As many of you know I have been painting silk for years and mostly selling painted silk scarves, but that was until Covid.
When the pandemic arrived and with it, eventually, the wearing of masks in crowded spaces and on public transport and during a lockdown or not, there was an explosion of homemade masks of every shape and colour. And, as some of you know, I started painting and making silk versions. All that was until the arrival of working vaccines and the gradual reduction of mask wearing.
Now, anybody who knows me in real life knows that I view sewing, by hand or machine, as a means to an end. Getting my old sewing machine out to make masks was an interesting experience for me. In the end sewing and making joined painting as part of my everyday work.
All this prattle brings me to the point that for some bizarre reason at the beginning of this year I decided to embark on a large painting and machine embroidered piece of work. Yes, I did just write ‘at the beginning of this year’, because this has turned out to be a very long drawn out endeavour. And, I am now at the stage where I have picked it up and started and stopped so many times I am wondering whether it will ever get finished. The working day routine of sewing masks pretty much ceased back around last Easter and in between periods of scarf painting, this long, involved project began to take more and more time. Now, as we move into autumn my patience for machine embroidery on this scale is seriously running out of steam.
Anyway I thought I’d share my progress so far and I will blog about it again if it ever gets finished.
To be an art collector is a privilege and, of course, in the past it has mostly been royalty, the aristocracy and the Church who have commissioned as well as collected art. That is why I think it is fascinating to see personal collections of people from more recent times who come from different environments other than the usual suspects so as to speak.
I think the art collected by Benjamin Britten and his partner, Peter Pears, is interesting as it contains commissioned portraits of both men as you would expect, with one a world renowned composer and the other a famous tenor, but it also includes a broader and more diverse range of pictures and sculptures. Their whole collection numbers around 1,200 works with many on display at The Red House within the domestic setting of their home.
Although the collection is not all about them specifically or their work, it nevertheless gives an insight into their interests and their daily lives. We are left with a glimpse of them as we see their chosen art ornamenting the rooms where they dined, read, relaxed and entertained. As with any large collection not all the work is on display at any one time, but nevertheless the rooms reflect more than a hint of the essence of the Britten-Pears home.
Hanging on the walls of The Red House there are works featuring their friends such as colleague and close friend Imogen Holst. (She is, in fact now buried behind the two graves of Britten and Pears in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul, Aldeburgh.)
Also, there are works reflecting their personal taste, with apparently Peter Pears’ preference for strongly coloured 20th-century work.
However, apparently Britten’s taste was more restrained and, there are many drawings and sketches amongst the collection.
Of course, and not in the least surprising as with many art lovers, there are works featuring Venice.
Finally, if one is lucky enough to have the means, you can collect pictures by artists from the canon and the Britten-Pears collection has works by William Blake, Walter Sickert, David Hockney and, of course, being men of Suffolk, a painting by John Constable.
I have to say that up until recently I was very much committed to the traditional dark background for a floral image.
You only have to see a few examples of those amazingly skilful and intriguing seventeenth-century Dutch flower paintings to fall in love with the striking contrast of colourful blooms against a very dark, if not black background.
Over the years whenever I have grown enough flowers to put together a reasonable arrangement I have attempted to save the results of my gardening labours by snapping a few floral-themed photos with black backgrounds.
Now this preference of mine came under serious personal scrutiny when I decided to enter an image-based competition where photograph entries had to be uploaded to Instagram. I don’t know if you have ever noticed, but photos on screens can either benefit from the backlighting effect of the screen or be blighted by it.
After some time experimenting with my dahlias I concluded that a bright, almost white background made for a more interesting, contemporary photo and suited the screen presentation a little better. And, then it was a choice of going with either more flowers (above) or less (below). I chose less and although not a winner I was individually thanked for taking part, as were all entrants, which I thought was rather civilised for social media.
Back in 2014, one year after I opened my online shop, it became clear that ‘Agnes Ashe’ should be on Instagram. The occasion that prompted my boarding this particular social media train was when the US craft platform, Etsy, decided to make a UK television advert. In order to be included in the selection procedure Etsy wanted to see your work on Instagram.
The above is the first post I made on Instagram back on 8th May 2014 and over the next couple of weeks the pictures uploaded on a daily basis included my painted silk scarves, flowers, my garden and, of course, the ubiquitous coffee shot!
I haven’t posted a coffee photo in years and it is rare that I post any food or cooking pictures these days, but I still post many flowers and, needless to say, my silk painting work. But, in this fast moving world of everything social media, Instagram, is not the same platform it was back in 2014.
Instagram has been around for about 11 years and during the first five years there were no significant algorithm changes, not even when Facebook bought the platform in 2012 as Instagram hit 50 million active users. By the time I joined in 2014, Facebook had already introduced advertising the previous year despite considerable grumbling from their longtime users.
