A few outtakes

Four or five times a year I prepare my latest work and head out into the Suffolk countryside for a photoshoot. You may remember in August I did just that making the most of the early morning light down by the River Orwell .

An interesting view of a misty morning on the River Orwell.

I usually take 250 to 300 photographs during the course of a shoot.

Swimming dog in the shallows equals a wet dog.

Now, not all pictures are attempts at capturing the essential ‘best’ photograph of model and scarf, some are simply capturing a moment.

Watching the dog chasing his stick into the river again.
Wet dog now investigating who and what has turned up on the riverbank – us!.

Putting all the doggy fun aside, it’s not possible for me to know before I get back to my office if I have got the shots I actually need. Unlike professional photographers I don’t have a laptop with me on location to check pictures as the shoot progresses. And, looking on the tiny camera screen only gives a very vague indication as to the quality of any image.

A white shirt in full sun makes for an over-exposed feel and shut eyes in the full glare.

Obviously, poorly framed, extremely over and under-exposed and grossly out of focus images can be immediately deleted, but it’s not possible to tell if any shot is pin sharp until I see it on my computer screen.

Apart from somebody being distracted again by the wet dog this time returning and running straight back towards our gear including a snack-filled backpack, it turns out the scarf in this photo is not in focus.

Finally, here’s a reasonable photo. However, it didn’t look like it on my camera screen, but thankfully it wasn’t deleted at first glance, made the cut and will probably be used on my shop at some point.

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Photoshoot down by the river.

It is August and thoughts naturally turn to . . . Christmas . . . !

Sorry, but I am afraid it’s not just the big brands that are preparing for Christmas in August, but we folk selling handmade items are also busy working towards the ‘gift’ season.

Gathering up the edges of the neckerchief Freckeda Blue

This week there has been excellent early morning sunshine and the river has been like a misted mirror reflecting gorgeous, natural light. In other words it has been ideal for a photoshoot.

And, having ten scarves ready for photographing, including a couple of ‘Christmassy’ ones, it was off to the banks of the River Orwell.

It is approximately a 300 metre walk down hill through deciduous woodland from the car park to the banks of the river. Then a short walk along the shore for a set up just downriver from the Orwell Bridge.

The Orwell Bridge – we could see, but not hear the traffic on the busy A14.
Momentarily distracted by a couple of dogs splashing into the river chasing sticks.

It is a popular place for dog walkers and people wishing to picnic at the water’s edge or even swim in the river. It is also an interesting place for photographing my work as the light is similar to that reflecting off the sea, but the area is more sheltered than the coast with less wind to blow the scarves about.

The dogs were very wet, very friendly and very well behaved.

We had a couple of hours taking pictures before the sunlight became too bright and also, at this time of year, too hot.

Taking a break and watching more dogs in the river.

By the time we had finished I had taken over 500 shots of varying quality. The sun was high in the sky, the mist had burnt off and it was time to pack up. Fortunately, the traipse back up the hill was not as arduous in the heat as it might have been, but was surprisingly pleasant thanks to the cool, airy shade of the woodland.

A Silver Lining

My online shop has been up and running for over six years now and about three times a year I place an order for plain silk blanks. I use three different suppliers depending on what type of silk I require. All three companies offer plain scarves with hand rolled hems ready for dyeing. The two European suppliers, one in Belgium and the other in Spain, list my favourite silk twill including the classical 90 x 90 cm squares. The third company I use is based in the United States and they sell excellent quality flat crepe pieces.

Earlier this year I ordered 12 neckerchief sized squares and for only the second time in my years of painting silk I noticed one of the scarves had a fault in the weave.

Now you’ve probably guessed I do own one or two scarves that I have painted myself – actually most of mine are over 30 years old and date from the time when I was a fashion/textile student. Amongst my own collection the only red I have is a full 90 x 90 that was originally a peachy pink. It had been a gift to my mother and was returned to me on her death. She was of the generation that often wore their scarves pinned with a brooch and when I came to overpaint the peach with red (peach is not a colour for me) I noticed several of the pin pricks had become small holes. It was good to experiment extravagantly and boldly with red dyes, but I still didn’t have a wearable red scarf.

As you can now see, a faulty blank has given me the opportunity to get the red dye out again and go for it big time. The design is looser and has more swirls than my usual style with plenty of red and a dash of very bright fuchsia. Naturally, this neckerchief with a fault isn’t for sale (mmm, fortunately, it seems it’s fine for me though!).

But, as you may have already gathered, I do like this combination. And indeed, so much so I have painted another similar version on pristine silk. It, too, is the neckerchief size. A size I think works well when you feel like some bright colour, but not too much. An accent.

And, here’s the finished piece now available on my shop.

Layering some Summer Colour

Now I am a fan of the colour green. In one way or another it has been a colour I have used in painting different rooms since my first house back in 1996. Of course, there are greens and greens. I remember the first time I used green it was a bright apple green and in a south-facing room it definitely had a hint of lime about it. At the same time I was painting the walls the plumber was installing the central heating and he could barely conceal his revulsion!

Back on the frame adding new gutta lines and shapes.

