Back to the Moors …

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Sketchbook spread: Heather remains and stones, Staunton Moor, North York Moors. September 2022.

Fresh from a week away sketching in the glorious North York Moors, I’m now back in my studio working on a new series of ink/mixed media works on paper inspired by the wonderful array of textures, colours and shapes I encountered up there.

Autumn heather moorland above Rosedale, North York Moors.
© Mari French 2022.

I was staying at Rosedale Abbey, a small village about 30 minutes drive inland from Whitby on the northeast coast. I’ve stayed there before and you can read about my experiences (and see resulting work) in this post , this post and this post.
Rosedale is a beautiful peaceful valley now, with an interesting industrial past (remains of ironworks perch above it on the steep valley sides). This time though, I wanted to concentrate on the high moorland plateau, where the heather was just going over.

View towards Glaisdale Rigg, from Beacon Hill near Danby.
© Mari French 2022.

I took mainly Liquitex acrylic inks with me as I love their intensity of colour and pigment range, and a Seawhite sketchbook as I find they will take a lot of wet media and layers without disintegrating. Not sure if I’ve mentioned it before but I used to use watercolour pans while sketching outdoors, however I was often disappointed with the resulting paler, duller colours as the paint dried.
Acrylic inks give me that depth of pigment and keep it once dry, while also having the advantage of being amenable to working over with more ink or other media. The main disadvantage of course, is the heavier weight and bulk of little glass bottles of ink in my rucksack!

Bridestones, Sleights Moor, North York Moors. © Mari French 2022.
Bridestones, Sleights Moor, North York Moors. © Mari French 2022.

I love this landscape, particularly in the changing colours of the autumn. The North York Moors look deceptively flat in these photos but are actually a high plateau above deep fertile valleys. The whole moorland is a carpet of texture and colour, punctuated with waymarkers, rocky outcrops and standing stones. The russets and pinks of the fading heather contrast with dark rectangular areas of burnt ground. These are grouse moors and selective burning encourages the heather cover for the birds. I don’t agree with shooting for sport but the resulting patterns, textures and colours do provide interest for the abstract artist.

Stony Rigg, above Grosmont, North York Moors. © Mari French 2022.

Most of the week the weather was bright and sunny, great for a holiday, but a bit undramatic for my sketching at times – I get the most inspiration from dark moody skies. So I did spend a fair amount of time chasing big cloud shadows over winding moorland roads, avoiding sheep. Fortunately there is an awful lot of scenery and heart-stopping views on these stunning moors to discover. One of my favourite landscapes and no doubt I’ll be back!

View from Beacon Hill near Danby. © Mari French 2022.
Egton Moor, North York Moors. © Mari French 2022.

Playing catch up…

New Autumn sunflowers series. © Mari French 2021

I can’t quite believe it’s so long since I last posted in this blog; where has the time gone? The past few months have been a particularly busy time for me in the studio, not least creating three new series of work:

new Cornish paintings inspired by a sketching trip to St Ives, Cornwall in April (see previous post), some of which were exhibited at Gallery East, Woodbridge, Suffolk this summer;

a fresh take on my salt marsh obsession, in acrylic inks and soft pastel. This time I’ve been inspired by the mirror-like pools and creeks scattered over the salt marshes and grazings. I exhibited several at Norfolk Open Studios in September/October and four are currently on show at ’Littoral’, a group exhibition (until 21 November 2021) at Little Buckland Gallery, Broadway, Cotswolds, a new gallery (for me) and one I’m very excited to be showing with;

and last, but not least, my current series inspired by a local field of fading autumn sunflowers, one shown above, which I’ll tell you about in my next blog post soon!.

Below is ‘Cradled sky’ one of the new salt marsh works in acrylic ink and soft pastel, at Little Buckland Gallery, and below that ‘Unfolding coast’ which sold from my open studio. Check out more of this series on my website here.

‘Cradled sky’, ink/pastel on paper, 29x29cm. © Mari French 2021
‘Unfolding coast’, ink/pastel on paper, 21x29cm, SOLD. © Mari French 2021

Another event that took up lots of time was preparing for Norfolk Open Studios. I opened to the public for three long weekends in late September, early October. This was the first time I’ve opened my ‘new’ studio at West Raynham airbase to the public and I’m happy to say it was pretty successful, with the sale of several paintings, collagraph prints and lots of art cards.

I really enjoyed meeting art lovers, artists, friends and neighbours, plus new collectors of my paintings! So much so that I’ve now decided to offer to open by appointment – just email me at art@marifrench.com if you’d like to visit. The studio is at West Raynham Business Park, near Fakenham, North Norfolk, UK, NR21 7PL.

At my open studio in September/October, Norfolk Open Studios 2021.

Going back to the Cornwall work, I later produced a set of five collaged panels that also developed from my sketching break in and around St Ives, in April this year. I loved working on these cradled wood panels (25x25x3cm), they take multiple layers of media very well and don’t need framing. In these I’ve made extensive use of collage elements; cornish newspapers, tide tables and my own calligraphic notes to add texture.

The proximity of water © Mari French 2021

I love the contrast of the wild Penwith coast with its small rocky coves and energetic tides crashing in and out; a contrast to the usually calmer North Norfolk coast close to where I live. I haven’t exhibited them yet and all five are still available. You can see the full set on my website at www.marifrench.com

Sea language © Mari French 2021

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.

man and woman looking at wall decor inside building

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.