Disengaging the mind …

Detail of new work. Mixed media on Duralar. © Mari French 2019

Detail of new work. Mixed media on Duralar. © Mari French 2019

For months now I’ve been feeling stalled; lacking a new source of inspiration in my work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not usually one to hang around waiting for inspiration to strike, I like to get into the studio and work because who knows what might happen? Some of my most reluctant studio days have produced surprising and exciting work.

But usually I’m fired up about one subject or another – coastal reedbeds on the North Norfolk coast, Dungeness’ strange landscape, Cornwall’s dramatic coastline, Venice, North York Moors – and this informs and energises my work. These work series are usually a result of time spent in those landscapes, studying and exploring and I think this is where my problem stemmed from. For various reasons I’ve not been able to travel and explore as much as I’d like in the last 6 months.

So I’d slipped into an unhappy and relatively unproductive period of no particular direction, going through the angst that many artists experience: What am I doing? Where am I going? Am I producing anything worthwhile? This is despite the fact that I was still painting and experimenting, and that I’d had works accepted into well-respected exhibitions, but when did sense ever come into this?!

Detail of new work. Mixed media on Duralar. © Mari French 2019

Detail of new work. Mixed media on Duralar. © Mari French 2019

This week, still pondering subjects that might work in a series, I was in the studio, despite the sunshine tempting me to stay in the garden, and something made me look back at a bookmarked link to Canadian artist Cheryl Taves’ blog. I greatly admire Taves’ work and am grateful for the art advice posts that she publishes on her blog and her engaging honesty about her own experiences and problems.

“In the early stages of creating it is not a good time to engage our thinking minds…there will be plenty of time for that later. But, what we do want while we are creating is to be as limitless as possible…allowing ourselves to play, experiment and discover…” Cheryl Taves

Reading Taves’ post again, it dawned on me that a subject is not actually necessary for the way I work, how had I forgotten this? For years I used to start a painting with no particular subject in mind, playing around with the materials in an intuitive manner until something started to present itself to me. And although I’ll probably always react to new experience of landscape with new work, I realised that situation is not actually necessary for me to work.

I’d got myself tied in knots trying to straightjacket myself into responding to new subjects (and trying to demonstrate that response in the results) when I have a wealth of subconscious experience and material to rely on intuitively. What I need to do is to relearn how to ‘stay open’ to ‘allow myself to play, experiment and discover’ as Taves wisely advises. It seems obvious to me now, I can allow myself to put the question of subject matter to one side if I want to. To paint for the joy of it. I’ve been here before in the past, but I needed to be reminded. It’s not always easy advice to follow, but how it rewards us when we do. As another author said ‘trust the process’.

The other interesting aspect of this is that, as I rediscovered again today in the studio, once I give up the demands of subject matter, not only is there a joyful freedom again for me in working, but the resulting work still offers glimpses of certain motifs and experiences that I recognise. I can allow them to come through instead of forcing them into existence. I’m trying not to pigeonhole the result into a particular recognisable subject, that would be a self-defeating. But it offers an interesting dimension to the process.

It feels akin to channelling or being a conduit for the artwork. But we are channelling what we have, through years of work and observation, already stored in our minds and in our body memory. I knew this, but I’d forgotten, I needed to be reminded. Now I’m fired up again.

The following excerpt from Cheryl Taves’ blog (link at the bottom of the page) is worth following and reading in full as she also gives a list of useful guidelines …

Following The Flow
… Making art, whether it be through painting, writing, dance….any form of creative expression, requires a certain freedom and willingness to stay open, to engage what comes and trust the process. Following the flow.

In the early stages of creating it is not a good time to engage our thinking minds…there will be plenty of time for that later. But, what we do want while we are creating is to be as limitless as possible…allowing ourselves to play, experiment and discover. The only real requirement is to show up and be willing to follow.

