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.

Towards the sun …

Turning year. Mixed media on paper 46x60cm © Mari French 2021

Happy New Year to all my readers and welcome to my first post of this year. I hope you had a beautiful festive season and wish you a healthy, peaceful and art-filled 2022. Thanks so much for following my blog.

As the year turns, like many artists I’m reviewing my work and thinking about where to take it next. I’m now looking forward to Spring, towards the sun. In my previous post (here) I mentioned my new series of autumn sunflower paintings and wanted to share with you some of my creative process.

What caught my attention about this beautiful field of faded sunflowers as I drove past last October, was how they looked like a subdued congregation deep in thought, or a gathering of dark suns, faces now turned to the earth. I took photos and gathered a bunch of the flowers to sketch and paint back in the studio.

Work in progress on the easel © Mari French 2021

Above is one of the autumn sunflowers series still in progress on the easel, in acrylic and ink on paper. I love to paint intuitively like this – obscuring and revealing layers of acrylic paint, scoring through or spraying with water, to create lively marks – so that the result is a complex accumulation of shades, hard and soft edges, ephemeral suggestions of shapes. Sometimes these are created by wiping through the paint layers with a damp cloth. Inevitably, much of the earlier stages will be covered up (or wiped away), but this is necessary for me to create the web of colour and texture I like.

Detail of work in progress above © Mari French 2021

In the closeup crop above you can see the soft luminous light this process gives to parts of the painting. Texture is also added with the use of drier brush marks, which contrast with softer blended paint (often done with the side of my hand – it’s great to get hands-on sometimes!).
This work in progress isn’t finished yet: I want to see less of an obvious separation between the creamy yellow areas and the lower blue/green ones; the sunflower heads are spread too evenly for me and some of the smaller ones higher up need ‘knocking back’ a bit to make it less busy; and I want to bring some of that lovely subdued pink in elsewhere to balance it.

Below is ‘Constellation’, another in the series in progress, in the studio, and the finished work below that.

‘Constellation’ in progress on the easel. © Mari French 2021
Constellation. Mixed media on paper 46x60cm © Mari French 2021

Many of my studio visitors and collectors tell me that they love that they can keep coming back to an artwork and still see more in it, sometimes even after years of owning the work. This is part of what makes it worthwhile for me.

Autumn encounter. Mixed media on paper 46x60cm © Mari French 2021

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