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

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!

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