I know this and yet I continually need to reinstate this into my painting practice because I easily slip back into fearful, analytical thinking much too soon…

Cheryl Taves 2015
https://www.cheryltaves.com/blog/2018/11/5/following-the-flow

Detail of new work. Mixed media on Duralar. © Mari French 2019Detail of new work. Mixed media on Duralar. © Mari French 2019

Detail of new work. Mixed media on Duralar. © Mari French 2019

getting messy with monoprinting…

Pulling the monoprint © Mari French 2017

Pulling the monoprint © Mari French 2017

I’ve wanted to try monoprinting for some time. The one time I had a go (years back) I was not impressed (excuse the pun) but I think I’d used the wrong type of paper, plate and temperament! A monoprint (or monotype) is a unique print taken from a plate on which ink or (in my case) acrylic paint has been spread with rollers. Marks, textures impressed into the ink/paint and shaped masks (eg. paper) can all be used to create and enhance the final image.

Recently inspired by the beautiful and original monoprints of artist Tonie Rigby I decided to try using a gelli plate. These are very popular at the moment but I’ve not been taken by the proliferation of bright colours and patterns often produced. Gel plates can be a bit tricky to get used to and some artists dislike the texture, but apart from the shape (A4, I prefer square sizes, so may have to cut mine down) I quite liked the slight give of the gel.

Having been stunned by Tonie Rigby’s ‘Urban boxes’ work (see her blog link above), I wondered if I too could achieve something different, a progression of my current painting series maybe. If nothing else it would be interesting and hopefully, fun to try.

 

 

Well, today in the studio it was definitely interesting AND fun. I produced over a dozen bits of rubbish before I started loosening up and getting messy, employing more painterly techniques, which is when I work best. I used various acrylic paints and watercolour paper. As with my paintings I wanted to experiment – what would happen if I used this or tried that? …

I must admit I actually liked the look of inked up gel plate itself, perhaps because the transparent surface added another dimension. Today’s work was just the beginning, I’ve just started and have a way to go yet, but I’ll keep at it. Will post more of my monoprinting attempts at a later date.

 

rust & stone…

Rusted artefact 1, mixedmedia on paper. © Mari French 2017

Rusted artefact 1, mixedmedia on paper. © Mari French 2017

I recently hit one of those annoying self-doubting phases all artists seem to experience occasionally, just wondering where I was going with my art, and what if anything is inspiring me now. I kept nagging myself that, since I returned from my two week art residency at Brisons Veor, Cape Cornwall in the spring, I hadn’t really explored all the rich inspiration I’d found, apart from the four canvases inspired by the rocky coastal coves that I’d produced for the mixed exhibition at Artichoke Gallery, East Sussex (till 23 September 2017.

To be fair on myself, part of the reason is that I was busy finishing/framing existing work and getting it out there to galleries – existing and new, and fulfilling various art commitments such as the Norfolk Open Studios. It’s been a pretty busy year for me so far for exhibiting. Something I really can’t complain about as it’s a big and exciting part of the job, or it should be!

But, of course, like most artists I’m happiest when I’m creating. So I decided to just play for a few days – experiment with different media, collage, etc. – and try to take the pressure off myself. And, as often happens (thankfully!), something started to click (and yes, you’ll have noticed I’ve been in this situation before!)…

Rusted artefact 2, mixedmedia on paper. © Mari French 2017.

Rusted artefact 2, mixedmedia on paper. © Mari French 2017.

Lo and behold, after messing about for a few days, I became strangely drawn to a lovely gold ochre gouache colour coupled with dark blue ink and collage. The limited palette and strong shapes reminded me of something.

 

I realised that the work I was creating was not only influenced after all, by the Cornish sea coves around Penwith, but more specifically was subconsciously referencing the old rusting fishing industry artefacts I kept coming across scattered around and embedded in rocks and boulders – winches, chains, mooring rings etc. Objects that are in the process of decaying back into the elements they were formed from. Of course the large circle might also be seen as referencing (albeit subconsciously) the Men an Tol, the Bronze Age hole stone near Morven, to the north west of Penwith. Circles figure a lot in my recent work!

So this is the latest theme I’m exploring. The works shown here are medium-sized (approx 40x30cm) on paper. If you’ve enjoyed this post and you’re interested in reading more of my art progress, thoughts and adventures, why not sign up for an email notification when I post to my blog.