excitement, frustration, markmaking…

 

Work from final day of Emily Ball workshop © Mari French 2019Work from final day of Emily Ball workshop © Mari French 2019

My work from final day of Emily Ball workshop © Mari French 2019

I’ve been sadly neglecting my blog posts since December. In my defence I was suffering quite badly from the good old S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) symptoms along with a bout of creative block, that can plague me (and many people) during the winter months until thankfully, spring seemed to arrive with a flourish in February.

So, now I’m playing at catch up as a lot has happened in the past two months. Because it relates to the previous two posts I’ll tell you first about the Emily Ball markmaking workshop near Cambridge that I attended a couple of weeks ago.

After the boost the previous EB workshop I’d attended in 2017 gave me, I was keen to freshen my markmaking and visual language again. For me art making is a continual learning process and I recognise the need in my own practice for fresh creative input from outside sources occasionally. Emily always gives an intensive, exhausting but very rewarding workshop and this was no exception. We’d had ‘homework’ to do to prepare us and I’d decided to concentrate on Dungeness (see previous two posts) as my subject. So I spent a few weeks producing a series of small experimental studies based on my memories of Dungeness before attending (see image above).

It was great to meet old artist friends and make new ones, and the 12 of us soon filled the art room walls at Linton College, near Cambridge, with a startling variety of large mark-filled sheets of paper. From creating a markmaking ‘alphabet’ of our own marks from our homework studies and exaggerating them in different ways, to ‘blind drawing’ with black and white oil bars, then working on editing complete paintings to ‘get more space in!’, it was full-on, fun and exhilarating. 

By the final day, we’d all experienced highs and lows, whoops of delight and wails of frustration, but all of us had moved on significantly in the development of our own visual language. The image at the start of this post, the last I produced on the workshop (stormy abstract landscape on my easel) thwarted me so much in its development that I hated it for several days. Now, however, I can appreciate the energy, mood and space in it and now I quite like it! Emily must have the patience of a saint, she’s a great tutor and I can highly recommend her workshops.

Selection of the fabulous variety of fresh work made on the workshop. © Karen Stamper 2019.

Selection of the fabulous variety of fresh work. © Karen Stamper 2019.

Special mention to a small selection of the artists from the workshop whose work I admire and you might like to check out (links to the artists’ websites):
Leslie Birch
Sarah Russell
Karen Stamper

 

 

Driven to abstraction: Venice (i) 

 

Cannaregio in the heat. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Cannaregio in the heat. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

I recently spent 2 weeks on holiday in Venice. I’d assumed September would be more temperate, but most days were around 35C (in the 90s Fahrenheit, and I’m crap in hot weather). Unbelievably, I also got painful shingles the very first day. So this could have been one long lament of a post. However… I persevered and did lots of sketching in the second week, mainly among the less celebrated narrow streets (calles) and quiet squares (campos) of Cannaregio and Castello, away from the hordes of tourists and trinket shops.

The sketch above (Cannareggio in the heat) is an abstract impression of my first (short) forays into these areas as soon as I felt able. Completed at our apartment dining table in gouache, posca paint pens, oil pastel and inktense block. You can see, by comparing the sketch and the photo below, how I’ve ‘edited’ the image with white gouache etc, leaving parts of the underpainting to show through in places. The thicker gouache paint can then be inscribed into while still wet.

Sketching in the apartment, at rooftop level. © Mari French 2016

Sketching in the apartment, at rooftop level. © Mari French 2016

Grand Canal from Chiesa Santa Lucia. © Mari French 2016

Grand Canal from Chiesa Santa Lucia. © Mari French 2016

Venice from Giudecca. © Mari French 2016

Venice from Giudecca. © Mari French 2016

Above the shops. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Above the shops. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

So, this year I made less use of watercolours in my sketchbook and more of gouache, Posca paint pens, oil pastel and inktense pencil. Some of this on top of collaged Venetian newspaper. These gave me a more robust repertoire for evoking the textures of the ancient buildings and to make more use of my recent experimental mark-making in mixed-media. I used a new concertina Seawhite sketchbook which I’d seen used to great effect on the blog of friends’ who’d shared a residency at Brison’s Veor in Cornwall. I have to admit I struggled with it a bit, although I almost always use Seawhite books, but the concertina is a format probably more effective for landscapes, seascapes etc. Having said that, it’s now really useful to be able to spread it out along a shelf in my studio and be able to view my many Venice sketches at once.

Sketching in the Rialto fish market. © Mari French 2016

Sketching in the Rialto fish market. © Mari French 2016

Rialto fish market, Venice. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Rialto fish market, Venice. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

One of the things I found myself struggling with, was my determination to sketch in an abstract fashion, rather than depicting what was in front of me with too much adherence to detail and representation. This was so hard! I think I managed it in some respects, though. Much easier to achieve when back at the sketching/dining table. Although I think the effort of attempting this actually pushed my on-the-spot sketching further than usual.

Grand Canal, night. © Mari French 2016

Grand Canal, night. © Mari French 2016

Washing, Cannareggio. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Washing, Cannareggio. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Details, Campo del Mori. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Details, Campo del Mori. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Weathered door, Cannareggio. © Mari French 2016

Weathered door, Cannareggio. © Mari French 2016

Venetian abstract. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Venetian abstract. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

 

Beautiful canal basin, San Polo. © Mari French 2016

Small canal basin, San Polo. © Mari French 2016

Fish graffitti, Dorsoduro. © Mari French 2016

Graffitti fish, Dorsoduro. © Mari French 2016

Rooftops abstract. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Rooftops abstract. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2016

Towards the end of my stay I also discovered a fascination with the huge lagoon, in which Venice nestles like a gemstone among many other islands – some inhabited, some abandoned, some cultivated, some nature reserves – and the saltmarshes, reedbeds and sandbanks.

I’d need more time, with a boat, out there, to do it justice (who knows?). As it was I had to make do with staring avidly from the vaporetto motoring out to Burano and Mazzorbo, and greedily watching from the plane banking over the lagoon on takeoff from Marco Polo airport – the channels, fishing nets, ruined campaniles, boat wakes, bricola, all within the glorious mercurial sun reflecting off the water.

Venetian lagoon, taking off from Marco Polo airport. © Mari French 2016

Venetian lagoon, taking off from Marco Polo airport. © Mari French 2016

So here are some of the images and sketches from that two weeks and in the next posts I’ll show you how the experience has evolved so far in my subconscious and emerged in some experimental pieces, abstract photography etc.

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.