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


a sea change …

Coastlines, abstract painting in purple and blue.

Coastlines, abstract 1. Mari French 2014


I’ve been using a lot of blue lately … Prussian, turquoise, aqua… mainly due to painting like mad for an upcoming solo show at Greyfriars Art Space in King’s Lynn, this September.

The exhibition will hinge on the theme of coastlines, namely the rugged and dramatic coast of Cape Cornwall, where I spent an art residency back in March, and the contrasting and more serene (usually!) expanse of beaches and salt marsh that make up the North Norfolk coast, where I often go walking and sketching.

But I hit a creative block last week… couldn’t face more blue seas, not for a while anyway. I was stuck… stalled… needed a jolt to the system. What to do? Actually, what a lot of artists turn to in these circumstances… a change of palette (a change of subject matter is not really an option at the moment and not necessary, I enjoy painting coastal landscape, I just needed a fresh angle).

I turned all my recent coastal paintings to the wall, put my usual acrylic tubes out of the way and grabbed Permanent Rose and Cerulean blue (okay, still blue but somehow different when used with pink!) along with a luscious plummy Inktense stick and set to it with abandon on two fresh canvases I’d prepared with texture paste. (as you may know I prefer not to start with a flat surface).

I then needed a contrast, so used a mix of lemon yellow and white, with a touch of Chromium oxide. These are the results, still in progress, I’ve added a few more brush strokes since, but I enjoyed it tremendously. I like the zingy colour contrast and lively lines. In the second canvas (below) I’ve used paynes grey with a brush instead of the Inktense stick.

Coastlines, abstract in pinks and blues.

Coastlines, abstract 2. Mari French 2014 


It may seem obvious, but it’s something I have to remind myself of now and then… as artists we don’t have to follow rules, use representative colours, shapes, imagery etc (unless we want to)… we can please ourselves… make it up… 

I wish it was as easy as it sounds. I’m learning that it takes practice, and a bit of ‘to hell with it here goes’ to ring the changes. But it’s worth it for the sense of exhilaration produced. I believe it’s important to please ourselves as artists if we want to produce work of integrity and develop our own style.

No doubt I’ll still feel the urge to paint less abstract landscapes/seascapes, but I can’t help wondering if at some point in the near future I’ll be producing work more like these. Either way, this seems like a necessary stage (see last comment below).

And for those interested, below is the painting I was working on before the artworks above. I’m pleased with it, and I know there are plenty of people who will prefer it. But you don’t progress if you don’t experiment/play, right? In fact, if I hadn’t experimented in the past, I wouldn’t have had the ability to produce that loose lively abstracted area in the foreground suggesting waves crashing on rocks. Thoughts on this topic or on the paintings are, as always, very welcome.

Towards Lands End. Coastal abstracted painting.

Towards Lands End. Acrylic on canvas. Mari French 2014.