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).


‘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.


Cornish sketchbook…

Boat Cove, Pendeen. Mixed media sketch. © Mari French 2018

A few sketches and photographs from a week in St Ives, Cornwall, back in early May. Although a holiday, I also wanted to get some sketching done of the distinctive rugged coast around Penwith and St Ives. Living in Norfolk we are some 7 hours drive (at least) away, so I don’t get down there as often as I’d like.

I started a series of Cornish cove paintings last year on a residency at Brisons Veor, Cape Cornwall, and delivered two subsequent works from the series to the Harbour Gallery Portscatho (see previous post), during my week at St Ives (I found out today that I sold one of them, nice surprise!).

Boat Cove, Pendeen, Cornwall. © Mari French 2018

So, to continue working on the series, I needed to remind myself of that light, those colours and the sheer exhilaration of feeling the waves boom against the rocks below me in the small rocky coves that punctuate this coast.

When the tide is out there is an astonishing variety of geology: rocks, stones, boulders, pebbles, and contortions, layers and strata as well, of course, the pale pale sand reflecting the light. With the tide returning there’s the blinding white foam surging around the rocks at the head of the muscular turquoise waves, filling the coves.

Spring sea, below The Island, St Ives. Mixed media sketch. © Mari French 2018

I usually sketch in watercolours combined with other media, but here I found the rich colours of the wet watercolour paint soon dried to a much duller finish than I wanted. I tried using gouache instead. I’d only brought a limited range with me, so it was a bit of a challenge mixing the colours I wanted, but I liked the creamy blendable nature of the paint and the richness of the results. They team very well with paint pens and other media. I needed a larger palette and a Tupperware box lid fit the bill nicely.

Cornwall sketchbook. © Mari French 2018

This is all a fantastic contrast for an artist who spends much of her other time exploring and painting the salt marsh and reed beds of North Norfolk’s coastline. A contrast which I hope will result in many paintings in the new series.

Boat Cove, Pendeen. Mixed media sketch. © Mari French 2018

all in the detail…

Reedbed sketch (detail) 1 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 1 © Mari French 2017

Funny how the mind works isnt it? Just browsing through my current sketchbook wondering where to get my next inspiration from and of course it’s all there in front of me (which is the point of my sketches after all, apart from the enjoyment of exploring a place and training myself to ‘see’).

Reedbed sketch (detail) 2 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 2 © Mari French 2017

But although I paint abstract landscapes, I don’t find it easy to abstract from my own sketches, so I’ve come to the conclusion – why not photograph some of the details/colour combinations in my sketchbooks that most interest me and crop them down, in effect abstracting them further? Removing them from their literal context while keeping the colours and marks formed intuitively from studying the subject (in this case reedbeds). Thus creating fragments of inspiration and signposts from my own work, at one remove from my original interpretation, to lead me to my next abstract landscape.

Reedbed sketch (detail) 3 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 3 © Mari French 2017

Blindingly obvious I suppose to some, but sometimes I tend to miss the obvious (am I the only one?). Perhaps getting too bogged down in the well-known ‘must produce work for exhibition/sale’ scenario and forgetting the vital process of mining one’s own sketchbooks and workbooks for my own subconscious insights into a subject.

I prefer not to work directly from my sketches to develop paintings as I find myself getting bogged down in trying to replicate (even subconsciously) the freedom of marks and effects that give life to the sketch, inevitably resulting in (for me) a stilted overworked final piece.

Reedbed sketch (detail) 4 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 4 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 5 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 5 © Mari French 2017

Many of my sketches use watercolour, sometimes ink, wet-in-wet, a technique I love for the glorious random accidental effects that can occur, often suggesting landscape forms. Looking at the cropped details of sketches in this post, I can see how the wands of the reeds, white spaces of the paper showing here and there and feathery ‘bleeds’ of paint/ink now take on a more prominent abstract element in the composition. And that gorgeous granulation! Also interesting is how small details can suggest the larger landscape. (I must apologise here for one or two rather blurry photos).

Reedbed sketch (detail) 6 © Mari French 2017Reedbed sketch (detail) 6 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 6 © Mari French 2017

I don’t expect to replicate these effects, especially on a large scale, but, I’m reasoning, if I print out cropped abstract sections from my reedbed sketches I will be effectively removing the recognisable parts of the image, leaving myself with inspirational pieces of colour, light and atmosphere with which to influence my subsequent series of work; suggestions rather than templates.

Reedbed sketch (detail) 7 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 7 © Mari French 2017

I’m sure many artists will do this already, but I’m excited to fall upon this idea as a way of working to abstraction from my own sketchbook. I’d love to hear techniques you use to create looser/abstract pieces from your sketches, if you want to share them please do in the comments below.