The weather may have been very grey and trying to rain most of the time, but it was glorious to be out on the coast and not in lockdown. It is the first drive out of Ipswich I’ve made for over four months.
Of course, we know Coastal Suffolk well and the wind is rarely absent and even in July you sometimes needs a leather coat.
I have been coming to Shingle Street since I was six years old and each time I visit I am surprised at how little it changes. However, it is a long time since I can remember arriving at low-tide and seeing the treacherous shingle bar at the mouth of the River Alde.
Today, as we were walking down towards the shoreline I realised the extent the sea rises and the stormy waves travel during a winter high tide. When I was a teenager I used to imagine living in one of the cottages of this delightful seaside terrace, but now with more and more shocking news about the Climate Crisis I would be too nervous to live so close to the North Sea.
For the time being the sea kale and other wildflowers continue to bloom and seed and partially stabilise this low-lying, marshy coastline and we can enjoy a refreshing walk along the beach.
We are most definitely living through strange times. Or, perhaps, not if you look back across the centuries. Maybe it’s just our 21st-century, developed-world mode of living that has encouraged us to become more and more over-confident in the abilities of medical science and technology to overcome any ‘surprise’ new disease. Worryingly, according to the well-informed Bill Gates, it is unlikely that an effective vaccination will be widely available for at least 18 months.
And, only today all over the news (here in the UK) there have been discussions that it may well become commonplace when out and about in public to wear face masks in the same way that it is the accepted norm in countries like Japan.
At present, for most of us, following the lockdown rules and helping those we can in our immediate ‘socially distancing’ circle is the best we can do. And, of course, we can also thank those professional NHS staff, care home workers and all those employed turning up to perform essential roles. I don’t know if you have seen, but various artists have also shown their thanks by offering designs for those stuck at home to colour-in or adapt.
There was this design on the Arts page of the BBC website from Sir Michael Craig-Martin.
Then I saw that Damien Hirst had also produced a design. This too is available to download from his website.
But naturally I was always going to be doing my own version.
I have painted my thanks and I’ve hung it my bay window. I may not be a famous artist and this contribution may not be as big as some of the banners I’ve seen round Ipswich, but it’s certainly bright and cheerful .
Of course at the moment there’s not much vehicular traffic, but my road has become part of a popular route for joggers, cyclists, dog-walkers and people strolling through for their one hour of exercise in the sunshine. Quite a few of our local residents have tried to lift the somewhat gloomy air by filling their windows with rainbows and teddy bears (the bears are there for those on the Bear Hunt!) and somebody has even painted a full-colour, gloss paint rainbow across the road. Strange times indeed.
It is a long time since I’ve posted a ‘food/baking’ piece. It isn’t that I don’t do any cooking or baking these days, but more that food doesn’t have much to do with my creative work.
Obviously, blog posts about my professional work show the development and process of painting a silk scarf. Posts about art, sculpture, architectural details and East Anglia’s cultural heritage in general, indicate from where I find much of my inspiration. Then there are my flower and garden posts full of colourful floral arrangements as if you were in any doubt where quite a few of my colour combinations come from.
Then there is the odd time I write a review of a play or a film I’ve seen because I just can’t help myself despite reviews having nothing to do with painting silk. These reviews are the result of a momentary glitch when my grumpy alter ego manages to slip the leash.
But this has been a very strange and disconcerting Easter and like everybody else I have been indoors, a lot, and I found FLOUR in my store cupboard. That’s a selection of opened, half-used bags of plain, self-raising, strong, wholemeal, seeded, rye and spelt. So I’ve had a bake up.
Plain flour – that will be some almond biscotti made with two-thirds white to one-third muscovado sugar.
Self-raising flour – some Mary Berry scones perhaps.
Strong flour – easy, naturally, hot cross buns!
Fortunately, along with the strong flour I also had yeast, eggs, butter and the dried fruit and spices needed for hot cross buns. Another stroke of luck was finding at the back of the cupboard the whole citrus peel leftover from my three attempts at making panettone. My first effort was made for last Christmas. Then I had another go in January and then another in February.
Anyway, let’s forget Christmas and get back to Easter! Compared to panettone hot cross buns are easy. Mix up the dough, give it a good knead and the only thing you have to remember is that as this is an enriched dough, it’s a good hour and a half for the first prove rather than the usual hour.
