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.

sunshine and storm…

North Norfolk salt marsh with sea lavender. Abstract landscape in mixed media painting on canvas © Mari French 2018

Saltmarsh with sea lavender. Mixed media on canvas © Mari French 2018

Despite the continuing high temperatures I’ve managed to get some painting done lately in my studio (not as much as I would like!), by getting up earlier and using the few morning hours before the heat cranks up.

Inspired by my recent visits to Thornham salt marsh on the north Norfolk coast (see previous post here) and also the ripening harvest in the local fields, I’ve produced the few mixed media pieces shown here.

Ragged Marsh at Thornham, Norfolk, with wildflowers. Abstract landscape in mixed media painting on canvas © Mari French 2018

Ragged Marsh, late summer, Thornham. Mixed media on canvas. © Mari French 2018

The work at the top of this post was painted soon after a hot sunny day at the coast with swathes of purple sea lavender carpeting the marshes. The second canvas (above) was produced shortly after a spell of cloudy, humid, then spectacularly stormy weather (many hours worth of lightning, thunder and heavy rain in one evening). Interesting how the weather change seems to have affected the colours and light in the two works.

Like most of my artworks the pieces in this post are painted mainly in acrylics with the addition of a variety of other media such as inktense pencil, watercolour pencil (fixed with a little acrylic medium), and a little Posca paint pen. One of the reasons I use acrylics rather than oils is that it lends itself successfully to combination with a wide variety of other media, which is especially good for mark-making.

Ripening barley fields. Mixed media on canvas by contemporary Norfolk artist Mari French.

Harvest. Mixed media on watercolour board. © Mari French 2018

‘Harvest’ (above) and ‘Hot summer sun’ (below) are completely intuitive works. I was playing around with paint, layering it on and wiping it off, spraying it etc. just to see what happened and obviously the late summer heat and the golden fields of barley have subconsciously influenced the results.

‘Hot summer sun’ below is a bit different to the others, almost like a linocut or screenprint. Yet, recognisable imagery from my recent experience seems to be there – hot sun, black fields or cliffs depending on how you perceive it, hints of golden reeds or ripening barley. It’s this ambiguous nature of abstracted landscape that appeals to me, leaving some leeway to interpret the imagery according to our own experience.

Hot summer sun. Abstract landscape in mixed media on watercolour board by contemporary artist Mari French.

Hot summer sun. Mixed media on watercolour board. © Mari French 2018

 

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).

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‘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.