see Emily play …

I had the privilege of attending an Emily Ball workshop last weekend at Cambridge Artworks. I’d been a fan of Emily’s work since picking up her book Drawing and Painting People – a fresh approach some years ago. Even though I prefer landscape painting, her emphasis on mark-making and developing your own visual language really struck a chord with me; I’d been aware of the need to develop and extend my own mark-making for some time. So when the opportunity was presented to me by an artist friend, I leapt at the chance.

There were ten of us all together, from different backgrounds and artistic experience, and we were worked very hard by Emily, eventually, I think I can say, producing very different work to our normal output over the three days.

Emily showed us how to unpick and reinvent the familiar, inventing our own marks to animate our work, till eventually the painting takes on a life of its own apart from the subject.

Some of the fun exercises included one I called ‘Hangman’, after the old pen on paper game. We were put into teams of two and took it in turns – one would make a mark on a large sheet of paper, the other would then step forward and add their own mark, relating to, reacting to, or obliterating part of our own mark; leading to much friendly cursing and wails as our ‘precious’ marks were changed beyond our control.

Emily was very generous with her time and materials and it was a pleasure and privilege to learn directly from her. She runs courses from the Seawhite premises where she has her studio as resident artist, as well as at locations abroad. I’d urge you to check them out.

The three day weekend workshop was full-on, tiring but thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying. Typically generously, we were each given one of her inspiring books at the end.


a painter’s progress …

Rosewall Hill (detail). © Mari French

Rosewall Hill (detail). © Mari French

 … every so often I get the urge to paint hills. I live in Norfolk (not flat, beautifully rolling – well it is where I live) and I love its sweeping beaches and huge skies, but I used to live on the Isle of Skye and I visit Cornwall often, so you can imagine I might enjoy a change in level occasionally. It’s also a change from the more abstract work I’ve been producing lately.

This painting in acrylics and watercolour pastel on deep sided canvas (80×60 cm), is inspired by Rosewall Hill on the Penwith peninsula, Cornwall. Not an accurate representation, I’ll admit, but for me it attempts to capture its looming presence over the moor.

It might not be completely finished yet, but I thought I’d share the progress of the work, step-by-step. Hope you find it interesting.

Rosewall Hill (stage 1). © Mari French. Acrylic and watercolour pastel on canvas depicting uphill landscape in Penwith, Cornwall.

Rosewall Hill (stage 1). © Mari French


I started with a very loose broad brush under-painting in Paynes grey and a mix of Raw Sienna and Titanium white to establish shape and tone (above). As with many of my canvases I prepped it first with a rough coating of texture paste, which I sometimes prefer to a perfectly flat surface.

I deliberately used an unusual colour palette next, of Wedgwood blue, Permanent Rose and a little white, roughly mixed on canvas, to unite the separate areas of the sky and foreground (below). I avoid greens like the plague in my landscapes, in case you hadn’t noticed! They’re too obvious, I prefer colours that create an atmosphere.

Rosewall Hill (stage 2). © Mari French

Rosewall Hill (stage 2). © Mari French

In the process much of the lovely initial under painting is lost, but I’ve learnt not to be too precious about this otherwise I’d  end up too nervous to create an effective artwork. 

I also had to adjust the shape and position of the hill a couple of times. Before the new purple mix dried I splashed and  dropped water here and there, allowing it to run in places, creating pale lines in the paint.

Rosewall Hill (stage 3). © Mari French

Rosewall Hill (stage 3). © Mari French

Having left the work for a few days I approached it today wanting to lighten it and get some marks and movement in there (below). Much of the violet colour is brushed over with a dryish mix of Yellow oxide and white, quite fast and vigorously, gain mixing on canvas. I then sprayed with water, semi-dried and wiped back in places. 

Finally, watercolour pastel (neocolour) in black, was scribbled on loosely, hinting at the rough land forms and distant skyline. To allow for any further over painting acrylic matt medium was carefully applied over the pastel and dried.

Comparing the last two stages, I feel the third stage might have made a finished painting, but I’m still excited by the way the work has developed. I’ll post any further changes if/when I make them.

Rosewall Hill (stage 4). © Mari French

Rosewall Hill (stage 4). © Mari French


veils of colour…


My first oil painting in nearly forty years! I love the soft veils of colour possible with oils. I normally work fast, hence my usual use of acrylics, but I so enjoyed this!

Untitled abstract, oil on canvas.

Untitled abstract, oil on canvas. Mari French 2014


Regular visitors to this blog will know I’ve been working in acrylics, with and without other media, for a number of years, so it will be interesting to see which way I eventually go now.

After painting this I enjoyed bashing acrylic onto another canvas, wiping off etc. Acrylic seems to appeal to the impatient exuberant side of me, whereas using oils I found calming, almost meditative. (unfortunately the light wasn’t great, hence the not very sharp photos).

Untitled abstract, oil on canvas. Studio.

Untitled abstract, oil on canvas. Studio. Mari French 2014