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

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