However, 2016 was the watershed year when ‘the Algorithm’ (basically how other people find and see your posts) was totally overhauled. From this time onwards Instagram and visibility have been a moveable feast. I guess for high profile Instagram stars and celebrities it is all part of the social media game, but for regular individuals or small businesses posting on Instagram whether simple posts, stories (recent example below) or reels, it is not quite the useful beast it once was. It has turned into somewhat of a voracious monster for me gobbling up my working time prepping not only photos, but videos and slideshows. I suppose some aspects of social media work are creative, but I would rather be creating and painting scarves.
Now reading ‘Salt and Spittle’ you may have thought I was going to post a ‘foodie’ review following a visit to a new, ironically named local pub, but no that’s not the case.
Of course, I am sure some folk will already know about pre-Reformation baptismal rites, but this was all knew to me despite my longstanding interest in medieval art, sculpture and architecture. Perhaps, that is because the ‘salt and spittle’ aspect did not easily lend itself to artistic interpretation.
The ‘sal et saliva’ (salt and spittle) was part of the sacrament of baptism where salt was placed in the infant’s mouth whilst the nose and ears were anointed with the priest’s saliva during the ceremony.
Fascinatingly and somewhat serendipitously, there is a medieval font in Ipswich where it is still possible to read the ‘sal et saliva’ carved into stone. The eight sided, fifteenth-century font bowl of the church of St Margaret shows eight angels bearing scrolls. Originally, all eight angels had carved faces and text on their scrolls, but then the iconoclasts came to visit. It isn’t clear whether the angels were defaced sometime during the sixteenth century or later when William Dowsing made his destructive tour through East Anglia.
“Margarett’s, Jan. 30. There was 12 Apostles in stone taken down; and between 20 and 30 superstitious pictures to be taken down, which a godly man, a churchwarden promised to do.”
William Dowsing. Record – St Margaret’s Church, Ipswich. 30th January 1644
However, the survival of the text might simply have been that the font had been moved up against a pillar or the wall and had therefore restricted access for arm with chisel. Although, it does appear that the angel’s face was removed. I suppose it will remain an unresolved mystery as to why this text ‘sal et saliva’ has survived.
The Reformation in England had mixed outcomes but at least one benefit was that such a superstitious and unhygienic aspect of baptism fell out of practice. I can’t imagine many modern parents would want their baby anointed with spittle not least in these Covid 19 times.
On Monday of this week the IPCC published a report that has finally shocked our complacent media into taking the climate crisis seriously. Even BBC News has well and truly jumped off the fence of ‘balance’ and stopped giving airtime to climate change deniers such as Nigel Lawson. And, they even posted the headline – Climate report is ‘code red for humanity’.
Of course, for many, many people of this country this wasn’t news, but, sadly, a confirmation of the dire situation humanity faces. Where I live, as yet, the worst we have had has been tropical, monsoon-style heavy showers, but no actual flash flooding. Mind you I do live on a hill towards the top, but my father lives down on Ipswich Waterfront. He has received several flood alerts, but luckily high tides and torrential downpours have not coincided and only the nearby car park has flooded.
On a lesser issue all this rain and continuous warm damp has provided super optimal conditions for the slugs and snails. My backyard has been invaded and overwhelmed by snails. First they ate all my runner bean plants, then they started on the dahlias (always a favourite with both snails and slugs) and now they have moved on to the lilies. I have been growing lilies for over 20 years and, yes, in the past I have had to fight off the dreaded lily beetle, but this is the first time my lilies have been shredded by snails.
Finally, in exasperation last week I went to war against these pests. Now, firstly I didn’t use slug pellets as they are a disaster for the wildlife and, rather incompetently, I had already missed the window of opportunity earlier in the season for deploying nematodes. This has left me with only one option to sally forth in the drizzle at dusk, hunt them down and physically destroy them.
It has been very unpleasant and I have wondered how the professional growers of fruit and vegetables produce largely undamaged crops. I know really, mostly they use pesticides, but not for me as I garden organically. In a small, urban space without a pond for frogs or any town-dwelling hedgehogs visiting to snack at the snail bar, my backyard is devoid of predators except for me with my torch and wellies.
I don’t know about you, but I remember as a child washing mud from locally grown potatoes, picking out tiny slugs whilst preparing lettuce and cutting the odd worm or maggot from an apple. These days we appear to have forgotten the effort and resources that have been used to get near ‘perfect’ fresh food to the shops, but, perhaps this is about to seriously change. Apart from the immediate difficult weather, the climate crisis is already bringing droughts and floods and generally unseasonable weather to other parts of the world, and worryingly there are signs of the beginning of strain on our system of food production.
The IPCC issued another report (not this current ‘Code Red for Humanity’ one), a report that contained an entire chapter about food security back in August 2019 – you hadn’t heard about that? Neither had I. Disappointingly, looking around at all the great and good elected to govern us and lead by example, they too, don’t appear to have heard about it either and, even if they have, they’ve taken no action. Two years on from that report and with COP26 this November and following/despite the publication of the Code Red warning, it’s all still very much business as usual.
