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.

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

Confinement & cul-de-sacs…

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”A time of gifts’ © Mari French 2020

I’ve never left my blog unwritten for such a long time before. It’s good to be back. In the past few months of the Covid crisis, I just haven’t been able to summon up the will or the words to write about my art. As for the art itself, like many artists in these strange times, I’ve been floundering around a little lost for a while. With 3 exhibitions cancelled/moved online, Open Studios also cancelled, galleries closed etc, it’s hardly surprising I suppose. It’s not that I haven’t been painting, and I’ve made myself go to the studio to do something a few times a week at least, it’s just that each spurt of creative activity – sketching, collage, painting – has seemed to fizzle out after a short time. Cul-de-sacs I’ve started to call them.

However, each little cul-de-sac has produced some interesting results, so perhaps they hold some promise for a future way forward; like one of those narrow hidden footpaths you can often use for access to the area beyond the cul-de-sac, the one cars can’t take.

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Ploughed fields & tree belt, near Anmer. Sketchbook. © Mari French 2020

With anything more than a long walk forbidden here in the UK, in the last few months, coastal visits weren’t an option (I live 20 minutes drive from the beautiful North Norfolk coastline, where the reedbeds and saltmarshes are a great source of inspiration), I’ve been out sketching the local fields and farmland – something I haven’t really done since moving to Norfolk 10 years ago.

I loved the way the early spring sunshine caught the ploughed fields, exaggerating the russet and ochres of the sand and chalk soil. And the hares were out in force chasing each other in large groups. I haven’t taken these any further though, hopefully at some future point…

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Ploughed field, Anmer Road, with flint. © Mari French 2020

Meanwhile, at the airbase, outside my studio, is a large cherry tree which was covered in deep pink blossom back in March. It was only when a glorious deep pink started to appear in a series of small experimental works on paper, that I realised how the blossom had entered my subconscious. These works look great on some lovely small white cradled wooden panels I’ve bought. I really enjoyed these but as I said, it wasn’t long before I started to flounder. I keep going back to them, so they’re going to get picked up again at some point.

Later in spring, mostly confined to my garden (I know, I’m lucky compared to many) and with almost a month of warm sunshine, my glorious tulips, ‘La belle époque’, just had to be sketched. Then in the studio, I set about abstracting them, in both mixed media and collage, which I enjoyed, before (yes you guessed it) I once again hit a cul-de-sac. Still, I’m excited by the potential of these small works so who knows.

Below is the mixed media collage I produced as part of this abstract tulip work  (all the papers using in it were created by myself, including the calligraphy). Which reminds me I haven’t posted the experimental collage I was developing back in February before the virus hit, so I’ll add them to the next post (it won’t take as long as this one post did I promise!).

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‘Palimpsest’, mixed media collage © Mari French 2020