Cold feet … midwinter motivation

I’ve occasionally been working from home recently as the studio is just too cold (even with a log fire, oil-filled radiator and padded overalls; there’s obviously a drawback to having a big concrete space with high ceilings!). At my kitchen table last week I produced these two workbook collages on the theme of winter; early explorations for a project I’m going to be working on through January and February, which I’ll reveal more of at a later date.

Workbook mixed media collage © Mari French 2021.

I like to keep a bag stuffed with collage materials, found and made, along with acrylic medium for pasting down, and favourite markmaking tools, markers, inks etc, at home so that I can always get some practice in between studio days.

Weather and light have always influenced my abstract landscapes and winter weather will be pretty much a dominant theme in my work for the next couple of months. Fortunately (for my work at least) we’ve had the whole gamut of winter variations here in the Norfolk countryside the past few weeks – fog, ice, frost, snow (not as much as some areas, yet), rain and bright sun but cold. It’s added interest to my walks round the local area, taking photos of details for inspiration, sometimes playing around with them in photo-editing apps to enhance and abstract them, which itself can suggest directions for work.

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Photographic collage of weather details © Mari French 2021.

In the winter months it can be difficult for me, like many artists, to work up the motivation to get into the studio, especially in cold weather, now that I live 4 miles away and can’t just pop in and out. This last year has been difficult enough, but add into the mix the fact that I live with anxiety and depression (managed well mostly, with medication) and the SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) I also suffer from during the darker months, and motivation can be quite a struggle. So how do I personally cope with it?

When I have to coax myself into the studio I try to pre-plan practical tasks to get started, such as prepping canvases and boards, creating colour mixes and swatches from new paint/ink colours (relaxing and satisfying!), or creating papers for collages. Telling myself that I’ll just do a couple of hours and head home can do the trick and I very often find myself forgetting about this once I get into the work and spend longer anyway, (I always make sure I’ve got milk for a brew and ingredients for a simple lunch in my bag, so I can stay on if I want to). Ironically, it’s often on these reluctant attendances at the studio that I produce my most satisfying work.

Workbook mixed media collage © Mari French 2021.

Keeping warm: even with a log fire and an oil-filled radiator it’s difficult keeping my workspace warm (it was built as part of a 1930s RAF airbase and was semi-derelict when I first came across it; even now after we’ve renovated most of it, there are many drafts from the windows and leaks from the roof during heavy rain). One of the best things I ever bought were my padded overalls (from Dickies I think, but there are other makes) – cosy and warm. I feel very workmanlike in them! I’ve also covered a large area of the concrete floor with that jigsaw-type rubber matting you can buy online. It’s used for all sorts of work places, inc gyms, play spaces, garages etc. Mine is in dark grey and not only helps keep my feet from freezing but reduces foot and leg strain when working at the easel.

Another thing I find helps me greatly, once in the studi, is to have a few good podcasts downloaded onto my ipad (which I always take with me, usually for photographing work). It can be a solitary business this artist life and it’s good to have some virtual company. I can really recommend the ones listed below:

Art Juice, with Alice Sheridan and Louise Fletcher
Waldy and Bendy Adventures in Art
Art Stuff

Workbook mixed media collage © Mari French 2021.

However you’re coping just now, I hope you’re managing to get some art done for yourself, and that some of my tips may have helped you with using your own workspace.

Happy art-making!
Mari

Confinement & cul-de-sacs…

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”A time of gifts’ © Mari French 2020

I’ve never left my blog unwritten for such a long time before. It’s good to be back. In the past few months of the Covid crisis, I just haven’t been able to summon up the will or the words to write about my art. As for the art itself, like many artists in these strange times, I’ve been floundering around a little lost for a while. With 3 exhibitions cancelled/moved online, Open Studios also cancelled, galleries closed etc, it’s hardly surprising I suppose. It’s not that I haven’t been painting, and I’ve made myself go to the studio to do something a few times a week at least, it’s just that each spurt of creative activity – sketching, collage, painting – has seemed to fizzle out after a short time. Cul-de-sacs I’ve started to call them.

However, each little cul-de-sac has produced some interesting results, so perhaps they hold some promise for a future way forward; like one of those narrow hidden footpaths you can often use for access to the area beyond the cul-de-sac, the one cars can’t take.

