Contained and Restrained

Now I’ve always known that my creative work varies noticeably with how I am feeling. Obviously this personal acknowledgment is not from a serious, in-depth, psychological assessment, but just a vague, airy-fairy type of observation.

I expect you’ll find this mini challenge/quiz all too easy. These ‘sequence’ photos are a selection of the scarves I’ve painted so far this year. They are a before lockdown and during lockdown series. As an aside, how good it would have felt to have been able to type a sequence of ‘before, during and AFTER images’. Soon, we hope, soon. So which are the before and which are the during scarves?

A – Berenice Clover
B – Berenice Cobalt Blue
C – Florella
D – Sidona

I think it’s quite obvious, you’ve probably guessed but here are the answers to confirm your no doubt perceptive choices.

For me it goes thus – chirpy, energetic, outward-looking, and my work is bold, loose and conspicuously colourful. Conversely, hit a pessimistic period and it’s all introspection, lethargy and hints of moroseness, and my work becomes contained, restrained and muted. I have to say it’s never been quite so obvious as this!!!!

A moment for a little reflection

The UK is now in lockdown, more or less. Everybody who can works from home and all non essential trips out of your house are prohibited, although, as yet, we don’t have the military on the streets enforcing these restrictions. With the ensuing quiet I have found myself more reflective than usual.

Now here’s a flitting stream of consciousness: . . . how did we get here . . . who is marshalling the NHS response . . . oh yes, that bloke who looks like a rabbit in the headlights, what’s his name . . . Hancock, yes, Matt Hancock . . . isn’t he the MP for West Suffolk, yes he is . . . other side of Bury St Edmunds . . . mmm, Bury . . . I wonder whether Blackthorpe Barn will run its Christmas Craft Fair later this year . . . that part of Suffolk is beautiful in winter . . . melancholy Suffolk . . . melancholy pines . . . ah the lonely Lady Drury and the Hawstead Panels.

Part of Lady Drury’s painted closet originally at Hawstead Place, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

Now there was a woman who knew about reflection and meditation and solitude. Her solo endeavours, her painted closet, installed in the now temporarily closed Christchurch Mansion, is a visual expression of living a contemplative life.

The first scarf I sold from my online boutique back in 2013.

I have not been spending this disconcerting time on too much introspection, although I have been slowly working my way through my thousands of photographs, a process which turns out is intermittently thought-provoking. During this task I have come across pictures of earlier work I had completely forgotten as well as old rather poor quality photographs that I took when I first launched my online shop back in July 2013.

Another early piece I had forgotten about from 2013 inspired by a Wedgwood Fairyland lustreware candlestick.

One or two of the old photos had captured a look, an expression that was worth saving. Six or seven years ago, and particularly before my week’s photography course, I hadn’t realised how much tidying up, enhancing and, well to put it bluntly, cheating could be achieved with Photoshop.

Some light touching-up and colour adjustment using Photoshop.
Two old photographs merged with the help of Photoshop – obvious cheating!

Nowadays, with a solid five years’ plus of amateur experience under my belt, I am so much better at getting the photograph I want (eventually), but sometimes the circumstances defeat my grand intentions. This was the case on a visit last month to the ‘Handel & Hendrix in London’ Museum. Not quite the tightly focussed, intriguing image I was hoping for, but I can always blame the delicate distortions of the fine, antique eighteenth-century mirror.

Last month, February 2020, distorted reflections. An 18th-century mirror hanging in the ‘Handel & Hendrix in London’ museum, Brook Street, London, W1K 4HB.

Painting Berenice Claret

Just recently I have been reviewing all my stock and looking to see what ‘colour’ gaps I should fill. As I have posted previously I have been very taken with the Iceni horse motif found on the coins of the Wickham Market Hoard and, as yet, don’t feel I have exhausted working with such a beautiful subject.

Firstly drawing up the design with coloured, gutta resist.

So, after working with this horse motif to paint five neckerchiefs and three smaller square scarves, I decided that it was time to work it up for a standard, full 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf.

Adding colour, starting with a corner.

As you can see I have created quite a measured and calculated design.

Gradually working from the edges towards the middle.

There are a few small areas of flowing and blended colour such as the dusky turquoise roundels, but this design consists mostly of outlined shapes of unshaded, flat colour.

The last dye painted in was the black in the middle and then the scarf was finished and ready for steaming.

The overall look when viewing the whole scarf laid out is quite a busy piece, but when scrunched up and tied around your neck, or draped across your shoulders, the effect is simply rich and ornate.

Finding a Heart of Silk

Five hidden hearts for Valentine’s.

A light-hearted post for next week’s Valentine’s Day.

One silk heart is hidden, more or less, in each image!

Barge Victor on the Ipswich Waterfront.
One of Wolsey’s Angel.
A late-summer flower arrangement.
The Moot Hall, Aldeburgh.
Medieval stained glass, Long Melford.

You probably don’t need the solutions . . . .

. . . but here they are anyway.

A difficult colourway to capture

Every now and then I paint a scarf that is predominately pastel colours. This colourway of pastel greens and pastel blues is one such example.

Simple beginning – drawing out the design with resist.

Now, I know that responding to my expressive impulse to switch from my more usual strong colour palette to pastels, will, eventually, lead to frustration.