The four horsemen of the Apocalypse may be on the horizon but let’s instead fret about exam grade inflation, refugees crossing the Channel and propping up the aviation industry as everybody is (apparently) entitled to cheap holiday flights!
Here’s a thought regarding climate crisis action “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” John Bunyan (1628-1688).
About once a year I paint an experimental, trial scarf for myself, then tweak the design and when I’m satisfied paint a very similar more refined version for the shop.
Not long ago I reviewed my stock and assessed the different colours available. I realised recently I have been mostly working with blues, turquoise and pinks. On my shop there’s also scarves in pink and green, soft green and gold, but no strong green.
Last time I did this ‘one for me (prototype) and one for the shop’ I was working with strong, vivid reds. This time I thought I would use the same approach to work with some zestful, bright greens.
Of course, sometimes there’s a fashion for a certain colour and I notice green has become popular of late. Now, this bright green is quite a change for me and for a first experiment it was always going to be working with my smallest scarf size.
Also this small ‘neckerchief’ size is a personal favourite as it can be worn to add a small accent splash of colour, especially when it is such a zingy colour.
Finally, both green scarves were finished and steamed and now one is on the shop and I am wearing the ‘trial’ one as I type this post!
“You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.”
No – we are not standing gazing across from West Egg to East Egg, but sailing down the River Orwell in Suffolk on board the Sailing Barge Victor. I just saw that green light and immediately thought of Gatsby. What an old romantic!
This special trip had been booked by my daughter for midsummer 2020, but we all know what was happening last June and, in due course, like so many events that excursion was postponed.
You may remember that last year June was warm, dry and summery, but this year it has been just a bit more on the wet side. We climbed on board and whilst waiting to set off, I started taking some photos and noticed it had already begun to drizzle.
Once Victor had cast off it was round the marina to the old lock. As we waited for the lock to empty to the level of the river the persistent drizzle turned to rain proper. It was lucky my camera is fine in less than optimal conditions (it has a sealed, weatherproof body apparently) as we got soaked remaining on deck determined to make the most of the experience.
Fortunately, it was only a shortish downpour and by the time the barge chugged under the Orwell Bridge the rain had stopped. There was a gentle breeze and the Master decided it was time to cut the engine and hoist the sails.
The sudden peace and quiet was delightful as the huge main sail filled with the breeze and the barge gently sailed down the river. This was the first time I’ve been on a boat under wind power and it was enchanting.
Of course, sailing is slower than being engine-powered, but why be in a hurry. I think humans, particularly in so-called advanced societies, have lost something that’s restorative that comes with ‘slow’. In our relentless need for speed, continual clock watching and chasing our tails much is missed.
With the climate crisis making its presence felt more and more perhaps we need to rethink this speed thing and generally take life at a gentler pace and burn less fossil fuel.
Our barge trip was an evening affair and despite being just past midsummer, it was dark by the time we returned to Ipswich. And, what a treat to approach the Old Customs House from the water lit up in all its glory.
Finally, if you were wondering what Victor looks like under sail, here’s a couple of photographs I took from another boat as Victor sailed past us on a very windy day in August 2018.
Well, who’d have thought we’d go from cool and rainy to very hot and sunny from one week to the next. Of course, the answer is anybody used to English weather.
The roses, clematis and lilies have most definitely appreciated the moist soil followed by plenty of sunshine.
And, finally the pots planted up with summer bedding have eventually taken off and got into their stride.
Whilst writing this post I took a moment to review the progress over the last three years of getting my concrete backyard to look like a garden.
It has taken a fair amount of effort and time, but, at last, when I look out at the backyard I do feel as though I am looking at a garden. Unfortunately, the excess of rain at the wrong time facilitated a population explosion of slugs and snails. This has done entirely for the runner beans with every single one eaten to the ground and has also pretty much annihilated the sweet peas resulting in only one in five surviving to flower. However, there are plenty of plants that have not been eaten (yet) and the recent sunshine has boosted flower production enough for me to cut and have a scented arrangement for indoors.
As artists, artisans, creatives and makers we all form part of the visual culture community and as such it is always a joy to see and be inspired by the work of others past and present.
One commendable opportunity offered by the Internet is the ability to share our finds and photos of inspirational art particularly the unnamed work of past artisans. Sharing our appreciation gently reverberates across the net as pleasantly, every now and then somebody pops up and leaves some much appreciated positive feedback for my own work.
Just recently I have received a couple of delightful mentions one by Sheri 42 from the blogging world
and one by ‘Suffolk Artists’ on Instagram. And, so I thought I would blog a ‘thank you’ post for both mentions and share the love as they say.
It might be a cool and wet start to July, but recently I have turned to painting with a warmer range of colours.
It is another layered mid-sized scarf which has ended up more patterned with the second layer than I had originally intended.
And, after steaming the colours have turned out to be stronger and hotter than expected as well. Perhaps this weather is going to get the idea and also turn hotter too and then we’ll have a summer after all.