It appears that lime green is not a popular colour in our northern light and as we have so few days of summer sun when it looks really good, I reappraised the one lime green scarf on my shop and decided to give it the layer treatment.

Painting another layer filling the new shapes with pink, orange and pale turquoise.

Now, regular perusers of my blog will know that amongst the tools in my ‘creative process’ box layering is a technique I use to change my work and give it more depth.

I did like the flat pattern of the original, but I can see that the very nature of the flatness made the lime green less appealing especially in the photographs.

Over-painted, steamed again to fix the work and newly photographed and now uploaded to my online shop. I think it is definitely a more interesting piece.

A Larger Version – Lisette Red

It’s one of those elements to be taken into consideration when shopping on the Internet – size. It is so easy to simply assume you have a rough idea of the size of anything you are looking at, but checking the measurements is essential.

I recently painted a set of neckerchiefs, my Hudeca series, inspired by Lady Drury’s Hawstead Panels. The design worked for the neckerchief sized squares (50 x 50 cm) and so I thought I’d paint a larger, 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf. You might guess from the above picture that they were the same size. It’s only in a photograph containing other points of reference that you see one scarf is almost double the size of the other.

Even in this video it is difficult to judge the overall size of the scarf with just my hand and a couple of paintbrushes flitting about.

Usually at some point during the designing and painting of my work, a scarf acquires a name. This is important as it helps me keep my work in some kind of order especially if I paint roughly the same design in several different colour combinations and use different silk of different sizes.

This painting sequence doesn’t give any indication of size – is this a 50 x 50 or 90 x 90 cm?

At first glance my naming process may seem random, but it is usually linked in some way or other to the original source of inspiration. This time I wanted an Anglo-Saxon girl’s name beginning with ‘H’ for Hawstead and chose Hudeca. The 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine (a really gorgeous, 14mm weight piece of silk by the way) painted with my ‘Hawstead’ design became Lisette and not a Hudeca. I arrived at ‘Lisette’ from Elizabeth for the bigger scarf as Lady Drury was the mother to two daughters, neither of whom reached adulthood, and one was called Elizabeth.

Revisiting a less than successful design

Every now and then I find an idea I have been keen to develop for a scarf goes awry in the painting. This was the case when four years ago I attempted a ‘bluebells’ scarf.

The finished scarf was a delicate pale pink dotted with stems of bluebells. The pink was subtle in real life. It was a soft, easy colour to wear close to your face especially for those of us over fifty. However, this scarf when photographed, well, it looked totally washed out and almost dreary. And, now when reviewing the design, I see the overall appearance was too messy and busy, and failed to be dynamic. Time for change.

Initially I adjusted my creative process making some large and bold additions to the scarf. I overpainted with broad flowing brush marks of coloured resist in order to balance the small bluebell motifs.

I then added some mid-sized periwinkle like flowers in a bluey green and created depth to the whole piece by painting small areas of the background in black.

The scarf has been steamed again to fix the dyes and the finished, more interesting piece has now been added to my shop – click pic to see.

Another colourway

I never paint the same scarf twice. The combination of my loose, freehand gutta work and then the random way the dyes flow into each other make it an impossibility. However, I do roughly repeat a design in different colours. I usually paint four or five different colourways of the same design to produce a mini collection.

My recent visit to see the Hawstead Panels at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, inspired me to create a design for a neckerchief. The first one in this series based on the pines and wildflowers painted by Lady Hawstead, was a combination of blues and mouse brown.

Having established this basic design and feeling comfortable with the patterned components, I then moved on to a new colour combination.

Sequence of photos showing the process of adding more colour.

This neckerchief design is a mixture of techniques with thick, coloured gutta for the pine tree tops, single colours painted into delineated spaces and some resist layering.

Small area of simple layering.

I like resist layering, but you have to wait for the gutta to dry. This can be speeded up by using a hairdryer. Resist layering is where you add the clear gutta resist to a pale area in a pattern let it dry, then added a slightly darker dye, then add more clear gutta patterning let it dry and finally another layer of even darker dye. You are left with a more painterly effect and even a hint of brush marks or should I say daubs.

When all the dyes have been added and all the gutta has dried, the neckerchief is rolled in protective paper and steamed for two hours.

One neckerchief three different outfits

The finished neckerchief is photographed and added to my shop.

New layered scarf, new photos and a time-lapse video too!

My painted scarf, Venus Falls Blue, has undergone the layering treatment. And, again the finished scarf is most definitely an improvement in my opinion.

I have kept and uploaded before and after pictures. These show how adding even pale dyes in large overlapping sections across the whole work can significantly change the look. In this case I used pale pink and pale blue.

Obviously, the second layer has knocked the original yellows back considerably.

Even though it is spring at the moment and there are yellow daffodils, yellow tulips, yellow forsythia, yellow mahonia, yellow primroses and even some yellow dandelions already out, I am not actually feeling it for ‘yellow’.

As you can see below, the yellow is slowly disappearing.

Time-lapse layering

And, finally after steaming again, it’s finished and in the shop.

