all in the detail…

Reedbed sketch (detail) 1 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 1 © Mari French 2017

Funny how the mind works isnt it? Just browsing through my current sketchbook wondering where to get my next inspiration from and of course it’s all there in front of me (which is the point of my sketches after all, apart from the enjoyment of exploring a place and training myself to ‘see’).

Reedbed sketch (detail) 2 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 2 © Mari French 2017

But although I paint abstract landscapes, I don’t find it easy to abstract from my own sketches, so I’ve come to the conclusion – why not photograph some of the details/colour combinations in my sketchbooks that most interest me and crop them down, in effect abstracting them further? Removing them from their literal context while keeping the colours and marks formed intuitively from studying the subject (in this case reedbeds). Thus creating fragments of inspiration and signposts from my own work, at one remove from my original interpretation, to lead me to my next abstract landscape.

Reedbed sketch (detail) 3 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 3 © Mari French 2017

Blindingly obvious I suppose to some, but sometimes I tend to miss the obvious (am I the only one?). Perhaps getting too bogged down in the well-known ‘must produce work for exhibition/sale’ scenario and forgetting the vital process of mining one’s own sketchbooks and workbooks for my own subconscious insights into a subject.

I prefer not to work directly from my sketches to develop paintings as I find myself getting bogged down in trying to replicate (even subconsciously) the freedom of marks and effects that give life to the sketch, inevitably resulting in (for me) a stilted overworked final piece.

Reedbed sketch (detail) 4 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 4 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 5 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 5 © Mari French 2017

Many of my sketches use watercolour, sometimes ink, wet-in-wet, a technique I love for the glorious random accidental effects that can occur, often suggesting landscape forms. Looking at the cropped details of sketches in this post, I can see how the wands of the reeds, white spaces of the paper showing here and there and feathery ‘bleeds’ of paint/ink now take on a more prominent abstract element in the composition. And that gorgeous granulation! Also interesting is how small details can suggest the larger landscape. (I must apologise here for one or two rather blurry photos).

Reedbed sketch (detail) 6 © Mari French 2017Reedbed sketch (detail) 6 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 6 © Mari French 2017

I don’t expect to replicate these effects, especially on a large scale, but, I’m reasoning, if I print out cropped abstract sections from my reedbed sketches I will be effectively removing the recognisable parts of the image, leaving myself with inspirational pieces of colour, light and atmosphere with which to influence my subsequent series of work; suggestions rather than templates.

Reedbed sketch (detail) 7 © Mari French 2017

Reedbed sketch (detail) 7 © Mari French 2017

I’m sure many artists will do this already, but I’m excited to fall upon this idea as a way of working to abstraction from my own sketchbook. I’d love to hear techniques you use to create looser/abstract pieces from your sketches, if you want to share them please do in the comments below.

seed heads and mussel shells …

Beach at Holme Dunes, November. Mari French 2015

Beach at Holme Dunes, November.

After days of wet, miserable weather, one morning this week was unexpectedly bright and sunny, so shelving my plans for a day in the studio, I threw my sketching bag and warm coat etc in the car and once again drove up to my favourite escape place, to Thornham saltmarshes on the North Norfolk coast, 12 miles from my home.

It was windy and cold, but wrapped up warm I relished the brilliant blue sky and the tobacco and purple colours of the salt marsh. Apart from gathering inspiration I wanted a good walk, so decided I’d follow the sea defences a bit further previously, around Holme Dunes Nature Reserve to the west, through the pinewoods and out onto the beach.

Saltmarsh, Thornham, November. Mari French 2015

Saltmarsh, Thornham, November. Mari French 2015


Thornham creek and marsh, sketchbook. Mari French 2015

Thornham creek and marsh, sketchbook. Mari French 2015

 

Reedbeds, Holme Dunes. Mari French 2015

Reedbeds, Holme Dunes. Mari French 2015

The path along the top of the sea defences is great for walkers and bird watchers, offering a panoramic view of the marshes and creeks with their birdlife, out to the sea beyond. It passes large swathes of reedbeds on the way, which this time of year are silvery and blurred with seedheads catching the sunlight and the wind. The only sounds were of the wind in the reeds, curlews on the marsh and Brent geese with their guttural barking, grazing out on the fields.

Reedbeds, Thornham, November. Mari French 2015

Reedbeds, Thornham, November. Mari French 2015


Reedbeds at Thornham, sketchbook. Mari French 2015

Reedbeds at Thornham, sketchbook. Mari French 2015

 

Boardwalk, Holme Dunes. Mari French 2015

Boardwalk, Holme Dunes. Mari French 2015

The latter part of the walk is on boardwalks looping over the sand dunes and towards the pinewoods around the reserve (these boards sometimes appear as scraps of corrugated card embedded in my mixed-media landscapes). It was mid-afternoon by now and I followed the sandy path through the firs and out onto the vast stretch of beach.

Holme Beach, footprints. Mari French 2015

Holme Beach, footprints. Mari French 2015

 

Holme Beach, groynes.

Holme Beach, groynes. Mari French 2015

The sun was bright but low giving long shadows and the wet strand reflecting the sky with the colours of a mussel shell. Soon dark bruised clouds were piling up on the horizon and it wasn’t long before they began to cover the sun, bringing a sense of dusk early to the day. I walked out onto a sand bank (the tide was still retreating otherwise this would be a seriously stupid thing to do), to get a closer look at the remains of a line of groynes battered by the waves. I’m always attracted to any graphic elements that appear like this in an otherwise low flat landscape, they give many possibilities for mark-making in my abstracts. I grabbed a few shots, then as the sky darkened, headed smartish back across the sand bank and beach towards the woods and the path back to the car.

Near dusk, Holme Dunes, Norfolk. Mari French 2015

Near dusk, Holme Dunes, Norfolk. Mari French 2015

 

a saltmarsh is born…

Subsequent tides. Mixed media on paper. © Mari French 2015

Subsequent tides. Mixed media on paper. © Mari French 2015

The following is an extract from an interesting post I recently came across, giving a useful insight into the saltmarsh coast of Norfolk, the subject of my current artworks :

November Saltmarsh

In Norfolk there are amazingly few habitats which are self-forming and self-maintaining – which therefore require no intervention from conservationists to keep them as they are – and almost all of them are associated with the sea, its winds, its waves and its tides.

… the tide … helps make two fascinating and oft-ignored Norfolk habitats. Two of the wildest, least human-led habitats in Norfolk at that: mudflat and saltmarsh. In areas sheltered from the intense energy of the waves, such as enclosed bays and the harbours behind spits, the finest sediments in the water – tiny particles of silt – are deposited at the top of the tide, where the water has least energy. These particles cling to one another and where they are not shifted by subsequent tides they form a tenuous, easily-moved mudflat. Where conditions allow, filamentous algae colonise the mudflat, followed by what botanists call glasswort and in Norfolk we call samphire. These plants stabilise the flat and encourage more silts and clays to settle.

A saltmarsh is born.

Nick Acheson, Norfolk Wildlife Trust

norfolkwildlifetrust.blogspot.co.uk

Overy Marsh. Workbook spread. © Mari French 2015

Overy Marsh. Workbook spread. © Mari French 2015

 

But here we are. Overy Marsh. Mixed media on paper. © Mari French 2015

But here we are. Overy Marsh. Mixed media on paper. © Mari French 2015