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

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.

sunshine and storm…

North Norfolk salt marsh with sea lavender. Abstract landscape in mixed media painting on canvas © Mari French 2018

Saltmarsh with sea lavender. Mixed media on canvas © Mari French 2018

Despite the continuing high temperatures I’ve managed to get some painting done lately in my studio (not as much as I would like!), by getting up earlier and using the few morning hours before the heat cranks up.

Inspired by my recent visits to Thornham salt marsh on the north Norfolk coast (see previous post here) and also the ripening harvest in the local fields, I’ve produced the few mixed media pieces shown here.

Ragged Marsh at Thornham, Norfolk, with wildflowers. Abstract landscape in mixed media painting on canvas © Mari French 2018

Ragged Marsh, late summer, Thornham. Mixed media on canvas. © Mari French 2018

The work at the top of this post was painted soon after a hot sunny day at the coast with swathes of purple sea lavender carpeting the marshes. The second canvas (above) was produced shortly after a spell of cloudy, humid, then spectacularly stormy weather (many hours worth of lightning, thunder and heavy rain in one evening). Interesting how the weather change seems to have affected the colours and light in the two works.

Like most of my artworks the pieces in this post are painted mainly in acrylics with the addition of a variety of other media such as inktense pencil, watercolour pencil (fixed with a little acrylic medium), and a little Posca paint pen. One of the reasons I use acrylics rather than oils is that it lends itself successfully to combination with a wide variety of other media, which is especially good for mark-making.

Ripening barley fields. Mixed media on canvas by contemporary Norfolk artist Mari French.

Harvest. Mixed media on watercolour board. © Mari French 2018

‘Harvest’ (above) and ‘Hot summer sun’ (below) are completely intuitive works. I was playing around with paint, layering it on and wiping it off, spraying it etc. just to see what happened and obviously the late summer heat and the golden fields of barley have subconsciously influenced the results.

‘Hot summer sun’ below is a bit different to the others, almost like a linocut or screenprint. Yet, recognisable imagery from my recent experience seems to be there – hot sun, black fields or cliffs depending on how you perceive it, hints of golden reeds or ripening barley. It’s this ambiguous nature of abstracted landscape that appeals to me, leaving some leeway to interpret the imagery according to our own experience.

Hot summer sun. Abstract landscape in mixed media on watercolour board by contemporary artist Mari French.

Hot summer sun. Mixed media on watercolour board. © Mari French 2018