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

excitement, frustration, markmaking…

 

Work from final day of Emily Ball workshop © Mari French 2019Work from final day of Emily Ball workshop © Mari French 2019

My work from final day of Emily Ball workshop © Mari French 2019

I’ve been sadly neglecting my blog posts since December. In my defence I was suffering quite badly from the good old S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) symptoms along with a bout of creative block, that can plague me (and many people) during the winter months until thankfully, spring seemed to arrive with a flourish in February.

So, now I’m playing at catch up as a lot has happened in the past two months. Because it relates to the previous two posts I’ll tell you first about the Emily Ball markmaking workshop near Cambridge that I attended a couple of weeks ago.

After the boost the previous EB workshop I’d attended in 2017 gave me, I was keen to freshen my markmaking and visual language again. For me art making is a continual learning process and I recognise the need in my own practice for fresh creative input from outside sources occasionally. Emily always gives an intensive, exhausting but very rewarding workshop and this was no exception. We’d had ‘homework’ to do to prepare us and I’d decided to concentrate on Dungeness (see previous two posts) as my subject. So I spent a few weeks producing a series of small experimental studies based on my memories of Dungeness before attending (see image above).

It was great to meet old artist friends and make new ones, and the 12 of us soon filled the art room walls at Linton College, near Cambridge, with a startling variety of large mark-filled sheets of paper. From creating a markmaking ‘alphabet’ of our own marks from our homework studies and exaggerating them in different ways, to ‘blind drawing’ with black and white oil bars, then working on editing complete paintings to ‘get more space in!’, it was full-on, fun and exhilarating. 

By the final day, we’d all experienced highs and lows, whoops of delight and wails of frustration, but all of us had moved on significantly in the development of our own visual language. The image at the start of this post, the last I produced on the workshop (stormy abstract landscape on my easel) thwarted me so much in its development that I hated it for several days. Now, however, I can appreciate the energy, mood and space in it and now I quite like it! Emily must have the patience of a saint, she’s a great tutor and I can highly recommend her workshops.

Selection of the fabulous variety of fresh work made on the workshop. © Karen Stamper 2019.

Selection of the fabulous variety of fresh work. © Karen Stamper 2019.

Special mention to a small selection of the artists from the workshop whose work I admire and you might like to check out (links to the artists’ websites):
Leslie Birch
Sarah Russell
Karen Stamper

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.