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 (25x25x3cm), 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

black rocks… green sea…

Back in April I had a week’s break in St Ives, Cornwall. I’d booked an arts workshop last autumn at the St Ives School of Painting, but due to further lockdowns, all workshops before the end of April 2021 were cancelled. But I’d paid for the cottage so we turned it into a week’s sketching holiday. The far west of Cornwall is one of my very favourite places (if you want to see other posts I’ve written about the area, along with sketchbook images etc, just type Cornwall into the Search area at the top of this page).

Outgoing tide, The Island, St Ives, Cornwall. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2021

It was cold (it had been such a chilly start to spring) but we had wall-to-wall sunshine. Cliched though it is, the light in Cornwall IS amazing! St Ives actually has 5 beaches and I found myself a bit obsessed with the coastal rocks – so many shapes, sizes and types. (We don’t get many rocky coves on the East Anglian coastline.) I particularly spent time observing and sketching the rocky coastline just below the far side of ‘The Island’, St Ives.

Beach & jetty, St Ives, Cornwall. Sketchbook. © Mari French 2021

I’ve since been invited to supply a few coastal paintings for an exhibition coming up at Gallery East, Woodbridge, Suffolk, where I’ve been fortunate enough to have shown work since they opened a couple of years ago. The theme of the exhibition is ‘Restless coast’ – a group show featuring artists from the west and east coasts of the UK, exploring what it is that draws them to a coastline – and they thought some of my newly inspired Cornwall work would fit the bill. For me, it’s also been interesting to contrast the energy and colours of this coastal work with that of Salthouse, North Norfolk which I was developing earlier in the Spring.

At the moment the crashing turquoise sea, white spray and the dark unyielding rocks, spotted with bright lichen are what seems to be emerging in the pieces I’m working on. But I want to keep pushing the process, abstracting it further in the search for the essence of the subject.

Below are a couple of the resulting small experimental workbook pages from the studio; acrylic, collage, mono print. Here I’m channeling the idea of that rocky coastline and lively sea, bright sunlight and turquoise waters; inspired by the fabulous jade sea crashing into rocky coves. I like the simplicity of these small playful works, but translating that to larger pieces is usually a challenge for me.

Sun and rocks, workbook image. © Mari French 2021.
Across Porthgwidden beach, workbook image. © Mari French 2021.

And here are some of the resulting works, currently at the framers, that will soon be on their way to Gallery East for the ‘Restless Sea’ exhibition, which starts on 1st July.

The sea shapes the land, the black rocks resist the sea. Meanwhile the ochre lichen clings on.

‘Every seventh wave’, mixed media on paper, 30x30cm. © Mari French 2021
‘Rising tide’, mixed media on paper, 45x60cm. © Mari French 2021
‘Energy and light’, mixed media on paper, 46x58cm. © Mari French 2021