Early autumn sketching at Thornham reedbeds…

Another recent walking and sketching day at Thornham on the Norfolk coast. This time I concentrated on the entrancing light, colour and movement in the reedbeds as they subtly change with the approaching autumn.

Looking over the reedbeds towards Holme church from the raised banks around Ragged Marsh is one of my favourite views. The wind rustling through the silvered stems and purple-grey feathery heads is very calming. I used mainly watercolours with just one abstract using the brush pens that I mentioned in the last post.

I also did a watercolour sketch of the otherworldly ‘stumps’ looking out over the creek and marsh.

I remembered my camera this time and even caught a starling murmuration as well as the odd rusted artefact!

Creative colour… sketching with brush pens


On Monday I enjoyed a few hours sketching and walking at Thornham, north Norfolk. It had been a few months since I'd last sketched here and this time I'd decided to try out a batch of newly acquired Pentel brush pens, which are convenient to pack and use. With a small clip on metal dipper filled with water, I was able to achieve some of the wet-in-wet effects I like to play with. I love their versatility so I'll definitely be packing the brush pens on my next sketching holiday.

Because the colours I'd bought were limited (vibrant pink, bright yellow!) it forced imaginative use of what I had with me, but the resulting quick brightly coloured sketches of the beach, for me, more effectively captures the heat, the warm wind and the liveliness of the waves.

No photos this time, I took my camera but halfway along the walk discovered I'd forgotten the batteries!

Below are studies I made of light-filled creeks in the marsh from the sea defences, before the tide went out, with water soluble graphite pencil and with the brush pens again. Some sea lavender still bloomed.

Rocks, stones & coves: Cape Cornwall residency 2017

Towards the Brisons, evening. © Mari French 2017.

Towards the Brisons, evening. Mixed-media on canvas. © Mari French 2017.

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to spend two weeks on my own, on my second art residency at Brisons Veor, Cape Cornwall. Some of you may remember my staying here in 2014, but whereas previously I’d produced work inspired by the ruined tin and copper mines and the raging stormy sea, this time the weather was more spring-like and I wanted to concentrate on the energy of the sea filling and emptying, not only Priest Cove, but also the many small coves along the wild Penwith coastline.

My attention was also captured by the semi-natural bathing pool nestling in the rocks below the house in Priest Cove. There was much more sunshine and light this time and the pool was like a mirror reflecting the sky; often its stillness was in sharp contrast to the crashing waves just beyond. The pool was the still point in the moving scene of the cove; reflective in both senses of the word, filled by the sea, controlled by the moon, partially man-made, part bounded by rocks. In my subsequent work the pool has become a calm space, contrasting with the energy of the mark-making around it. The effect sets up a tension which I like.

Bathing pool, Priest Cove. © Mari French 2017.

Bathing pool, Priest Cove. © Mari French 2017.

Experimental ink studies, Priest Cove. © Mari French 2017.

Experimental ink studies, Priest Cove. © Mari French 2017.

I also produced a series of rapid, small experimented ink studies (above) as I sat next to the pool in the sun, using the pool water to give a marbling and granulated effect. I’m hoping to develop these further at some point.

Mirroring the sky © Mari French 2017.

Mirroring the sky, Mixed-media on paper © Mari French 2017.

The geology of this area is so striking, from white egg-like boulders and the twisted striations of minerals threaded through massive jagged black rocks in the sea coves, to the tumbled stone scattered across the moors. I can see it featuring in much of my future work.

Rocks near Boat Cove © Mari French 2017

Rocks near Boat Cove © Mari French 2017

Boat Cove stones © Mari French 2017

Boat Cove stones © Mari French 2017

Over the course of the residency, I became aware of lines, suggested and real, threading a dimensional net around this coastal place: on and below the sea’s surface – the regularity of shipping lanes, the varying routes of small fishing boats, the patterned pulses of light from the lighthouses at Wolf Rock and Long Ships, the movement of wildlife; in the air – the soaring flight of sea birds and regular small passenger planes lifting off from Lands End airport. Lines began to appear in my sketchbook and swirling over the paintings I was working on.

Studio work, Brisons Veor © Mari French 2017

Studio work, Brisons Veor © Mari French 2017

Plein air painting, Brisons Veor © Mari French 2017.

Plein air painting, Brisons Veor © Mari French 2017.

I’ve been trying to loosen up my sketching for some time, which in the past tended towards more figurative renderings of landscape. It was rewarding to be able to spend more time working on abstract ways of sketching for future reference. See my last post for more sketchbook spreads from this residency.

Sketchbook, Priest Cove. © Mari French 2017.

Sketchbook, Priest Cove. © Mari French 2017.

Unlike my first residency, where I was free to paint what I wanted, this time I knew I needed to supplying work for a mixed exhibition at Artichoke Gallery near Tunbridge Wells, when I returned and I wanted to use the residency to produce a few canvases to fit their exhibition theme ‘Across the water’. (The first and last images on this post are two of the canvases to be exhibited.)

Working in the studio, Brisons Veor. © Mari French 2017

Working in the studio, Brisons Veor. © Mari French 2017

Along with wealth of material from Priest Cove, the discovery of exquisite little Boat Cove tucked into the coast near Pendeen Light, with its mass of tumbled rocks and stone and remnants from the fishing industry (still carried out there on a small scale), provided the stimulus I needed. The resulting canvases (see Artichoke Gallery link above for all four works) were painted to the pulse and crunch of waves on the rocks beneath the studio.

Bathing pool, Priest Cove © Mari French 2017.

Bathing pool, Priest Cove. Mixed-media on canvas. © Mari French 2017.