Working up a fennel/morning glory design

Fennel-2Change of season and change of mood and I’m feeling like working stripes into my more floral scarf designs. Looking at Mother Nature’s versions of decorative streaks has given me a good place to start.

Some variations of Morning Glory have been worth stripping back to a slightly less intricate rendering and then worked with different colour combinations.

However, although these ideas would work well if I was screen-printing them onto a scarf, my freehand, painting style needs to have a looser starting point. I thought I’d combine these heavier looking floral shapes with my recent fennel inspired motifs.

Fennel-1

Here’s work in progress of a version I’ve created combining the two ideas.

 

Digital prints versus hand painted

Perhaps the inquiry ‘digital prints versus hand painted’ appears at first glance a non-starter as a challenge. After all, whether digital or any other kind of print, the notion of prints is that there is more than the single original. The collection of images here is considering the original inspirational flowers and how they have been worked into textile designs for either multiple print use or one-of-a-kind hand work.

A print is a copy of the original and the more copies there are somehow changes the value of the original – or does it? There are many reproduction copies of, for example, the ‘Mona Lisa’, but the original is almost priceless. The arrangement of a ‘limited’ print run is the intermediate solution between an expensive original and cheaper mass produced copies. In many cases it obvious the difference between an original and a print – Monet didn’t paint his many different water lilies on the side of shopping bags, but large canvases.

However, in the world of silk painting a digital reproduction on a scarf is sometimes termed as a ‘limited edition’ and then labelled as ‘hand’ made if a square of digitally printed silk has had the edges sewn by hand.

A digital print on silk from an original piece of artwork.
A digital print on silk from an original piece of artwork.

There is something uneven and unrepeatable in the process of hand painting silk that gives a finished piece a unique appearance. Even when you have an original drawing, watercolour or oil painting translated into a digital form and then printed on to silk the accuracy and consistency of the technology somehow reduces the irregular, fluctuating effect of the hand painted original. Obviously, I’m used to working with silk and examining it closely and I’ve found it hard to put my finger on precisely what the difference between digital and hand painted is, but a difference there certainly is and it is more than just knowing there is only one like it!

Fading green – inspired by nature, again.

Cosmos-garden-bokehFading flowers and foliage in the autumn garden provide inspirational shapes and colour as the vibrant summer greens lose their intensity.

Eventually after a couple of hours in the steamer the dyes are fixed and the scarf can be modelled, photographed and uploaded to the shop.

The Poppy – An Inspirational Flower

Poppy-RoseWith this year’s centenary commemorations for the start of World War 1 there will probably be more representations of poppies than usual.

poppy-shirley-series

Various forms of the poppy single or double, annual or perennial and in a variety of colours from white through yellow to salmon pink to deep red are found all over the world.

Katsushika Hokusai poppies
Poppies by Katsushika Hokusai
Edo period (19th century) woodblock print.

The delicate annual field poppy (papaver rhoeas) germinates from recently turned soil, thriving and blooming across the summer. Up close poppies are striking, but still have an ephemeral quality that has long inspired visual artists.

silk Japanese furisode
Vintage silk Japanese furisode with poppy design. Thought to be from the Taisho period (1912-1926).

There’s even the stunning blue Himalayan poppy, meconopsis. I once grew some meconopsis (M. baileyi I think) in my front garden as it provided the best conditions. Eventually in its second year it bloomed. I was so thrilled with the amazing colour, but to my utter surprise the next day somebody leaned over the low wall and picked all the flowers and I hadn’t even had chance to take a picture! I hoped it was a child that was so in awe of the colour that they had taken the flowers home to show to their family.

Kitchen-flowers

Forget-me-nots and the Erpingham Gate

Sir Thomas Erpingham was a fifteenth-century English nobleman who distinguished himself when in charge of the King’s bowmen at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. As an important and significant Norwich figure he made substantial donations to the city’s religious institutions. Charitable donations during the medieval period were more than just duty, they allowed an individual to display their status, but, more importantly, financially supporting the church purchased a speedy journey through purgatory and up to heaven. A wealthy knight like Thomas Erpingham made a very significant earthly and heavenly mark when he provided the funds for the building of a new gatehouse at the entrance to Norwich Cathedral.

