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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
Victorian drawing of palmette detail from the Parthenon.
Illustration of lotus-palmette frieze Ancient Egyptian design.
Illustration of capital detail showing palmette and lotus flowers.
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.
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.
The painting of my new banner is now completed and has been left overnight to ensure it is entirely dry.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And, of course, William Morris was inspired by acanthus leaves too.
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.
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.
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!
With my own work I find shape and colour gradually gets distilled from primary experiences that have been captured first in my photographs.
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.
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.
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.
Apple Blossom ‘Blenheim Orange’
Plum Blossom ‘Victoria’
Apple Blossom ‘Bramley’s Seedling’
Peach Blossom ‘Peregrine’
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.