No problems achieving an accurate reproduction of the fuchsia pink and the grass green.

In my usual way I have kept a photographic record of the creative process, but it has turned out to be more tricky this time. As I have blogged in the past, light is everything and some colours and some colour combinations are strangely difficult to photograph accurately.

Adding some background blue.
(Little did I know when I took this photo it would be the most accurate visual record of the pale blue.)

This has been distinctly noticeable with this specific pastel blue background. The ambient light was different on every occasion I photographed the progression of my work. Sometimes I had to take pictures in electric light which significantly changed the pastel blue. Each time I adjusted the white balance on my camera scrolling through the additional 17 settings (yes, that’s 17 slightly different versions) trying to find the closest to the reality in front of my eyes. My nearest choice, though not a perfect match, was always miles off from the first shot the camera offered on the automatic white balance setting.

Natural light – photograph taken during a grey cloud moment resulting in the blue looking grey.

Even using my powerful daylight bulb capturing this pale blue has been . . . well, virtually impossible.

Finished and steamed. Photographed in cloudy daylight, daylight bulb light, in sunny daylight, and finally in standard electric light (from top left clockwise).

Now you can see, above, the blue varies from a greeny blue, to a grey blue to an almost actual, full grey. As I have been typing I decided to have another go. I retrieved the scarf from my stock and tried again, but no joy (image below). As it turns out the most accurate representation had already been taken and it was the photo ‘Adding some background blue’.

Winter Blues for January 2020

It is not always the case for me, but with seasonal changes I often find that I am choosing a different palette for my work.

Adding the fourth layer of blue to the background.

Back in November we had a brief, cold snap. The frost was enough to blacken the dahlias in the backyard and I noticed that I was already painting with cool blues again.

Green, coral and gold and a few daubs of fuchsia are used as the accent colours.

Since my summer visit to the Ipswich Museum I have been working and re-working the delightful ‘Iceni’ horse motif found on the Freckenham staters. By November it was time for me to move on from painting versions on silk neckerchiefs and to develop the motif into a full design for one of the bigger squares of silk I paint.

Flat crepe silk square ready for steaming.

With all the dyed and resist areas dried the silk square was steamed and photographed. It is now January, and winter proper, and this scarf of winter blues has been added to my online shop.

Wilda Ink Blue is a 69 x 64 cm flat crepe (10 mm) silk scarf. 

Adding a little purple

Last month was a busy time preparing and attending the Christmas Craft Fair at Blackthorpe Barn. I always do a run through setting up my display at home, and, as you would expect when getting ready for the show, I prepare my stock. This is a task I have hopefully started by mid-October. During the process I am able to appraise each piece and, as is always the way when I haven’t seen my scarves for a while, I decide one or two could be improved. The first one up for the layering treatment last month was Agatha Cherry.

Agatha Cherry – not a favourite of mine and one for the layer treatment.

Apart from the fact that this scarf, with all the red, has been difficult to photograph accurately, I didn’t think there was enough contrast and depth within the design.

Lines of resist were added first before painting in the new colours.

Adding another layer allowed me to introduce some of the darker colours I like. I took inspiration from this photograph showing the muted tones of my dried dahlias.

As soon as the resist lines had dried I began to paint with a mid-tone old gold and then to darken other areas I added a deep, rich purple.

With the second layer completed and the scarf steamed the final result definitely has more depth and interest and it has made the rich lustrous quality of the twill weave more obvious. A definite improvement I think.

A Popular Piece at the Barn

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.

An Influential Mention for the Crafters at Blackthorpe Barn

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.

Screenshot from the Crafts Council

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.

Is Red a Winter Colour?

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?

My listing for British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn with the first three photos.

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?

My listing with the second three photos as you scroll to the right.

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.

Thomasina – a 90 x 90 cm silk twill scarf

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.

Painting a Neckerchief: Freckeda Opal

It was another week and another neckerchief inspired by the Iceni horse. I have really fallen for this charming motif found struck into the Freckenham staters that make up part of the Wickham Market Hoard.

After first drawing out the basic design I had painted in the Iceni horses, but hadn’t decided on the colour combination for the overall interpretation. It was the middle of August and I had a mini glut of sweet peas some of which had been stuffed into a vase. The morning sunlight was catching the petals beautifully and I thought, yes, possibly these colours will do arranged in front of the stained glass panel. With some slight adjustments to the vase position I had a palette with which to paint the scarf.

However, when most of the colours were added I felt the overall effect was too pale and the piece had more than a hint of a gelato selection about it or even a bag of liquorice allsorts. My first thought was to fill in the background with black, but perhaps that would be too harsh. In the end I chose a darkish grey to add a more subtle contrast.

All finished, steamed and then photographed. That sounds so straightforward and simple, but I have to say that this is one of the those scarves that has been really difficult to photograph. How we see colour is a complex process, but it is most definitely affected by the quality of the ambient light, whether that’s light at dawn or dusk, or full summer sunlight, or electric light, or even candlelight! You can tell that despite sitting at my computer adjusting these photos, as I held the actual scarf in front of me, the colours in each photo look slightly different. I suppose any image is an approximation of a reality. We easily accept a painting as a visual interpretation, but often forget that a photograph is a visual rendering too, added to which the camera always lies to a greater or lesser extent!

PS – If you are in Suffolk . . . . .