The gatehouse was built between 1420 and 1435 and has a single arch supported on each side by semi-hexagonal buttresses. The arch is divided into two decorative schemes, the inner order is the twelve apostles (probably) set in a series of niches, and the outer is a series of twelve female saints. The carved foliage, used as a visual linking device running up the arch, has been weathered over the centuries, but you can still see that it is oak leaves and acorns. The buttresses are covered with shields and devices of the families of Erpingham, Clopton, and Walton (those of Sir Thomas Erpingham’s wives), but I couldn’t pick out the forget-me-not design which apparently also makes up part of the Erpingham heraldic achievement.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t see the forget-me-not sculptural detail so I’ve had a good hunt round the Internet. One of my past Art History lecturers, now retired, has spent six years accompanied by his photographer wife, surveying the public sculpture of Norfolk and I’ve studied her excellent, up-close and detailed photographs and I’ve found the forget-me-nots. It is a single flower motif carved above a shield, above a falcon rising on the outer front columns of the buttresses – second panels up in this early nineteenth-century etching by Cotman – still a bit difficult to see though not as eroded as now.

erpingham gate cotman
Etching of the Erpingham Gate by John Sell Cotman, 1818. 10″ x 8″

Below is a ring from MagpieHouse showing a contemporary version of the single, more architectural form, of the forget-me-not motif. When you are looking at weathered architecture it certainly helps to know the basic design shapes you are looking for, but it is only when the scaffolding goes up for repairs that accurate recording and high quality photographs can be achieved.

The fifteenth-century forget-me-not sculpted motif is in the middle of the upper niche in this photograph on the right.

forget me not
The simple five petalled flower of the forget-me-not.

Motif Combinations

Clematis armandii SnowdriftHere, in East Anglia, we’ve had a ‘green’ winter – that is no significant periods of below freezing temperatures and no snow. Early March and both my clematis armandii climbers are blooming almost a month earlier than last year.


St Peter, Ranworth rood screen
Detail of 15th century painting of ornate garment worn by St Peter on the Ranworth Rood Screen. Ranworth, Norfolk.

I am currently working on a 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf. I’m combining a floral shape taken from the clematis and motifs that appear on the ornate robe of St Peter as depicted on the 15th-century Ranworth rood screen. At first glance you might assume that the motifs painted on this 15th-century panel were inspired by the surrounding flora and fauna of East Anglia. However, it is more likely they were copied from a pattern book that had been brought over from Northern Europe. It is even possible that these patterns were lifted from silk cloth woven in the northern cities of Italy such as Catanzaro and Lucca. And, some of these woven motifs were designs that had originated in China, migrating along the ‘Silk Road’ embedded in the rich silk cloth traded from the East to the West.

Clematis armandii Appleblossom
Clematis armandii Appleblossom

I read that the clematis armandii is native to China, but I don’t think this small flower shown on the St Peter’s robe is an ‘armandii’ motif, however I liked the idea of combining shapes from the 15th-century screen with a flower from my spring garden.

Image Translations

seed heads fennelSoaking up images, internalising and then creating something slightly different. Sometimes it’s form, sometimes it’s colour, but mostly it’s a combination. Currently working on a piece that feels like the end of winter – let’s hope!


An end of winter feeling.
An end of winter feeling.

The Thistle – Spiky Yet Inspirational

Some plants and flowers inspire us to paint or photograph them because they colourful. They are either bold and dramatic or perhaps pale and delicate. However, other plants are more about shape and the thistle is most certainly one of these. Spiky plants lend themselves to a pared back, silhouette-like rendering. The thistle has inspired many illustrators, artists and designers over the centuries. With its barbed flowers and serrated leaves the history of the thistle motif is seen in many decorative pieces from medieval manuscripts to Elizabethan textiles to Victorian wallpaper.

The ‘thistle’ inspiration for different thistle motifs is a spiky plant, but not always the same one. The Scotch thistle (onopordum acanthium) is probably the one that springs to mind, but the globe thistle (echinops) pops up from time to time. Both the Scotch and globe thistles are at least in the same botanical family Asteraceae. The other thistles that are popular as design inspiration are the sea hollies (eryngiums), but they are in the family Apiaceae.

Dürer Self Portrait holding thistle
‘Portrait of the Artist Holding a Thistle’ Albrecht Dürer, 1493, at the Louvre, Paris.
Holding sea holly (eryngium).

An early example of a thistle design is a Viking silver thistle brooch dating from the early 10th century now at the British Museum.

viking silver thistle brooch
Silver thistle brooch of ball type. Viking 10th century.
Length: 511 mm Diameter: 190 mm Height: 36 mm
Weight: 678 g

The Victorian, Owen Jones, who was an architect and designer, wrote ‘The Grammar of Ornament’ (published in 1856) outlining his theory of design. In his book he and his students attempted to extract and catalogue design motifs from historical sources across the centuries and produce a reference guide for flat patterning.


The thistle becomes more extensively used for ornamentation when monks began decorating medieval manuscripts with native flora. And, of course, the thistle is now known as the emblem of Scotland since it was adopted by James III in the fifteenth century.

