Confinement & cul-de-sacs…

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”A time of gifts’ © Mari French 2020

I’ve never left my blog unwritten for such a long time before. It’s good to be back. In the past few months of the Covid crisis, I just haven’t been able to summon up the will or the words to write about my art. As for the art itself, like many artists in these strange times, I’ve been floundering around a little lost for a while. With 3 exhibitions cancelled/moved online, Open Studios also cancelled, galleries closed etc, it’s hardly surprising I suppose. It’s not that I haven’t been painting, and I’ve made myself go to the studio to do something a few times a week at least, it’s just that each spurt of creative activity – sketching, collage, painting – has seemed to fizzle out after a short time. Cul-de-sacs I’ve started to call them.

However, each little cul-de-sac has produced some interesting results, so perhaps they hold some promise for a future way forward; like one of those narrow hidden footpaths you can often use for access to the area beyond the cul-de-sac, the one cars can’t take.

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Ploughed fields & tree belt, near Anmer. Sketchbook. © Mari French 2020

With anything more than a long walk forbidden here in the UK, in the last few months, coastal visits weren’t an option (I live 20 minutes drive from the beautiful North Norfolk coastline, where the reedbeds and saltmarshes are a great source of inspiration), I’ve been out sketching the local fields and farmland – something I haven’t really done since moving to Norfolk 10 years ago.

I loved the way the early spring sunshine caught the ploughed fields, exaggerating the russet and ochres of the sand and chalk soil. And the hares were out in force chasing each other in large groups. I haven’t taken these any further though, hopefully at some future point…

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Ploughed field, Anmer Road, with flint. © Mari French 2020

Meanwhile, at the airbase, outside my studio, is a large cherry tree which was covered in deep pink blossom back in March. It was only when a glorious deep pink started to appear in a series of small experimental works on paper, that I realised how the blossom had entered my subconscious. These works look great on some lovely small white cradled wooden panels I’ve bought. I really enjoyed these but as I said, it wasn’t long before I started to flounder. I keep going back to them, so they’re going to get picked up again at some point.

Later in spring, mostly confined to my garden (I know, I’m lucky compared to many) and with almost a month of warm sunshine, my glorious tulips, ‘La belle époque’, just had to be sketched. Then in the studio, I set about abstracting them, in both mixed media and collage, which I enjoyed, before (yes you guessed it) I once again hit a cul-de-sac. Still, I’m excited by the potential of these small works so who knows.

Below is the mixed media collage I produced as part of this abstract tulip work  (all the papers using in it were created by myself, including the calligraphy). Which reminds me I haven’t posted the experimental collage I was developing back in February before the virus hit, so I’ll add them to the next post (it won’t take as long as this one post did I promise!).

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‘Palimpsest’, mixed media collage © Mari French 2020

Balancing the negative …

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Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

I hope it’s not too late to wish you all a peaceful and healthy 2020. It’s a heartfelt wish, even though I realise that parts of our world (and often people we uknow) are experiencing such difficult times to say the least. In such times it’s easy to fall victim to despair, feel helpless … or we can do what we can and try to carry on.

I like to believe that exposure to art and nature can help bolster us against the many crises that can bombard us. I’m not saying they ‘cure’ us, I wish it was so easy, but I do think they can help strengthen our ‘mental immune system’, as it were, to help balance the negative aspects of life.

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Stubble fields, Winter. Mixed media on Duralar © Mari French 2019.

This thought came to me on a walk around the local fields and lanes the other day, when I was feeling low, worrying about the fires in Australia, conflict around the world and so on. I suffer from S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder), so my mood can plummet in the winter months anyway, particularly in the overcast, gloomy, damp days after Christmas. Bright and cold are easier to deal with.

I suddenly made myself stop and take a good look round at the stubble fields, the inky brushes of trees against the horizon, the glimmer of light pushing through the banks of clouds, a cascade of small yellow apples scattered around a wild apple tree. I realise it’s easier to find beauty in the countryside, but if we were able to make it a goal to notice at least one thing of glory, however small or unlikely, each day, who knows, perhaps it could have a positive effect on our mental wellbeing, on our inner strength to cope.

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Photo by Matheus Viana on Pexels.com

How can art help though? It can be accused of being frivolous or unnecessary. However, like music, it can be a reprieve, a space in which to allow our fraught minds to explore or relax, to be stimulated or calmed. Whether on the walls of our home, or in a gallery, or online; take time to seek out those images that ‘speak’ to you personally.

I like to think it’s worth a try.

Meanwhile, I finally got back into the studio after several weeks away from art-making in the run-up to Christmas and New Year. After a frenzied bout of sweeping and tidying (procrastinating!) I sat down with my workbook, some homemade markmaking tools, inks and my ‘dip-in collage bag’, with the aim of just loosening up, getting something started but without the pressure to produce a finished piece.

Collage and markmaking example, in a Seawhite Sketchbook.

Workbook practice. Mixed media on paper. © Mari French 2020

I’m itching to start on some bigger canvases, now that I have my ‘painting wall’, but I know I need to stretch my dormant creative muscles first. So messing about is what I’ll be doing for a few days yet!

Thank you for all your support, likes and comments in the past year, I hope you continue to enjoy my blog and my art.

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.