About mari french

Mari French is emerging as one of East Anglia's most respected abstract painters. She grew up in Manchester close to the Pennine Hills, originally working as a graphic designer. She then lived for several years on the Isle of Skye developing her abstract landscapes. Mari now lives in Norfolk, working as a full-time artist, from her studio on a former 1930s RAF airbase. The roots of her paintings lie in her deep-seated affinity with landscape and weather, capturing the elemental forces of wild and less-visited landscapes. She says about her creative process “I try to evoke the shift of weather and light on a place and this is reflected in the sense of movement and change in the work itself. I sketch on location but in the studio I work instinctively, using a variety of media to evoke my experience of a place rather than a representation”. Mari has exhibited widely; her work is regularly selected for the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours (RI) exhibitions at the Mall Galleries, London; she has also exhibited with The Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) at Bankside Gallery, London; was a finalist in Artist & Illustrator Magazine's 'Artist of the Year' 2016; and a finalist in The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2014. Her work has been featured in both the ‘Artist’ and ‘Artist & Illustrator’ magazines as well as in several art books and is held in private collections around the world. She is a member of the Institute of East Anglian Artists (IEA).

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

Playing catch up…

New Autumn sunflowers series. © Mari French 2021

I can’t quite believe it’s so long since I last posted in this blog; where has the time gone? The past few months have been a particularly busy time for me in the studio, not least creating three new series of work:

new Cornish paintings inspired by a sketching trip to St Ives, Cornwall in April (see previous post), some of which were exhibited at Gallery East, Woodbridge, Suffolk this summer;

a fresh take on my salt marsh obsession, in acrylic inks and soft pastel. This time I’ve been inspired by the mirror-like pools and creeks scattered over the salt marshes and grazings. I exhibited several at Norfolk Open Studios in September/October and four are currently on show at ’Littoral’, a group exhibition (until 21 November 2021) at Little Buckland Gallery, Broadway, Cotswolds, a new gallery (for me) and one I’m very excited to be showing with;

and last, but not least, my current series inspired by a local field of fading autumn sunflowers, one shown above, which I’ll tell you about in my next blog post soon!.

Below is ‘Cradled sky’ one of the new salt marsh works in acrylic ink and soft pastel, at Little Buckland Gallery, and below that ‘Unfolding coast’ which sold from my open studio. Check out more of this series on my website here.

‘Cradled sky’, ink/pastel on paper, 29x29cm. © Mari French 2021
‘Unfolding coast’, ink/pastel on paper, 21x29cm, SOLD. © Mari French 2021

Another event that took up lots of time was preparing for Norfolk Open Studios. I opened to the public for three long weekends in late September, early October. This was the first time I’ve opened my ‘new’ studio at West Raynham airbase to the public and I’m happy to say it was pretty successful, with the sale of several paintings, collagraph prints and lots of art cards.

I really enjoyed meeting art lovers, artists, friends and neighbours, plus new collectors of my paintings! So much so that I’ve now decided to offer to open by appointment – just email me at art@marifrench.com if you’d like to visit. The studio is at West Raynham Business Park, near Fakenham, North Norfolk, UK, NR21 7PL.

At my open studio in September/October, Norfolk Open Studios 2021.

Going back to the Cornwall work, I later produced a set of five collaged panels that also developed from my sketching break in and around St Ives, in April this year. I loved working on these cradled wood panels (50x50x3cm), they take multiple layers of media very well and don’t need framing. In these I’ve made extensive use of collage elements; cornish newspapers, tide tables and my own calligraphic notes to add texture.

The proximity of water © Mari French 2021

I love the contrast of the wild Penwith coast with its small rocky coves and energetic tides crashing in and out; a contrast to the usually calmer North Norfolk coast close to where I live. I haven’t exhibited them yet and all five are still available. You can see the full set on my website at www.marifrench.com

Sea language © Mari French 2021