This year the only issue I had was that the flour paste for the crosses was too runny and whereas I would normally keep ladling in the flour to make it thicker, with the current flour shortages, runny it stayed.
No family visiting from the depths of the West Country or even down from London this Easter holidays, but hot cross buns freeze well and will be a welcome carb treat with the morning coffee for the next . . . . . three weeks of lockdown.
Last month I went to see an exhibition of artwork on display at my local library. It was work created by art students studying for the UAL Foundation Diploma in Art & Design at Suffolk New College in Ipswich.
The brief for the students was to creatively tackle the issue of sustainability and their explorations were displayed around the Ipswich County Library.
This interesting exhibition was a collaboration between Suffolk Libraries and Suffolk New College with BLOC hosting the event. What or who are BLOC you’re thinking. Actually BLOC is an acronym that stands for Building Libraries on Creativity. It is Suffolk Libraries’ creative youth arts programme which has the aim to use creativity as a catalyst to improve young people’s resilience and wellbeing, and to change perceptions of libraries and how they serve the community, with a focus on young people. It was certainly great to see the thoughtful and compelling work created by the students. However, it was a little chilling that there was a definite grim edge to their assessment of where they think we currently are with the issue of sustainability.
I think any endeavour to get youngsters into libraries is welcome and holding exhibitions and other events helps to highlight the presence of libraries and also broaden their appeal for the wider community.
At the end of last month it didn’t feel very wintry and now, already halfway through January, it is still surprisingly mild with no sign of a true cold snap in the forecasts for East Anglia.
My local park, Holywells Park, even has a hint of spring about it. Between the dead and drying ornamental grasses I spied long, green blades of recent growth.
There was also the colourful mix of reliable evergreens; ivy, box, holly, euonymous and even the dramatic black ophiopogon planiscapus all looking ‘super’ vibrant and healthy (no signs or blemishes from frost damage as so far no heavy frosts).
Of course, even in this rather mild English winter there are still plants that need to be given full protection from the merest suggestion of frost or even a hint of a chilly breeze. One such specimen is the banana tree. There’s plenty of protected space and a pitched ceiling in the beautifully restored Victorian conservatory to allow this banana tree to thrive.
As I continued through the park, there was a surprise. I walked through this distinctly autumnal scene. There had been a late drop of fronds from an ornamental tree and the amber tones seemed to proclaim, “No winter here, move on, move on, it’s still autumn”.
It occurred to me if there’s a planting of winter evergreens, a flourishing summer banana tree, albeit in a conservatory, a springtime clump of green shoots and an autumnal carpet of brittle orange leaves, then at this moment Holywells Park was a park of all seasons!
We recognise the green shoots of spring or rich autumnal colour as seasonal, as normal for our part of the world, but by the end of this new Climate Crisis decade . . . . what will we witness, what will we be experiencing as seasonal?
This year at Blackthorpe Barn, as usual, the scarf that caught the attention of the casual passersby was not my favourite. You would think by now I would be used to the well known truth ‘to each their own’ – and so it was on this occasion the blue was popular and yet my favourite, the rich red, was not. I realise that this isn’t quite that simple as within different cultures, particularly where colour is concerned, some colours are more popular than others. For example, red is the most popular colour in China and is traditionally considered to bring good luck and success.
However, despite red being a Christmassy colour here in the UK, and, having several of my red scarves on display, it was this blue neckerchief that received the most appreciative comments, and sold first.
Perhaps it was the way I had displayed it draped across the source photograph of my homegrown flowers, clearing showing from where the colour inspiration had come. Perhaps this little detail intrigued people.
Also, it wasn’t as though it was the biggest one on display which naturally was another one of my favourites. This scarf of soft pastel pinks and lilacs on a parchment background only garnered a couple of appreciative comments and it didn’t sell.
After the weekend’s experience I would like to be able to conclude that I have a clearer idea of what my customers want to buy. However, each year the preferences are different. Fashion trends are ephemeral, and at the same time individuals have their own favourite colours and colours that suit them, and, in the end buying any clothing for oneself or as a gift is a matter of personal taste. And, what’s more no directive from the fashion police or Pantone ‘Colour of the Year’ folk will make somebody choose peach (Living Coral, 2019), or purple (Ultra Violet, 2018), or lime green (Greenery, 2017) if they don’t already like those colours.
