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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Workbook warmups …

abstract collage in mixed media by Mari French contemporary artist
Winter weather, studio workbook collage © Mari French 2021

Since the New Year, as mentioned in my previous post Cold feet… midwinter motivation I’ve been working on a series of small artworks on the theme of winter weather for an exhibition, ‘No Frost at night’, to be held at Babylon Arts in Ely, Cambridgeshire later this spring. There was a call for artists to respond to an archived weather diary from 1963, by Soham resident Betty Mann. I was delighted to be one of five contemporary artists to have my proposal selected for this commission,

These are the workbook warmups from the studio that I created in between the artworks and occasionally a few small details from the works themselves to whet your appetites for the exhibition. I’ve been having a great time playing with acrylic inks, staining and scribbling on tissue papers and other materials and media, and in the process have discovered new effects and techniques – one of the bonuses of being out of your comfort zone (my first public commission) and using new surfaces and media.

Group of details from collage artworks by Mari French contemporary artist.
Small details from new artwork series © Mari French 2021

The above are small details from some of the works in progress. So far I have more works underway than I need for the commission, which I’m pleased about as it gives me room to select the ones that work best. The work has been going very well over the past few weeks, considering the battle to warm up the studio. This has given me room to breathe, step back, and live with them for a while before I decide that’s it and I get down to the finishing touches, varnishing etc.

I’ve noticed the importance of warming up in the workbook in the stalled pauses between work on the actual artworks. The temptation has been to keep working on them, but making myself stop and play (with similar materials) where it ‘doesn’t matter’, often results in a discovery of useful techniques and effects, and a loosening up of my creative muscles!

Winter walk, studio workbook collage © Mari French 2021

I’m really excited about how it’s going and can’t wait to see them displayed together (and to show you the results!).

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Cold feet … midwinter motivation

I’ve occasionally been working from home recently as the studio is just too cold (even with a log fire, oil-filled radiator and padded overalls; there’s obviously a drawback to having a big concrete space with high ceilings!). At my kitchen table last week I produced these two workbook collages on the theme of winter; early explorations for a project I’m going to be working on through January and February, which I’ll reveal more of at a later date.

Workbook mixed media collage © Mari French 2021.

I like to keep a bag stuffed with collage materials, found and made, along with acrylic medium for pasting down, and favourite markmaking tools, markers, inks etc, at home so that I can always get some practice in between studio days.

Weather and light have always influenced my abstract landscapes and winter weather will be pretty much a dominant theme in my work for the next couple of months. Fortunately (for my work at least) we’ve had the whole gamut of winter variations here in the Norfolk countryside the past few weeks – fog, ice, frost, snow (not as much as some areas, yet), rain and bright sun but cold. It’s added interest to my walks round the local area, taking photos of details for inspiration, sometimes playing around with them in photo-editing apps to enhance and abstract them, which itself can suggest directions for work.

Photographic-collage-of-winter-weather-by-Mari-French-2021
Photographic collage of weather details © Mari French 2021.

In the winter months it can be difficult for me, like many artists, to work up the motivation to get into the studio, especially in cold weather, now that I live 4 miles away and can’t just pop in and out. This last year has been difficult enough, but add into the mix the fact that I live with anxiety and depression (managed well mostly, with medication) and the SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) I also suffer from during the darker months, and motivation can be quite a struggle. So how do I personally cope with it?

When I have to coax myself into the studio I try to pre-plan practical tasks to get started, such as prepping canvases and boards, creating colour mixes and swatches from new paint/ink colours (relaxing and satisfying!), or creating papers for collages. Telling myself that I’ll just do a couple of hours and head home can do the trick and I very often find myself forgetting about this once I get into the work and spend longer anyway, (I always make sure I’ve got milk for a brew and ingredients for a simple lunch in my bag, so I can stay on if I want to). Ironically, it’s often on these reluctant attendances at the studio that I produce my most satisfying work.

Workbook mixed media collage © Mari French 2021.

Keeping warm: even with a log fire and an oil-filled radiator it’s difficult keeping my workspace warm (it was built as part of a 1930s RAF airbase and was semi-derelict when I first came across it; even now after we’ve renovated most of it, there are many drafts from the windows and leaks from the roof during heavy rain). One of the best things I ever bought were my padded overalls (from Dickies I think, but there are other makes) – cosy and warm. I feel very workmanlike in them! I’ve also covered a large area of the concrete floor with that jigsaw-type rubber matting you can buy online. It’s used for all sorts of work places, inc gyms, play spaces, garages etc. Mine is in dark grey and not only helps keep my feet from freezing but reduces foot and leg strain when working at the easel.

Another thing I find helps me greatly, once in the studi, is to have a few good podcasts downloaded onto my ipad (which I always take with me, usually for photographing work). It can be a solitary business this artist life and it’s good to have some virtual company. I can really recommend the ones listed below:

Art Juice, with Alice Sheridan and Louise Fletcher
Waldy and Bendy Adventures in Art
Art Stuff

Workbook mixed media collage © Mari French 2021.

However you’re coping just now, I hope you’re managing to get some art done for yourself, and that some of my tips may have helped you with using your own workspace.

Happy art-making!
Mari