A creative process – medieval art, craft and artisans (part 1)

Ranworth-ceiling-decorationRecently I have been working on my ‘Ranworth Collection’, a series of painted scarves that have been inspired by the medieval rood screen of St Helen’s church, Ranworth in Norfolk. The painted rood screens of East Anglia make a stunning contribution to the region’s heritage. Also as they can still be found at their original sites they provide a very tangible connection to the past lives of medieval East Anglians within some physical context.

Nowadays, these painted screens are appreciated as exquisite examples of medieval art, yet at the time of their construction and painting they were created by artisans and craftsmen and were objects of religious piety. Of course, in the late-fifteenth century the very notion of ‘an artist’ as we understand it today was a developing concept that was only just becoming established.

I don’t call myself an artist, but an artisan as my current creations do not have an overt, considered content other than their visual design. Not even if my collection of one-off pieces was to be presented as a whole in an exhibition could I name it an ‘art installation’. I have made art in the past when I set out to produce a visual representation of a sequence of experiences that were personally significant to me. However, I arrive at the creation of a painted scarf in a very different way although I employ the same techniques.

For a textile design my creative process begins with a visit to a place that has caught my attention. Sometimes it is the exterior architectural details of a medieval structure or a small carved detail found inside a church that offer potential to be translated into a two dimensional design. But with the ornate detail of the painted screens it is not just the intricate patterns that are so carefully rendered, but also the delicate, fading colours of the images that I find inspirational.

On a visit I take between 50 to 100 photographs of the various panels that make up the rood screen. I check the website for the parish church before I visit to ensure I won’t be intruding on a service and I try to start early before the tourists and visitors arrive at the more popular places. It takes at least an hour to shoot an interesting screen and, of course, there is absolutely NO FLASH when photographing 500 year old paintings.

Back at the coal face, sorry computer screen, I then start the process of selection and elimination. This procedure clarifies my visual impressions from standing in front of the originals and my own designs for pattern and colour combinations gradually crystallize as I select images from which to work.


Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

8 thoughts on “A creative process – medieval art, craft and artisans (part 1)”

  1. Thanks for the insight into your creative process. You are so in touch with the world around you. Your eyes are open to spotting and interpreting in a way the mere tourist can only skim over. I am sure the finished works will be amazing. The photos suggest to me they will suit someone with autumn colouring.

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words and encouragement. I think there is one personal and a couple of obvious reasons why I ‘spot and interpet’ the way I do. For some years I lived with a typographer and they have an amazing attention to detail thing going on and I learnt from them how to really look. Secondly I have done a little work on colour vision and finally (can’t remember now if I mentioned it before) I do have an Art History Master’s. So although my interpretations are obviously personal, they are a technically informed personal. 🙂

  2. I was aware of your art history background and I like the way you weave the technical theory into your posts. I learn a lot from that. (because I so did not have any sort of artistic or classical education). However, it takes passion to convert learning into a way of life – and I also feel that passion in your creations. I often think of you as I am travelling around and seeing colour and patterns in my wanderings. I don’t get the time to put up all the photos, but sometimes I snap a shot with you in mind . . .

  3. You know sometimes in our blogging world you feel that sharing is the best thing we can do. I’ve certainly appreciated many of your travel photos (and witty commentary) and the driving tours of NSW. We take for granted what we see on our doorstep, but our back yard can look pretty exotic from the other side of the globe. I’m interested to see what you make of your Bradford investigations – not sure if anybody has ever thought Bradford could be exotic!

    1. Strictly speaking it isn’t the whole ceiling, but part of the wooden rood screen structure that crosses the nave of St Helen’s, Ranworth, Norfolk, England – the church is also known as the ‘cathedral of the Broads’!

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