As I wrote last week I will be at Blackthorpe Barn for the British Crafts this weekend. Obviously there has been publicity in the local press and for Suffolk that means a splash in the East Anglian Daily Times.
But the really good news is that the pre-eminent organisation, The Craft Council, has also recommended the British Crafts event in their list of the best eight Christmas Craft events across the UK.
I don’t actually take the Crafts Magazine myself, but I looked at their online listing and found this engaging photograph showing Margaret Gardiner presenting once of her beautiful pieces accompanying the listing for Blackthorpe Barn.
I think it is quite a coup for Blackthorpe Barn to be included in this feature and my fingers are crossed that all my fellow crafters will do well especially during these uncertain times.
In just over a weeks’ time I shall be part of British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn again. Naturally, I am preparing my display and sorting out my stock and it occurred to me that I have more red scarves available this year than in previous years. Is red a colour people choose to wear in winter or just a colour associated more with Christmassy things?
As part of the preparations for a show there is the publicity and this year I sent six photographs to the marketing and social media folk at Blackthorpe Barn for my listing on their site. Will the red neckerchief be chosen?
It is always interesting for me to see which photograph gets selected as the ‘header’ image for my listing. I was really surprised when I first saw the picture featuring the pinks and greys of the Thomasina scarf had been picked.
However, when you see the ‘Craft Makers’ page you can see that it is the best one of the six I sent to balance their arrangement particularly when you notice the main header image features plenty of red.
I think you’d agree the picture did fit well and, luckily for once, both the model’s face and scarf are in focus!
British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn is about Christmas. Around the back of the big old barn hundreds of Christmas trees are for sale and the complex hosts a bespoke Christmas shop full of decorations as well as the main barn featuring all the craft stalls. And, somewhere in our culture red has become solidly associated with Christmas, if not particularly with winter clothing, and I guess that’s why my attention has been drawn more my red work.
Well, other things might not be happening today, 31st October 2019, despite the premature minting of ‘Brexit’ coins, but Halloween is still on. And, this post, photographs of skeletons on display at the Ipswich Museum, is a little contribution to the general spookiness of the day.
Some skeletons are easily identifiable, but this massive bone arrangement for the Woolly Mammoth has an air of a rocky outcrop about it and I had to take a hard look to figure out what I was seeing.
However, this dramatic looking skeleton caught my attention with the obvious rib cage and the recognisable skull. It was displayed in the post-glacial section of the exhibition, so I guessed it might have been a badger, but I was wrong. It was a beaver. Skeletal remains of beavers are quite common in the fens of East Anglia and this one was found in the peat in Burwell Fen, Cambridgeshire. Sadly, the beaver was hunted for fur and food and finally exterminated in England in the Saxon times. However, recently there have been successful re-introduction programmes in several parts of Great Britain (see Devon Wildlife Trust’s Beaver Project).
After being sidetracked by the Ice Age displays I went off to the Geology Room to find what I had actually come to see, a really, really big skull. The skull of a whale. It was from a whale that swam up the River Orwell in 1811 and died after becoming stranded on Denham Beach.
It is so large it is difficult to photograph and get a sense of its size, I guess its about 3 metres by 1.5 metres. It is also difficult to comprehend what you are seeing especially if marine mammal anatomy is not your field.
Beneath the whale skull were a range of cabinets with skeletons of creatures from modern times. Specimens of mammals, birds and fish are displayed and, although, a casual visitor may not be able to identify individual species, it was not hard to guess the animal from the bones. For example, you would know that this was a skeleton of a primate, but was it a chimpanzee, a gorilla or perhaps even an orangutan?
At first glance you might even briefly think it was an early human skeleton, but the main differences between a gorilla skeleton and a human skeleton are seen in the teeth, skull, pelvis and large toes. That looks quite a jaw and heavy brow on this lady.
Back in my studio and always interested in finding interesting shapes and patterns for my work I took another look at my photographs. The fish, the gorilla and the ostrich bone pictures had possibilities.
The fish skeleton makes for perhaps a better print-like image (top of this post) than a glowing line treatment, but the gorilla skull is transformed with glowing lines into an impressive Halloween portrait.
However, easily the most elegant of all the bones I saw at the Ipswich Museum was the ostrich skeleton and it’s made the best picture.