Towards the sun …

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Turning year. Mixed media on paper 46x60cm © Mari French 2021

Happy New Year to all my readers and welcome to my first post of this year. I hope you had a beautiful festive season and wish you a healthy, peaceful and art-filled 2022. Thanks so much for following my blog.

As the year turns, like many artists I’m reviewing my work and thinking about where to take it next. I’m now looking forward to Spring, towards the sun. In my previous post (here) I mentioned my new series of autumn sunflower paintings and wanted to share with you some of my creative process.

What caught my attention about this beautiful field of faded sunflowers as I drove past last October, was how they looked like a subdued congregation deep in thought, or a gathering of dark suns, faces now turned to the earth. I took photos and gathered a bunch of the flowers to sketch and paint back in the studio.

Work in progress on the easel © Mari French 2021

Above is one of the autumn sunflowers series still in progress on the easel, in acrylic and ink on paper. I love to paint intuitively like this – obscuring and revealing layers of acrylic paint, scoring through or spraying with water, to create lively marks – so that the result is a complex accumulation of shades, hard and soft edges, ephemeral suggestions of shapes. Sometimes these are created by wiping through the paint layers with a damp cloth. Inevitably, much of the earlier stages will be covered up (or wiped away), but this is necessary for me to create the web of colour and texture I like.

Detail of work in progress above © Mari French 2021

In the closeup crop above you can see the soft luminous light this process gives to parts of the painting. Texture is also added with the use of drier brush marks, which contrast with softer blended paint (often done with the side of my hand – it’s great to get hands-on sometimes!).
This work in progress isn’t finished yet: I want to see less of an obvious separation between the creamy yellow areas and the lower blue/green ones; the sunflower heads are spread too evenly for me and some of the smaller ones higher up need ‘knocking back’ a bit to make it less busy; and I want to bring some of that lovely subdued pink in elsewhere to balance it.

Below is ‘Constellation’, another in the series in progress, in the studio, and the finished work below that.

‘Constellation’ in progress on the easel. © Mari French 2021
Constellation. Mixed media on paper 46x60cm © Mari French 2021

Many of my studio visitors and collectors tell me that they love that they can keep coming back to an artwork and still see more in it, sometimes even after years of owning the work. This is part of what makes it worthwhile for me.

Autumn encounter. Mixed media on paper 46x60cm © 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.

Art at the edge: developments

Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018
Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018

At last! Having had an enforced break from painting for a few weeks since before Christmas (hope you all had a good one!), my thoughts are turning once again to my most recent source of inspiration – Dungeness. Read my previous post ‘Art at the edge: Dungeness’ for more on how a recent holiday led to my fascination with this unique and strange place.

Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018
Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018

In this post I’m sharing a few recent pages from my current workbook, which I’ve produced since the small paintings in the last post, and I’m working through ideas for a series of mixed media pieces, inspired by my experience of Dungeness, hopefully eventually leading to large canvases. I’m hoping to get back in my studio soon to carry on developing these.

Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018.
Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018

You can perhaps see from these experimental pieces that, as with my other work series, I’m exploring the shapes, linear motifs and colours that the place suggests to me, rather than trying to achieve anything recognisable, so I’m using a lime green for instance, to evoke the weird evening light (not grass!) and to suggest the latent power of the nuclear power station squatting on the edge of the area. I’ve previously used very little green in my artwork, but it feels right here somehow. Linear marks recall power lines, pylons, remains of tracks in the shingle, fences, telegraph poles etc.

Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018
Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018

In building up the workbook pages shown here, I used torn up pieces of scrap monoprints I’d produced with a gelli plate, while loosening up and playing with colours, textures and ideas. Then layered over with gouache, acrylic, homemade stencils and collage elements till I got the effect I wanted. I keep a box of scrap prints, textured card and assorted materials close to hand for when I’m messing about in the workbook, either incorporating them or using them for impressing or printing shapes. Sometimes it pays to be a hoarder!