revisiting reed beds …

Video

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.

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.

img_6104.jpg

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.

img_6106.jpg

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.

cb7c5132-9aa3-4fe0-b7cc-3d1211a0346b.jpg

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

img_6086.jpg

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.

balancing act …

'Zawn' finished painting. © Mari French 2018.

‘Zawn’ finished painting. © Mari French 2018.

I’ve just sent off three new canvases in my Cornish Coves theme to The Harbour Gallery Portscatho in Cornwall as mentioned in a previous post. The one above is titled ‘Zawn’, which was the name given to deep and narrow sea-inlets in cliffs, often  exploited by tin and copper miners of the past. I thought you might be interested in seeing how the work developed.

The photo below shows the early stages of ‘Zawn’. I had no definite image in my mind at the start of this painting, other than the Cornish coastline theme. However, I think, having painted light and sea into the other canvases, I wanted to do something a little different here, to capture the power and looming presence of the rocks and cliffs of the wild Penwith coast.

'Zawn', 1st stage. 50x60cm, acrylic on canvas. © Mari French © 2018

‘Zawn’, 1st stage. © Mari French © 2018

At the beginning, I gave free rein to my paintstrokes, scumbling and scratching into the paint. I used a dryish brush in places to give the sparkle of light on rock and sand. The resulting image suggested to me a cave in a dark cliff and having come across several of these around Penwith, I decided to develop the work in that direction.

Inevitably some of the luscious marks and gestural passages at the start of a work eventually get painted over, often a hard decision to take; but without the confidence to do this editing, I find a finished artwork will have a static, tentative feel to it. (Of course another tricky, but important part of the process is leaving areas alone!). It’s a question of balance of freedom and control.

Below shows ‘Zawn’ almost finished. I decided I wasn’t happy with the pointy shapes in the background behind the large boulder on the right, so did some further work on them and tied the image together by suggesting a large rock instead, plus some line work (see top photo of this post).

IMG_5780

‘Zawn’ almost finished. © Mari French 2018

Hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into the creation of one of my semi-abstract landscapes. I find photographing some of the stages as I paint an invaluable record and self-teaching aid.