on the high moors …

White Cross, NYM

White Cross (or ‘Fat Betty’) near Rosedale, North York Moors. © Mari French 2018

What do artists do when they hit a creative block? How do you refresh your inspiration? There are probably as many answers to these questions as there are artists. I have different methods but sometimes all that works is a complete change of scene…

A few weeks ago I was going through a frustrating period of needing a serious injection of new inspiration (and cooler temperatures!), along with quite a few other artists I know, apparently. I love Norfolk especially the saltmarshes, but felt the need for hills, drama and a different landscape history.

So I booked myself into a cottage high on a hill, above the beautiful village of Rosedale Abbey in the North York Moors. The green fertile farmland and historic villages of NYM are widely known, but I was interested in the bleaker but no less beautiful high plateau of heather moorland soaring above them.

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Rain approaching, North York Moors. Sketchbook. © Mari French 2018

Although only there for 3 full days I made the most of my time by getting up early and going out sketching and exploring the area until dusk. The weather was bright and warm at first but soon became more changeable with long fronts of dark rainclouds looming overhead, giving me the light and contrast I prefer for sketching.

One of the distinctive features of these moors are the numerous ancient standing stones, medieval crosses and waymarkers dotting the area. The latter two types were placed as guides to travelling pilgrims, church-goers, funerals etc traversing the extensive moorland plateau, particularly in bad weather.

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Standing stone, Dog Howe, North York Moors. Sketchbook. © Mari French 2018

High moorland near Rosedale

High moorland near Rosedale, North York Moors. © Mari French 2018

It might not be immediately obvious from these photos but this area is high up. Tucked in between these heathery stretches are deep long valleys of farms, rivers and villages.

No wifi or mobile signal for most of the time was bliss. Sometimes sat amongst the heather and scattered rocks, all I could hear was the buzzing of thousands of bees.

Sketching kit, NYM

Sketching among the heather. © Mari French 2018

Spaunton Moor, NYM

Spaunton Moor, above Chimney Bank, North York Moors. Sketchbook. © Mari French 2018

After the long heatwave early signs of autumn approaching were noticeable in the odd splash of gold in dying bracken, russet in some of the heather that was starting to go over and in the lichen on the rocks.

Also, this is ironstone country, the ore was mined extensively in 19thC Rosedale and the industrial ruins still punctuate the skyline above the valley. The iron ore shows through in the stone scattered about and in patches of dark red where the soil is exposed.

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Iron ore in sandstone rocks, Rosedale, North York Moors. © Mari French 2018

Rainclouds over Dale Head, North York Moors. Sketchbook. © Mari French 2018

All this richness of sensation, of light, colour and texture, began to give me the palette I wanted: muted purple greys, bruise tints, ochres and burnt siennas, warm stone greys. The layers of the undulating landscape, stone walls, crosses, standing stones and tracks offered lines and marks, enclosures and shapes.

Burnt heather and dry grass, NYM

Burnt heather and dry grass, North York Moors. Sketchbook. © Mari French 2018

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Cloud shadows, North York Moors. Sketchbook. © Mari French 2018

Since returning I’ve felt energised by the experience and excited by some of the resulting experimental studies that have been emerging in my studio. I’ll be showing some of these in part two of this post.

Creative colour… sketching with brush pens


On Monday I enjoyed a few hours sketching and walking at Thornham, north Norfolk. It had been a few months since I'd last sketched here and this time I'd decided to try out a batch of newly acquired Pentel brush pens, which are convenient to pack and use. With a small clip on metal dipper filled with water, I was able to achieve some of the wet-in-wet effects I like to play with. I love their versatility so I'll definitely be packing the brush pens on my next sketching holiday.

Because the colours I'd bought were limited (vibrant pink, bright yellow!) it forced imaginative use of what I had with me, but the resulting quick brightly coloured sketches of the beach, for me, more effectively captures the heat, the warm wind and the liveliness of the waves.

No photos this time, I took my camera but halfway along the walk discovered I'd forgotten the batteries!

Below are studies I made of light-filled creeks in the marsh from the sea defences, before the tide went out, with water soluble graphite pencil and with the brush pens again. Some sea lavender still bloomed.

too hot, but painting anyway…

Sea lavender and marsh pools

Sea lavender and marsh pools © Mari French 2016

It didn’t take long for last week’s sketching inspiration at Thornham Saltmarsh (see my previous post Seeing purple) to find its way to my easel.

I really didn’t feel like going into the studio today, it was so hot (around 28 to 30c). I’m no good with heat (before those who live in really hot countries object!). The studio is in a hayloft, basically the roof space above an old stables, rustic, interesting, but baking today. Anyway, bearing in mind one famous artist’s wise advice (possibly Louise Bourgeois) to make yourself go into the studio even when you really don’t want to, in I went.

Glad I did now. Just painted for a couple of hours before lunch, but once I’d decided on this palette of sludgy purple and bronze, the rest followed. It may need a bit more work yet, but I’m feeling positive about it and enjoying this slightly different colour combination. The piece is painted in acrylics, with oil pastel and Inktense pencil scribbled into it.

 

Sea lavender and coal barn, Thornham Saltmarsh. © Mari French 2016

Sea lavender and coal barn, Thornham Saltmarsh. © Mari French 2016