Sea lavender & dark skies…

Sea lavender sketch, Thornham saltmarsh

Sea lavender sketch, Thornham saltmarsh. © Mari French 2018

Due to flagging and wilting in the extended heatwave of the past 7 weeks, I’m playing catch up with painting and social media etc. I’m really not good in the temperatures of 34C plus which we’ve had lately.

Anyway, enough grumbling! We had a fantastic lightning storm last night and torrential rain, so I’m feeling a bit more refreshed and don’t need to water the garden for a few days. This post is really to tell you about a sketching trip I had to Thornham salt marsh on the North Norfolk coast a week ago, when it was a bit overcast and threatening rain (though it didnt) and so much more comfortable for walking and sketching. (I did post some of these images on Facebook etc, so they may look a bit familiar to some of you).

Sea lavender and dark skies, Thornham, North Norfolk. © Mari French 2018

Sea lavender and dark skies, Thornham, North Norfolk. © Mari French 2018

I’d driven up to Thornham to catch the swathes of sea lavender that carpet much of the Norfolk marshes this time of year. But I was also astonished by the profusion of wildflowers (despite the drought, or maybe because of it) and butterflies along the paths on top of the sea defences – mallow, wild fennel, corn cockle, wild carrot and something with exquisite clover-like white and blue flowers which I haven’t yet identified (see lower left image). Feel free to enlighten me!

 

I started off with gouache, which I’m enjoying using more frequently recently, combined with other media like pencil and Posca paint pens. But I soon decided to switch to wet-in-wet watercolour as the gouache was drying too fast and causing the brush to drag. I thought wet-in-wet might allow me to evoke the looming skies and shadows on the marsh more effectively. I love the way the creeks reflect the light, especially as the skies darken.

 

Sea lavender, Ragged Marsh.

Sea lavender, Ragged Marsh. © Mari French 2018

I’ve since been getting back into the swing of painting in my studio (only in the mornings for now, too hot after lunch), and I’m having fun putting some of these influences to use on canvas, which I’ll show you in my next post.

 

reed-fringed pools… spangled light…

Recent walk and sketching in early spring sunshine (and Baltic easterly!) at Burnham Overy Staithe, on the north Norfolk coast.

Reed-fringed pool, sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2017

Reed-fringed pool, sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2017


It was spring half-term so there were quite a few groups of people about and the usual dog walkers. Always happy when a dog bounces up to inspect what I’m doing 🙂 The sunlight through the reeds and spangled reflections in the pools was a joy to observe. Handily placed benches help too!

Reedbeds, Burnham Overy Staithe. © Mari French 2017

Reedbeds, Burnham Overy Staithe. © Mari French 2017

Burnham Overy Creek & breakwaters © Mari French 2017

Burnham Overy Creek & breakwaters © Mari French 2017

Abstracting the creek © Mari French 2017

Abstracting the creek © Mari French 2017

 
Tide retreating, Burnham Overy Staithe © Mari French 2017

Tide retreating, Burnham Overy Staithe © Mari French 2017

Returning to the car my attention was caught by large flocks of smaller birds lifting up into the air en-masse from the grazings, although the larger geese didn’t seem bothered. I stopped to use my monocular and spotted a Marsh Harrier swooping along the edge of the field and hedgerow, flushing the birds out. It swept swiftly up and along a few times then landed out of sight, possibly with a catch. I was hoping I might have caught it on my photos but it was too fast.

Birds flushed by harrier, Burnham Overy grazings © Mari French 2017

Birds flushed by harrier, Burnham Overy grazings © Mari French 2017

mud larks …

 Mudflats, low tide, Overy creek. Sketchbook, Mari French 2015

Mudflats, low tide, Overy creek. Sketchbook, Mari French 2015

I don’t actually walk across the marshes themselves; unless you’re extremely familiar with them that could be pretty risky. But the raised grassy banks of the sea defences that traverse the Norfolk saltmarsh coast, provide convenient access and elevated views across the marshes, reedbeds and creeks and out to the dunes and beaches. 

They also provide excellent walking opportunities; topped with good paths, they stretch for miles, crisscrossing the marshes between the string of coastal villages and, in places, linking up with official walking routes, such as the Peddars Way and the Norfolk Coastal Path. In summer the sea defences are bordered with a profusion of wildflowers, framing endless views. Even on the wildest winter days, there are usually a few hardy dog walkers or bird watchers about. Nevertheless it is still possible to get a sense of isolation and wilderness.

 

Burnham Overy creek. Mari French 2015

Burnham Overy creek. Mari French 2015

 
Thornham and Holkham are my usual sketching areas, but I sometimes go a few miles further east to Burnham Overy Staithe, which, with its moored sailboats, breakwaters, extensive sandy flats and grazings, offers an alternative sketching location.

Last Wednesday, although cold and windy, was bright and sunny and not wanting to waste the rare winter sun, I threw my sketching gear in the car with a simple packed lunch, and headed up through Burnham Market, through the lovely village of Burnham Overy and out to the Staithe and creek.

 

Breakwaters, Overy creek. Sketchbook, Mari French 2015

Breakwaters, Overy creek. Sketchbook, Mari French 2015

  
The tide was low and retreating, the wind strong and cold, and the clear sky reflected back off the wet mudflats where the creek had emptied, turning them into a blue expanse, scribbled with the tracks of birds and sinuous rivulets of water.  
Reedbeds with geese coming in. Mari French 2015

Reedbeds with geese coming in. Mari French 2015

  

Large flocks of small dark Brent geese, with their distinctive mutterings, clustered on the winter grazings. Curlews called and the wind brushed the burnished silver reeds into undulating waves. Out on the retreating creeks, redshank and cormorant. In the distance, murmurations of starlings like shadowy twisting veils.