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.

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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

Lost in space…and back to earth

Cropped detail of mixed media Dungeness artwork

I’m steadily getting used to the new studio. Since my previous post, back in early October, I’ve made myself spend a lot of time in my new big white space, even on the rainy depressing days when I didn’t want to. And I’m steadily developing a new series of mixed media works on paper, inspired by that Dungeness visit a few months ago. So the painting is going pretty well, considering, and that’s helped with my apprehension and sense of being ‘lost’ in the space.

Cropped detail of mixed media Dungeness painting

I also rediscovered a book full of images of artists’ studios and spaces which reminded me that, being a bit of a magpie at home (it’s full of vintage/collectibles), I could spill my collecting over into this place and I’d feel more comfortable and hopefully inspired by being surrounded by stuff I love, whilst at the same time reducing that expanse of white!

There’ve been teething problems naturally – the building, like a lot of the airbase, has been basically neglected since the 1980s when the MOD left. Fortunately I have a very practical, patient and helpful other half, so rainwater leaking in from the glass ‘lantern’ in the roof, draughts, problems with getting the log burner going, are sorted or in hand, thankfully. It’s not easy to heat either, so the padded overalls I bought several years ago are still an essential.

Cropped detail from mixed media Dungeness painting

Meanwhile, I’m loving working on the latest paintings – gouache, ink, acrylic etc on paper and newsprint. As with much of my work there’s an element of serendipity involved in the process, of seeing what happens to that ink when I wet it further, of obscuring and revealing, planned and accidental, layering, veiling with gesso, scribbling and scoring, and so on.

Cropped detail from Dungeness mixed media painting

Several works from this series need to be kept under wraps until early next year, but you can see a few cropped details in this post.

Cropped detail from mixed media Dungeness painting

Work space: new studio syndrome

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Dungeness series. Small mixed media on paper.

How perverse the creative mind can be. If we’re lucky, we may get to a stage we’ve worked for, strived and hoped for for some time (with me it’s my ‘new’ larger studio), but then frustratingly we can find it difficult to accept the new (improved) situation without a sometimes lengthy period of mixed emotions: imposter syndrome; guilt (‘I’m not making the most of the new whatever-it-is’); bewilderment (‘where do I go from here?’); ‘I’m supposed to produce great stuff now… what if I can’t?’. And did you notice that word ‘lucky‘ near the start of this paragraph? Of course, there’s an element of luck in everything, but still… giving ourselves some credit is never easy.

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Dungeness series. Small mixed media on paper.

I’ve been working in my large new 1930s airbase studio for a few days a week, for the past month and, when not actively engaged in painting (a few examples here in this post), I find myself floundering a bit – the space, the extra storage (where do I put stuff… and then find it again?), the light’s different (it’s often very good, great natural light, but it’s late in the year and I don’t have my daylight tubes in yet, so when daylight fades the lighting is a bit ‘yellow’). I feel like one of those rescue hens which, when first put out into lovely open space, huddle close to their hut for safety, as I seem to have gathered my easel and paints etc around me in the middle of the room, a bit like a wagon train under siege. I’m not looking for sympathy. I know many artists would give their right arm for a space like this. But it’s still disconcerting.

I’ve read that artists can often take quite some time to get used to a new space, and that it can inevitably affect their work. So I was anticipating this stage somewhat before I moved in. And I’m fairly sure a big part of it is my usual S.A.D. syndrome kicking in with the shorter days and the current murky wet and windy weather.

The answer, I know, is to go to the studio as often as possible and get working, and keep working until it becomes second nature – here, working, in this strange new studio, with its different light, different sounds, different surroundings.

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Dungeness series. Small mixed media on paper.