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

Architectural Ornamentation – The Anthemion Motif

anthemion moti
Victorian illustration of the anthemion motif – lotus flower with palm leaf.

I always have my camera with me to snap attractive colour combinations or interesting patterns. Architectural and sculptural details are a great source of diverse ornamentation such as the anthemion motif.  The design is based on combining the lotus flower with palm leaves and has a long history of being reinterpreted and reworked over the centuries. The term ‘anthemion motif’ as a decorative expression appears to have sprung into use in the mid-nineteenth century with anthemion literally meaning ‘flower’ in Ancient Greek.

Ancient Egyptian lotus
Victorian drawing of Ancient Egyptian lotus flowers.

The Victorians were great organisers and cataloguers not only did they classify the wonders of the natural world – beetles and finches spring to mind, but they also applied their energy to sort and order the history of the human-made world. On the 15th December 1856, Owen Jones published the now famous Victorian reference guide to decoration – ‘The Grammar of Ornament’.

Ancient Greek motif
Victorian representation of Ancient Greek lotus-palmette design.

Looking through this beautiful, illustrated book of decorative details it is possible to follow the migration of the lotus-palmette motif from Ancient Egypt, through time to the Ancient Greeks and across the ancient seas giving rise to this Etruscan version currently displayed in the British Museum.

Etruscan sculptural detail
Etruscan carved stone showing the lotus-palmette design, the anthemion motif.

Now, in the 21st century we take for granted the near immediate global transmission of ideas, image, text and music on the Internet, yet there is something pleasing in knowing that we are part of a continuum of the interaction and exchange of designs.

Autumn Inspiration

dark pink cosmos

autumn leaves ornamental vine
Our natural world generously providing inspirational moments for shape and colour.

orange brown scarf
Drawing and painting an autumnal silk scarf – Ardith Tangerine. I use names rather than numbers to keep track of my various pieces. ‘Ardith’ is Anglo-Saxon for flowering field.

Starting from Scratch – Part Four & Finished

The painting of my new banner is now completed and has been left overnight to ensure it is entirely dry.

FinCloseUp
It has been rolled in paper along with three other pieces, steamed for three hours, washed thoroughly, pressed and is now finished. I think it is very clear which prints contributed most to this creative process. Oddly, it’s all blues and greens considering the starting point was the photo of a pale pink hollyhock.

Ophelia I Blue GreenUkiyo-e woodblockSnow Scene in Garden

Starting from Scratch – Part Three

I have now settled on the design for this new banner. I’ve worked up the sketches and have drawn it out on the silk. It will also be a scarf.

OutlineDrawing

It takes me about an hour to mix up the dyes in the shades and dilutions I’m looking for. I dab them onto a small off-cut of silk, but quite often I find once I start painting that I need to mix up one extra special highlight colour. This time it has been the dark green of the sheath-like leaves.

Like many people who work from their own studio or from home I spend many hours engrossed with my work – not great company and often resentful of interruptions, sorry. Whilst painting I listened to unabridged audiobooks borrowed from my local library. When I look at some of my past work it triggers memories of the novel I was listening to at the time of painting especially if it was a deeply moving or passionate story.

Painting with dyes - about halfway done.
Painting with dyes – about halfway done.

As I’m working on this piece I’m listening to ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ by Sebastian Faulks – it is beginning to get moody and intense.

Starting from Scratch – Part Two

Now, today, I have returned to my mood boards and the world of Japanese woodblock prints.

Since I was a teenager I’ve been interested in Ukiyo-e prints. I remember accompanying my mother when she went to visit a German friend who had come to live in Suffolk. Whilst they chatted I looked through her art books and found one about the art of Japanese prints. The text was in German (I couldn’t understand), but the images caught my attention they were so refined and pared back to convey just the essentials. It is a very appealing aesthetic and, of course, in the West has inspired some of the great Impressionists and Post Impressionists. There were some interesting comparisons made in a 2009 exhibition about Monet which can still be viewed online. http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/exhibitions/monet/MonetsLife.JapaneseArt.aspx

Now that’s all a bit awkward – I’ve never been great at sketching and now I’ve got the ingenious ghosts of Monet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh buzzing round my head. Must say bye to the thinking brain and rev up the creative brain.