My recent photograph of thistles in the front garden inspired me to paint a thistle scarf or two.

echinops eryngiums white hydrangea
Thistles – Globe Thistles (echinops) and Sea Holly (eryngium)

The Sacred Fungus and the Everlasting Flame

field mushroom
Humble English field mushrooms found under the hedge at the bottom of my garden
– not sacred, but very tasty!
Last month I went to an exhibition being held at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, the University of London. It was called ‘The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination’. I was interested in seeing artefacts associated with Zoroastrianism across the centuries from its beginnings in ancient Persia. I first discovered this religion when writing about the visual environment of Late Antiquity looking at the Roman cult of Mithras and early Christian imagery. Light, fire and the light from a flame was of significance for followers of both religions during this period. Fire symbolised purity and there appeared to be a link to Persian Zoroastrianism.

lotus flower brick
Lotus-flower decoration.
Brick thought possibly to come from the sides of the staircases in the palace of Darius (522-486 BCE) at Susa, Iran.

Zoroastrianism is considered to be probably the world’s oldest monotheistic religion originating from the ancient tribes of Iran over 3500 years ago. Central to the Zoroastrian belief system is that there is only one creator God and at the heart of the religious rituals is fire. Fire, the everlasting flame, represents God’s light or God’s wisdom. There is evidence of the Zoroastrian presence in the Bible. In Christianity, the Three Wise Men from the East who bring gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus, are sometimes depicted in Persian dress, and they are described as ‘Magi’, a Persian word for a Zoroastrian priest.

It was a fascinating exhibition with at its core a small fire temple consisting of an inner sanctum and out prayer room. Rooms within rooms and a hierarchy of space is an idea repeated in many sacred spaces and I was reminded of a visit I made to the ancient Egyptian Temple of Edfu.

Temple at Edfu, Egypt
Edfu Temple, Egypt.
Plan showing a sacred hierarchy.

Of course I’m interested in cloth and the display of 18th and 19th century Parsi textiles caught my attention. The Parsi are Zoroastrians who live in modern day India. The exquisite embroidery and the beautiful designs show the variety of symbols that have been incorporated into the more recent interpretations of Zoroastrianism. This is the first time I’ve come across the notion of the ‘sacred fungus’ which according to the accompanying museum labels is a Chinese belief dating back over 4000 years.

sacred fungus
Late 19th century purple garo silk embroidery detail showing swirling water and fungus of immortality.

Readers and collectors of Chinese porcelain will be familiar with the motif, the symbol of longevity, as seen on Chinese ceramics.



smock jhabla
Detail from child’s smock (jhabla). 20th century piece. Silk with silk embroidery.

The specific fungus, is the lingzhi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum), and is commonly used in Chinese herbal medicine. This Chinese motif became incorporated into Zoroastrian culture and was embroidered onto Parsi clothing especially smocks (jhabla) worn by children to ward off evil. It is intriguing to see a motif worked in different media, but retain an essence of its original meaning.

Ganoderma lucidum - sacred fungus
The Sacred Fungus
lingzhi fungus
(Ganoderma lucidum)

Fallen Fruit Silks

Jane Hall Designs
It is strange how in our 24 hours a day wired and connected world we can not truly escape nature’s deep, slow rhythms. This November I’ve been working on some scarves in a range of colours I thought I’d chosen as I’d seen this pleasing combination from the Canadian Interior Designer Jane Hall of Jane Hall Designs.

As I have mentioned before, when I’m painting I often listen to an audiobook and for a couple of weeks I’ve been listening to ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel. She has a superb historical imagination and a descriptive writing style that evokes a sense of place without being overdone. As I was busy preparing my autumn colours I heard this phrase from Wolf Hall

“wearing their fallen fruit silks of mulberry, gold and plum”

Pear - Doyenne du Comice
Fallen and picked fruit from my fan pear – Doyenne du Comice

Prunus persica Peregrine
The Last Peach (Sept) – Prunus persica Peregrine

Reflecting on the natural colours of fallen fruit retrieved from the fading garden and looking at the colours I’d mixed up, I realised how unconsciously I’d absorbed and then responded to the changing scene. I’ve had a few peaches, figs, apples, pears and plums filling the kitchen fruit bowl from this year’s domestic harvest. It’s been the best year so far for the fan pear, though I have lost all the cobnuts to the squirrels, again. But what a bonus – the muted colours of fallen fruit.

Strumpshaw Fen and Nature’s Autumn Bounty

strumpshaw fen
Across the reed beds at Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk
Sometimes we witness a brief moment when there is an abundance of brilliant, ripened berries decorating the hedgerows before they are stripped by the birds preparing for winter.

The Guelder Rose berries
Viburnum opulus

Elderberries
Sambucus nigra

Dog Rose hips
Rosa canina

Strumpshaw Fen is an RSPB Reserve just east of Norwich on the River Yare. This morning it was quite windy, but we still saw herons, ducks, swans, a couple of lazy pheasants and some dragonflies. I have seen a marsh harrier before on the Broads, but nothing so exciting this time.

View from Strumpshaw Fen

Meanwhile, back at home, down the garden there are some autumn berries almost ripe enough for me to eat – my raspberries, Autumn Bliss, and safely behind some netting.

Raspberry Autumn Bliss