’d think so wouldn’t you?

Well it appears my subconscious often has it’s own agenda. I’m an ‘intuitive’ artist so rely quite a bit on what emerges without my thinking too hard about it. Having experienced a place, probably sketched and photographed it too, I prefer to experiment (play!) with various media and see how my mind interprets it. And I love working like this – it can be very rewarding and surprising. It can often enable me to distill a subject down to the elements that excite me, without obsessing over fiddly detail or accuracy.

Salthouse, experimental abstracts. Acrylic paint/ink and mixed media on paper. © Mari French 2021

However, on this day I left the studio in a tired and frustrated mood, feeling a failure, and at home grumbled at length to my always sympathetic other half, whose usual wise advice was ‘have a break from it’. He was right, the next day, looking at the photos I’d taken of the work, I was surprised – I could see quite a bit in the artworks that work for me. My subconscious had known what it was doing, even if I didn’t have faith in it at the time.

Salthouse coastline. Acrylic paint/ink and mixed media on paper. © Mari French 2021

Sometimes we have to put a distance between ourselves and our new work until we can see it with a fresh eye. I still want to experiment with stronger colours and a more abstract feel with this coastal work, but I realise I may need to let it develop in its own time. At the moment I particularly love the subdued soft greys and soft pink ochres of the two works below even though they are nothing like I had in mind for the subject originally. As usual… watch this space!

22 thoughts on “New coastline, fresh eye…

  1. Hi Mari,
    These works actually remind me of Salthouse in the time of year you have made them, somewhat melancholy and subdued. With regards to your expectations versus the results, I can identify with it. I too regard myself as an intuitive painter, often working with gestures direct to the page/canvas, and allowing the initial lines and marks to suggest my next move, and choices. This kind of work can be most rewarding. Yours are delightful!

    • Hi Martin, thank you for such an interesting and insightful response to the post, also for the lovely remarks on the work. It’s always good to get your views on my thoughts and images, so the fact that you can see Salthouse and the season in them is much appreciated!

  2. Hi Mari,
    I found you after listening to your interview with Louise Fletcher. That interview was really inspiring to me. Thank you for sharing your process and ideas. I love your work! You really know how to the mood of a place with color, line and shapes. I especially love this post of the seaside in Norfolk. When I scrolled down through the work and saw the photo, I was awed at how well you captured that beach, ocean and distant hills in your sketches. I hope one day to be able to distill my landscapes down to their abstracted essences as well as you do.

    • Hi Brenda, such a great response to my post, thank you very much! It’s so good to know the abstracted works carry the essence of the inspiration (in this case the beach), which is what I hope for. It’s taken quite a few years for me to get to this stage and I’m still learning! But each stage of the journey from loose, to semi-abstract, to abstract, is a joy – you just have to keep at it (and read books, watch interviews, take workshops etc!). I wish you all the best in your own journey. best wishes, Mari

  3. Very interesting post. I like your writing and images. They are so evocative of the coastal mornings when the wind is strongly whipping across my face. My dog loves it though whatever the weather and I do too.

    • Thank you Carol, pleased you find the work and words resonate with you. Weather (including the wind!) plays a big part in my coastal abstracts. It’s such a big factor on the East Anglian coast!

  4. For me, your work, including these, represents the freedom and ‘abstraction’ I long for. I get fixated on detail……so seeing your work, whether you were happy with it or not, is an inspiration and a reminder of my aspirations. They capture the intangible mystery of those coastlines that haunt me but am ‘exiled’ from. Keep going!

    • Thanks so much Jaci. It has taken time to get to this stage and I’m still learning! The thing is that the journey to this stage has been enjoyable too. Hope you can get to the coast in the very near future!

    • Hi Ann, 17 to 30 May 2021 (fingers’ crossed!). They’re putting a virtual exhibition up in April too. I’m sending my next newsletter out soon which will have the details/links in that. Would be lovely if you could make it. Ely is a lovely place too.

  5. I completely identify with your comments about what you plan to so and what you end up doing . It happens to me frequently – and I am glad to hear I am not the only one. Love all your pieces as always. Best wishes.

  6. I am not a painter but I think I know similar experiences in writing philosophical texts. Sometimes I have a vision what I want to write, where I want to go, but I cannot. The texts that come out are not what I wanted to write, but they turn out to be prerequsites to what I really wanted. The vision just does not contain enough information and in trying to work it out, I encounter special problems and details I did not know about. These problems have to be solved first and then the whole thing needs some resting time. After some time, a new synthesis emerges that contains more than what was in the original vision, and I get new insights. The vision shows there is a way, but it is vague, it does not contain enough information to go where you feel you can go. Only after working through the detailed stuff that you did not know was in the way, you eventually arrive. Dealing with that stuff is exhausting at the time, it is a fight, but it is a necessary step to make progress.
    By the way, I like what you did here. I don’t know your vision, so that vision is not in my way to aprecciate these works.

    • Thank you so much for such lucid and illuminating feedback on my post (and dilemma) Nannus. I keep re-reading it, it’s like someone switching on a light bulb in a dark room. Your insight is so well explained and fascinating. It’s such a great explanation and really will make a difference to how I view my painting process. I’m not great explaining myself with words (which is partly why I paint) but please know your reply stopped me in my tracks and I’ll be printing it out and pinning it to my studio wall. Many many thanks!

  7. How I long to see the sea again so this is the next best thing…strangely I was watching a Zoom presentation by Debbie Lyddon on Friday and on Tuesday I’m meeting a friend who has a second home in Norfolk …. so maybe fate is telling me where to visit next? in the meantime if these were my work I can see a way forward! Thanks for sharing!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Jill. I know Debbie’s work since seeing a great exhibition she had at Wells Maltings in 2018 (I think) and really like it. Her studio is in the most amazing place too, in an old boat shed right at the waters edge in Wells.

  8. I know exactly what you mean Mari….although sometimes it can work the opposite for me, initially thinking I was getting somewhere with the work…and fresh eyes the next day have me groaning, ‘What was I thinking?’
    Love this experimenting…colours and marks are fabulous!,

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