black rocks… green sea…

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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

Fragments and reflections…

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Struggling to put thoughts into words over the past few months… fortunately not struggling quite as much to put brush to paper (or canvas) though. It’s been too long (again) since my last post so I’m going to give you a quick recap on what I’ve been up to, just to get myself started writing posts again.

After the tulips artworks I created back in May (here) I went on to develop a very satisfying small series of garden abstracts which proved very popular. One featured in Artists & Illustrators Magazine (October 2020), others were snapped up by galleries. All my love and appreciation of the sanctuary of my garden is embedded in these works. I relished this luscious limited palette; note that green! I rarely used green much before in my paintings, but this series just called out for it’s freshness.

‘Abundance’, mixed media abstract painting on paper. © Mari French 2020.

’Abundance’ (above), acrylic/ink/gouache on paper.

When I was eventually able to get back to the North Norfolk coast my love of the salt marsh and reed beds emerged again. I was back in my element and the lush berry colours of the abstract garden series developed into a more subdued bruised version, influenced by the turning colours of the Autumn – all green-greys, grey-purples and bronze.

Earlier in the year, feeling unable to paint, I’d spent time creating calligraphic papers for collages,with roughly written words relating to bird flight, reed beds, reflections, light etc in inks on tissue. Some of these were perfect for adding to these mixed media abstracts, adding a kind of fragment of message to the image.

‘Equivocal’, mixed media abstract painting on paper. © Mari French 2020.

And below are a few of the on-the-spot sketches at Thornham, Brancaster Staithe and Burnham Overy Staithe, that inspired the above…

“The early stages of a painting are not the time to engage your critical thinking. Let the work show itself”

and finally, I can’t remember where I read the above quote, or who wrote it (sorry), but it has been invaluable to me lately in allowing myself to rely on my intuition when starting a painting (although I sometimes forget!). It’s now stuck to my easel as a reminder. I ignore it at my peril, the painting never works when I try too hard.

revisiting reed beds …

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Coastal reed beds, sunlight. © Mari French 2019

I need some new inspiration. I’ve loved exploring my impressions of Dungeness (see my last three posts), but in all fairness I probably need more than that one day of exploring and sketching back in October. I’m not abandoning the subject, but I do feel I’m retreading old ground now. I need to go back to visit and sketch, but for various reasons I can’t for a while. Three largish canvases stalled, so time for a change of direction. I believe artists need to be able to study a subject in some depth before creating meaningful expressive abstract interpretations.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to practice markmaking in my studio with acrylics, ink and other mixed media and enjoying messing about in my workbook. I can feel coastal reedbeds and sunlight coming through again and the urge to go walking and sketching in my usual stomping ground on the North Norfolk coast between Thornham and Burnham Overy Staithe.

Experimental painting with ink and acrylics © Mari French 2019
Workbook markmaking practice.

Reed beds, early Spring. © Mari French 2019

Another effective way of moving through a stalled phase for some artists can be to change techniques/medium for a while. So I’ve purchased some sheets of Mylar (as used for stencils) to try out. Obviously I need to play around with them for a while to discover their potential. So far I think oil paints with oil bars/pastels might give the most satisfying results, but oh the drying time! More about this in another post.