Finished design for scarf.
Working up some ideas.

An Abundance of Foliage

It’s very easy in the middle of summer to be blinded by all the flashiness and spectacle of an abundance of colourful blooms, yet it is also when the garden is in full leaf. Green foliage, green grasses, green buds, sometimes green flowers and even green seed heads as they gently fade to their natural bleached shells.

acanthus
Acanthus mollis leaves and new flower spike.

Some leaves have been inspiring artists and craftsmen for centuries and acanthus leaf motifs can be seen all over the ancient world of the Mediterranean.

Carved capital acanthus
Acanthus leaf detail.

And, of course, William Morris was inspired by acanthus leaves too.

Detail Morris wallpaper
Morris Acanthus Wallpaper

But, there are plenty of other plants with superb foliage to admire and get us designing.

Finally, it is only the second week of July, but all the aquilegias are setting their seed and providing another interesting, sculptural shape for our visual delight.

Aquilegia seed heads.
Aquilegia seed heads.

Girl with a Pink Scarf

This photograph was snapped, opened on the computer and surprise – it just felt so familiar. My daughter looked over my shoulder and said “Looks like ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ to me”, and I said “Ah yes, it does, doesn’t it”. I had no intention of reconstructing a picture in the style of this famous portrait – it just happened.

Vermeer - Girl with a pearl earring
Girl with a Pearl Earring – Vermeer, c. 1665-67.
The Mauritshuis, the Hague, Holland
PInk scarf
Girl with a pink scarf – June, 2013.
Scarf by Agnes Ashe

It is fascinating how images get lodged in our visual memory and then become markers or signposts without our conscious effort. Thinking about it, I suppose when you view a fair number of photos some are bound to spark wider connections and as I prepare to launch my online shop (agnesashe.co.uk) I have looked at a lot of photographs!

Pale pink roses
Colour inspiration from a cluster of pale pink roses.
Rosa ‘Narrow Water’

With my own work I find shape and colour gradually gets distilled from primary experiences that have been captured first in my photographs.

pink clematis
The opening flower of Clematis Proteus.

This beautiful flower of clematis Proteus, saved from relentless slug attack by being dug up and replanted in a large pot near the house, is one of my favourites. Its intriguing shape has contributed to my work.

Flowers and foliage in the garden, architectural details I’ve spied and sometimes the inspirational works created by others, all goes into the melting pot during the design process.

clematis venus fly trap
Aliums, pomegranates, clematis and Venus fly traps have all contributed to this scarf.

Think, Eat, Save

Wednesday, 5th June is World Environment Day and the theme this year is ‘Think, Eat, Save’ as we are encouraged to consider how to reduce food waste by the United Nations Environment Programme http://www.unep.org/wed/. On my micro plot in East Anglia my slender contribution is growing some fruit and veg, and recycling kitchen and garden waste by composting.

Composting Bin
Brown & Green Waste In
Bottom of compost bin
Six months later compost out (needs sieving now)

Through trial and error I’ve discovered the obvious that for me it is only really worth growing what you and your friends and family like to eat. I have found that growing fruit has been less demanding than vegetables, more successful and we all love eating it. Also fruit trees in particular have beautiful blossom I can photograph and use for designs.

Of course I still grow easy veg like beans, courgettes and tomatoes from seed as homegrown often tastes better especially when freshly picked and no food miles.

My vegetables from seed this year have been very tricky as the germination rate has been poor due to the coldest spring in the UK in over 50 years. Even though I start most of my seeds indoors on the kitchen window sill, it has been so cold I’ve had to resow both the french beans and lettuce. And, still no signs of any courgette seedlings. But, at least, the fan-trained pear blossomed really beautifully.

Fan Pear 'Doyenne du Comice'
In its full glory, trained as a fan, the pear ‘Doyenne du Comice’