Back to the Moors …

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Sketchbook spread: Heather remains and stones, Staunton Moor, North York Moors. September 2022.

Fresh from a week away sketching in the glorious North York Moors, I’m now back in my studio working on a new series of ink/mixed media works on paper inspired by the wonderful array of textures, colours and shapes I encountered up there.

Autumn heather moorland above Rosedale, North York Moors.
© Mari French 2022.

I was staying at Rosedale Abbey, a small village about 30 minutes drive inland from Whitby on the northeast coast. I’ve stayed there before and you can read about my experiences (and see resulting work) in this post , this post and this post.
Rosedale is a beautiful peaceful valley now, with an interesting industrial past (remains of ironworks perch above it on the steep valley sides). This time though, I wanted to concentrate on the high moorland plateau, where the heather was just going over.

View towards Glaisdale Rigg, from Beacon Hill near Danby.
© Mari French 2022.

I took mainly Liquitex acrylic inks with me as I love their intensity of colour and pigment range, and a Seawhite sketchbook as I find they will take a lot of wet media and layers without disintegrating. Not sure if I’ve mentioned it before but I used to use watercolour pans while sketching outdoors, however I was often disappointed with the resulting paler, duller colours as the paint dried.
Acrylic inks give me that depth of pigment and keep it once dry, while also having the advantage of being amenable to working over with more ink or other media. The main disadvantage of course, is the heavier weight and bulk of little glass bottles of ink in my rucksack!

Bridestones, Sleights Moor, North York Moors. © Mari French 2022.
Bridestones, Sleights Moor, North York Moors. © Mari French 2022.

I love this landscape, particularly in the changing colours of the autumn. The North York Moors look deceptively flat in these photos but are actually a high plateau above deep fertile valleys. The whole moorland is a carpet of texture and colour, punctuated with waymarkers, rocky outcrops and standing stones. The russets and pinks of the fading heather contrast with dark rectangular areas of burnt ground. These are grouse moors and selective burning encourages the heather cover for the birds. I don’t agree with shooting for sport but the resulting patterns, textures and colours do provide interest for the abstract artist.

Stony Rigg, above Grosmont, North York Moors. © Mari French 2022.

Most of the week the weather was bright and sunny, great for a holiday, but a bit undramatic for my sketching at times – I get the most inspiration from dark moody skies. So I did spend a fair amount of time chasing big cloud shadows over winding moorland roads, avoiding sheep. Fortunately there is an awful lot of scenery and heart-stopping views on these stunning moors to discover. One of my favourite landscapes and no doubt I’ll be back!

View from Beacon Hill near Danby. © Mari French 2022.
Egton Moor, North York Moors. © Mari French 2022.

black rocks… green sea…

Back in April I had a week’s break in St Ives, Cornwall. I’d booked an arts workshop last autumn at the St Ives School of Painting, but due to further lockdowns, all workshops before the end of April 2021 were cancelled. But I’d paid for the cottage so we turned it into a week’s sketching holiday. The far west of Cornwall is one of my very favourite places (if you want to see other posts I’ve written about the area, along with sketchbook images etc, just type Cornwall into the Search area at the top of this page).

Outgoing tide, The Island, St Ives, Cornwall. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2021

It was cold (it had been such a chilly start to spring) but we had wall-to-wall sunshine. Cliched though it is, the light in Cornwall IS amazing! St Ives actually has 5 beaches and I found myself a bit obsessed with the coastal rocks – so many shapes, sizes and types. (We don’t get many rocky coves on the East Anglian coastline.) I particularly spent time observing and sketching the rocky coastline just below the far side of ‘The Island’, St Ives.

Beach & jetty, St Ives, Cornwall. Sketchbook. © Mari French 2021

I’ve since been invited to supply a few coastal paintings for an exhibition coming up at Gallery East, Woodbridge, Suffolk, where I’ve been fortunate enough to have shown work since they opened a couple of years ago. The theme of the exhibition is ‘Restless coast’ – a group show featuring artists from the west and east coasts of the UK, exploring what it is that draws them to a coastline – and they thought some of my newly inspired Cornwall work would fit the bill. For me, it’s also been interesting to contrast the energy and colours of this coastal work with that of Salthouse, North Norfolk which I was developing earlier in the Spring.

At the moment the crashing turquoise sea, white spray and the dark unyielding rocks, spotted with bright lichen are what seems to be emerging in the pieces I’m working on. But I want to keep pushing the process, abstracting it further in the search for the essence of the subject.

Below are a couple of the resulting small experimental workbook pages from the studio; acrylic, collage, mono print. Here I’m channeling the idea of that rocky coastline and lively sea, bright sunlight and turquoise waters; inspired by the fabulous jade sea crashing into rocky coves. I like the simplicity of these small playful works, but translating that to larger pieces is usually a challenge for me.

Sun and rocks, workbook image. © Mari French 2021.
Across Porthgwidden beach, workbook image. © Mari French 2021.

And here are some of the resulting works, currently at the framers, that will soon be on their way to Gallery East for the ‘Restless Sea’ exhibition, which starts on 1st July.

The sea shapes the land, the black rocks resist the sea. Meanwhile the ochre lichen clings on.

‘Every seventh wave’, mixed media on paper, 30x30cm. © Mari French 2021
‘Rising tide’, mixed media on paper, 45x60cm. © Mari French 2021
‘Energy and light’, mixed media on paper, 46x58cm. © 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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