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Ploughed fields & tree belt, near Anmer. Sketchbook. © Mari French 2020

With anything more than a long walk forbidden here in the UK, in the last few months, coastal visits weren’t an option (I live 20 minutes drive from the beautiful North Norfolk coastline, where the reedbeds and saltmarshes are a great source of inspiration), I’ve been out sketching the local fields and farmland – something I haven’t really done since moving to Norfolk 10 years ago.

I loved the way the early spring sunshine caught the ploughed fields, exaggerating the russet and ochres of the sand and chalk soil. And the hares were out in force chasing each other in large groups. I haven’t taken these any further though, hopefully at some future point…

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Ploughed field, Anmer Road, with flint. © Mari French 2020

Meanwhile, at the airbase, outside my studio, is a large cherry tree which was covered in deep pink blossom back in March. It was only when a glorious deep pink started to appear in a series of small experimental works on paper, that I realised how the blossom had entered my subconscious. These works look great on some lovely small white cradled wooden panels I’ve bought. I really enjoyed these but as I said, it wasn’t long before I started to flounder. I keep going back to them, so they’re going to get picked up again at some point.

Later in spring, mostly confined to my garden (I know, I’m lucky compared to many) and with almost a month of warm sunshine, my glorious tulips, ‘La belle époque’, just had to be sketched. Then in the studio, I set about abstracting them, in both mixed media and collage, which I enjoyed, before (yes you guessed it) I once again hit a cul-de-sac. Still, I’m excited by the potential of these small works so who knows.

Below is the mixed media collage I produced as part of this abstract tulip work  (all the papers using in it were created by myself, including the calligraphy). Which reminds me I haven’t posted the experimental collage I was developing back in February before the virus hit, so I’ll add them to the next post (it won’t take as long as this one post did I promise!).

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‘Palimpsest’, mixed media collage © Mari French 2020

Balancing the negative …

person walking on road between trees

Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

I hope it’s not too late to wish you all a peaceful and healthy 2020. It’s a heartfelt wish, even though I realise that parts of our world (and often people we uknow) are experiencing such difficult times to say the least. In such times it’s easy to fall victim to despair, feel helpless … or we can do what we can and try to carry on.

I like to believe that exposure to art and nature can help bolster us against the many crises that can bombard us. I’m not saying they ‘cure’ us, I wish it was so easy, but I do think they can help strengthen our ‘mental immune system’, as it were, to help balance the negative aspects of life.

Atmospheric abstract landscape

Stubble fields, Winter. Mixed media on Duralar © Mari French 2019.

This thought came to me on a walk around the local fields and lanes the other day, when I was feeling low, worrying about the fires in Australia, conflict around the world and so on. I suffer from S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder), so my mood can plummet in the winter months anyway, particularly in the overcast, gloomy, damp days after Christmas. Bright and cold are easier to deal with.

I suddenly made myself stop and take a good look round at the stubble fields, the inky brushes of trees against the horizon, the glimmer of light pushing through the banks of clouds, a cascade of small yellow apples scattered around a wild apple tree. I realise it’s easier to find beauty in the countryside, but if we were able to make it a goal to notice at least one thing of glory, however small or unlikely, each day, who knows, perhaps it could have a positive effect on our mental wellbeing, on our inner strength to cope.

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Photo by Matheus Viana on Pexels.com

How can art help though? It can be accused of being frivolous or unnecessary. However, like music, it can be a reprieve, a space in which to allow our fraught minds to explore or relax, to be stimulated or calmed. Whether on the walls of our home, or in a gallery, or online; take time to seek out those images that ‘speak’ to you personally.

I like to think it’s worth a try.

Meanwhile, I finally got back into the studio after several weeks away from art-making in the run-up to Christmas and New Year. After a frenzied bout of sweeping and tidying (procrastinating!) I sat down with my workbook, some homemade markmaking tools, inks and my ‘dip-in collage bag’, with the aim of just loosening up, getting something started but without the pressure to produce a finished piece.

Collage and markmaking example, in a Seawhite Sketchbook.

Workbook practice. Mixed media on paper. © Mari French 2020

I’m itching to start on some bigger canvases, now that I have my ‘painting wall’, but I know I need to stretch my dormant creative muscles first. So messing about is what I’ll be doing for a few days yet!

Thank you for all your support, likes and comments in the past year, I hope you continue to enjoy my blog and my art.