Disengaging the mind …

Detail of new work. Mixed media on Duralar. © Mari French 2019

Detail of new work. Mixed media on Duralar. © Mari French 2019

For months now I’ve been feeling stalled; lacking a new source of inspiration in my work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not usually one to hang around waiting for inspiration to strike, I like to get into the studio and work because who knows what might happen? Some of my most reluctant studio days have produced surprising and exciting work.

But usually I’m fired up about one subject or another – coastal reedbeds on the North Norfolk coast, Dungeness’ strange landscape, Cornwall’s dramatic coastline, Venice, North York Moors – and this informs and energises my work. These work series are usually a result of time spent in those landscapes, studying and exploring and I think this is where my problem stemmed from. For various reasons I’ve not been able to travel and explore as much as I’d like in the last 6 months.

So I’d slipped into an unhappy and relatively unproductive period of no particular direction, going through the angst that many artists experience: What am I doing? Where am I going? Am I producing anything worthwhile? This is despite the fact that I was still painting and experimenting, and that I’d had works accepted into well-respected exhibitions, but when did sense ever come into this?!

Detail of new work. Mixed media on Duralar. © Mari French 2019

Detail of new work. Mixed media on Duralar. © Mari French 2019

This week, still pondering subjects that might work in a series, I was in the studio, despite the sunshine tempting me to stay in the garden, and something made me look back at a bookmarked link to Canadian artist Cheryl Taves’ blog. I greatly admire Taves’ work and am grateful for the art advice posts that she publishes on her blog and her engaging honesty about her own experiences and problems.

“In the early stages of creating it is not a good time to engage our thinking minds…there will be plenty of time for that later. But, what we do want while we are creating is to be as limitless as possible…allowing ourselves to play, experiment and discover…” Cheryl Taves

Reading Taves’ post again, it dawned on me that a subject is not actually necessary for the way I work, how had I forgotten this? For years I used to start a painting with no particular subject in mind, playing around with the materials in an intuitive manner until something started to present itself to me. And although I’ll probably always react to new experience of landscape with new work, I realised that situation is not actually necessary for me to work.

I’d got myself tied in knots trying to straightjacket myself into responding to new subjects (and trying to demonstrate that response in the results) when I have a wealth of subconscious experience and material to rely on intuitively. What I need to do is to relearn how to ‘stay open’ to ‘allow myself to play, experiment and discover’ as Taves wisely advises. It seems obvious to me now, I can allow myself to put the question of subject matter to one side if I want to. To paint for the joy of it. I’ve been here before in the past, but I needed to be reminded. It’s not always easy advice to follow, but how it rewards us when we do. As another author said ‘trust the process’.

The other interesting aspect of this is that, as I rediscovered again today in the studio, once I give up the demands of subject matter, not only is there a joyful freedom again for me in working, but the resulting work still offers glimpses of certain motifs and experiences that I recognise. I can allow them to come through instead of forcing them into existence. I’m trying not to pigeonhole the result into a particular recognisable subject, that would be a self-defeating. But it offers an interesting dimension to the process.

It feels akin to channelling or being a conduit for the artwork. But we are channelling what we have, through years of work and observation, already stored in our minds and in our body memory. I knew this, but I’d forgotten, I needed to be reminded. Now I’m fired up again.

The following excerpt from Cheryl Taves’ blog (link at the bottom of the page) is worth following and reading in full as she also gives a list of useful guidelines …

Following The Flow
… Making art, whether it be through painting, writing, dance….any form of creative expression, requires a certain freedom and willingness to stay open, to engage what comes and trust the process. Following the flow.

In the early stages of creating it is not a good time to engage our thinking minds…there will be plenty of time for that later. But, what we do want while we are creating is to be as limitless as possible…allowing ourselves to play, experiment and discover. The only real requirement is to show up and be willing to follow.

