balancing act …

'Zawn' finished painting. © Mari French 2018.

‘Zawn’ finished painting. © Mari French 2018.

I’ve just sent off three new canvases in my Cornish Coves theme to The Harbour Gallery Portscatho in Cornwall as mentioned in a previous post. The one above is titled ‘Zawn’, which was the name given to deep and narrow sea-inlets in cliffs, often  exploited by tin and copper miners of the past. I thought you might be interested in seeing how the work developed.

The photo below shows the early stages of ‘Zawn’. I had no definite image in my mind at the start of this painting, other than the Cornish coastline theme. However, I think, having painted light and sea into the other canvases, I wanted to do something a little different here, to capture the power and looming presence of the rocks and cliffs of the wild Penwith coast.

'Zawn', 1st stage. 50x60cm, acrylic on canvas. © Mari French © 2018

‘Zawn’, 1st stage. © Mari French © 2018

At the beginning, I gave free rein to my paintstrokes, scumbling and scratching into the paint. I used a dryish brush in places to give the sparkle of light on rock and sand. The resulting image suggested to me a cave in a dark cliff and having come across several of these around Penwith, I decided to develop the work in that direction.

Inevitably some of the luscious marks and gestural passages at the start of a work eventually get painted over, often a hard decision to take; but without the confidence to do this editing, I find a finished artwork will have a static, tentative feel to it. (Of course another tricky, but important part of the process is leaving areas alone!). It’s a question of balance of freedom and control.

Below shows ‘Zawn’ almost finished. I decided I wasn’t happy with the pointy shapes in the background behind the large boulder on the right, so did some further work on them and tied the image together by suggesting a large rock instead, plus some line work (see top photo of this post).

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‘Zawn’ almost finished. © Mari French 2018

Hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into the creation of one of my semi-abstract landscapes. I find photographing some of the stages as I paint an invaluable record and self-teaching aid.

 

Cornish sketchbook…

Boat Cove, Pendeen. Mixed media sketch. © Mari French 2018

A few sketches and photographs from a week in St Ives, Cornwall, back in early May. Although a holiday, I also wanted to get some sketching done of the distinctive rugged coast around Penwith and St Ives. Living in Norfolk we are some 7 hours drive (at least) away, so I don’t get down there as often as I’d like.

I started a series of Cornish cove paintings last year on a residency at Brisons Veor, Cape Cornwall, and delivered two subsequent works from the series to the Harbour Gallery Portscatho (see previous post), during my week at St Ives (I found out today that I sold one of them, nice surprise!).

Boat Cove, Pendeen, Cornwall. © Mari French 2018

So, to continue working on the series, I needed to remind myself of that light, those colours and the sheer exhilaration of feeling the waves boom against the rocks below me in the small rocky coves that punctuate this coast.

When the tide is out there is an astonishing variety of geology: rocks, stones, boulders, pebbles, and contortions, layers and strata as well, of course, the pale pale sand reflecting the light. With the tide returning there’s the blinding white foam surging around the rocks at the head of the muscular turquoise waves, filling the coves.

Spring sea, below The Island, St Ives. Mixed media sketch. © Mari French 2018

I usually sketch in watercolours combined with other media, but here I found the rich colours of the wet watercolour paint soon dried to a much duller finish than I wanted. I tried using gouache instead. I’d only brought a limited range with me, so it was a bit of a challenge mixing the colours I wanted, but I liked the creamy blendable nature of the paint and the richness of the results. They team very well with paint pens and other media. I needed a larger palette and a Tupperware box lid fit the bill nicely.

Cornwall sketchbook. © Mari French 2018

This is all a fantastic contrast for an artist who spends much of her other time exploring and painting the salt marsh and reed beds of North Norfolk’s coastline. A contrast which I hope will result in many paintings in the new series.

Boat Cove, Pendeen. Mixed media sketch. © Mari French 2018

Spring in the reed beds …

Reedbeds, Burnham Overy Staithe. © Mari French 2018

Reedbeds, Burnham Overy Staithe. © Mari French 2018

I stepped down the steep bank of the sea defences and out of the cold wind. Now on level with the huge swathe of reeds, the warm sun on my face, I could hear so many different birds belling, fluting and chiming, out of sight among the swaying blonde wands. Overhead, flocks of Brent and Pinkfoot geese clamoured and a pair of red kites circled in the sun.

This was last week on the first day of spring and I was walking along the marshes and creeks at Burnham Overy Staithe on the North Norfolk coast. Blue skies and bright sunshine drew me out sketching for the first time in ages and it was bliss to be out under that huge blue open dome of sky (apart from that cold wind of course).

Sketching reedbeds in spring sunshine. © Mari French 2018

Sketching reedbeds in spring sunshine. © Mari French 2018

There were so many bird species about, including a group of six avocets, the poster birds of the RSPB, with their upturned slender beaks, they danced their delicate crane-like courtship dance on the shining mudflats.

 

It may come as a surprise to some who see my work, but the calls, flight and tracks of coastal birds are often referenced in the guise of abstract meandering marks in my paintings. Along with the movement of the wind in reeds or over water, jet trails in the sky and my own wanderings, this is one of the techniques I employ to evoke a sense of my experience of a place.

Below is one of the resulting small mixed media works I produced in my studio this week, all fired up and inspired by that glorious day sketching the reed beds. I’ll post more soon.

'Reedbeds 1' © Mari French 2018

‘Reedbeds 1’ © Mari French 2018