I know this and yet I continually need to reinstate this into my painting practice because I easily slip back into fearful, analytical thinking much too soon…

Cheryl Taves 2015
https://www.cheryltaves.com/blog/2018/11/5/following-the-flow

Detail of new work. Mixed media on Duralar. © Mari French 2019Detail of new work. Mixed media on Duralar. © Mari French 2019

Detail of new work. Mixed media on Duralar. © Mari French 2019

On the surface …


Reed beds abstract. Mixed media on DuraLar © Mari French 2019

Reed beds abstract 1. © Mari French 2019

I’ve begun experimenting with Mylar sheets (a kind of acetate film) to further explore my impressions of reedbeds on the North Norfolk coast. Spring is a lovely time for this subject, although I love them year round, and the recent sunny weather has had me reaching for my sketchbook and heading to Burnham Overy Staithe and Thornham once again.

Reacting to these location impressions back in the studio, I’ve found I prefer DuraLar sheets to Mylar, being specifically aimed at artists, and suitable for a wider range of media including acrylics. I’ve actually been using oils on them, unusual for me as I normally paint in acrylics/mixed media. But, though it takes longer to dry, oil paint glides onto the surface beautifully and editing out and inscribing marks into it is a joy. The sheets can also be overlaid on each other, creating veils of imagery, and other material can be sandwiched between.

The images in this post are a few early examples of my DuraLar experiments and are all approx A4 in size.

Reed beds abstract 2. Mixed media on DuraLar © Mari French 2019

Reed beds abstract 2. © Mari French 2019

Reed beds abstract 2. Mixed media on DuraLar © Mari French 2019Reed beds abstract 3. Mixed media on DuraLar © Mari French 2019

Reed beds abstract 3. © Mari French 2019

excitement, frustration, markmaking…

 

Work from final day of Emily Ball workshop © Mari French 2019Work from final day of Emily Ball workshop © Mari French 2019

My work from final day of Emily Ball workshop © Mari French 2019

I’ve been sadly neglecting my blog posts since December. In my defence I was suffering quite badly from the good old S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) symptoms along with a bout of creative block, that can plague me (and many people) during the winter months until thankfully, spring seemed to arrive with a flourish in February.

So, now I’m playing at catch up as a lot has happened in the past two months. Because it relates to the previous two posts I’ll tell you first about the Emily Ball markmaking workshop near Cambridge that I attended a couple of weeks ago.

After the boost the previous EB workshop I’d attended in 2017 gave me, I was keen to freshen my markmaking and visual language again. For me art making is a continual learning process and I recognise the need in my own practice for fresh creative input from outside sources occasionally. Emily always gives an intensive, exhausting but very rewarding workshop and this was no exception. We’d had ‘homework’ to do to prepare us and I’d decided to concentrate on Dungeness (see previous two posts) as my subject. So I spent a few weeks producing a series of small experimental studies based on my memories of Dungeness before attending (see image above).

It was great to meet old artist friends and make new ones, and the 12 of us soon filled the art room walls at Linton College, near Cambridge, with a startling variety of large mark-filled sheets of paper. From creating a markmaking ‘alphabet’ of our own marks from our homework studies and exaggerating them in different ways, to ‘blind drawing’ with black and white oil bars, then working on editing complete paintings to ‘get more space in!’, it was full-on, fun and exhilarating. 

By the final day, we’d all experienced highs and lows, whoops of delight and wails of frustration, but all of us had moved on significantly in the development of our own visual language. The image at the start of this post, the last I produced on the workshop (stormy abstract landscape on my easel) thwarted me so much in its development that I hated it for several days. Now, however, I can appreciate the energy, mood and space in it and now I quite like it! Emily must have the patience of a saint, she’s a great tutor and I can highly recommend her workshops.

Selection of the fabulous variety of fresh work made on the workshop. © Karen Stamper 2019.

Selection of the fabulous variety of fresh work. © Karen Stamper 2019.

Special mention to a small selection of the artists from the workshop whose work I admire and you might like to check out (links to the artists’ websites):
Leslie Birch
Sarah Russell
Karen Stamper