Extremely irritating

It’s not really surprising, but it is very annoying and it most certainly isn’t flattering. One of my photographs of my original work has been used by a website promoting mass produced scarves.

Last week I was doing my monthly online research and tidy up, and checking my Google Analytics, when I saw this search results page and noticed one of my scarves. Naturally, I had been expecting to see my work on an image search for ‘hand painted silk scarf’, but not my photograph associated with another website, and, to add insult to injury, wrongly describing the scarf as hand dyed and not hand painted.

My photo of my work promoting another site.

Over the years I have been contacted by various people and asked if they could use a photo. I’ve always said that’s fine and mentioned in passing it would be nice if they included a credit for me. However, these people have not only purloined my photo, they are also using my painted scarf to advertise their website, all entirely without my permission and with no acknowledgement or link to my online shop. I did a quick recce of their site and it is a puzzle, oddly changing and without any details of who or where in the world it is based. Something doesn’t feel quite right about it and I won’t be clicking on any of their links again even if they do pinch another photo.

And this is my scarf as it appears on my online shop.

I have worked hard to promote my business. During the past five years, as well as designing and painting the silk, I have spent hours photographing, photoshopping and managing the presentation of my online shop. I have paid for and attended a photography course to improve my product photography and photoshoot skills. I am both angry and disappointed that my work (the silk painting and the photography) has been used in this way and my luxury scarves have been linked to a dubious, mystery website. I suppose this kind of episode is to be expected in the ‘Wild West’ world of the Internet even for a minnow venture like mine and it’s simply a case of shrugging your shoulders, forgetting about it and getting on with business as usual.

Lady Drury’s Melancholy Pines

Of all the 61 painted panels that originally covered the wall of Lady Drury’s closet at Hawstead House, only one panel was painted without an emblem or a motto. This ’empty’ panel, consisting of a hilly background and two Scots pines, offers a melancholy scene.

The Reverend Sir John Cullum did not discuss this particular panel at all in his eighteenth-century account. Perhaps he simply considered it an unfinished section. However, the twenty-first century scholar, H L Meakin, suggests the ‘blank’ panel may have been deliberately left empty to encourage spontaneous meditation.

It is also possible to read the two, stark, thin pine trees as visual metaphors for Lady Drury and her husband. They’re standing mature, living apart from each other within a dark and hilly landscape. After all they had existed in a world of challenges and grief following the loss of their young daughters.

Bottom panels painted with herbs and flowers.

More generally, in her summary of Lady Drury’s closet, Meakin offers ideas from Seneca and Montaigne as well as current research considering the lives of early modern women. She suggests there was not a simple division between the public and private spheres, and proposes this tiny, private room offered a space to both think about as well as retreat from the wider world.

Despite the gloomy appearance of the ‘pines’ panel, I find the silhouetted trees make a compelling composition.

Scarlet pimpernel and wild pansy

And, I also admire the painted herb and flower decorative panels displayed at the bottom of the panel collection.

Deadly nightshade and dandelion

These panels show bugle, corn marigold, speedwell, dandelion, deadly nightshade, honeysuckle, scarlet pimpernel, wild pansy and a wild strawberry plant.

Wild strawberry
Bird’s eye speedwell, corn marigold, bugle
Honeysuckle

Overall, the panelled room is both intriguing and inspirational. So inspirational I decided to paint a series of neckerchiefs using the two pines, the scarlet pimpernel and the corn marigold. Here’s the first of the series showing how the scarlet pimpernel rapidly morphed into a larger, less delicate flower to balance the composition.

Painting finished and now ready for steaming.

Revisiting and Intensifying

Some time ago I painted my ‘La Donna’ series of silk scarves. Two of the five colour combinations I created didn’t really chime with the contemporary trends, however they both sold quickly. Then the green version was purchased as a gift and it was duly shipped to Singapore. It had been my favourite of the series. It is one of those oddities, for me anyway, when I take over 300 photos during a shoot how often the single best photograph turns out to be my current favourite piece.

Returning to this series as a whole the lilac and pink versions have not been successful colour combinations. I am surprised as generally any of my scarves with a fair amount of pink have sold well not least as the softer pinks are a complementary colour for wearing near the face. Mind you looking at the photographs of the lilac scarf I can see it looks more dull and dreary than restrained and muted. Although I do have to mention that lilac, in a similar way to red, isn’t accurately captured in a photograph and as with most of my work the scarves do look better in real life. Anyway, it was time to jazz up both the pink and the lilac and I think make the patterning more complex.

Firstly, I tackled the lilac one. I repainted the lilac area adding a deeper mauve that together with the new fuchsia highlights has resulted in an overall brighter, more zingy appearance. Also, I think building more complexity into the black and white areas has balanced the overall feel of the scarf.

As usual with photographing colour the resultant image always varies with the light, but happily this daylight shot (below) is a fair representation.

La Donna lilac

Next I turned to the pink scarf, but felt this one already had enough pinky pinkiness about it and it didn’t need the background changing. It just needed an overall pulling together of the different design components.

This has been achieved by adding more patterning to the black and white areas and at the same time integrating the blue patterned band using a zigzag magenta border.

I had always been pleased with the design of this series and I did like the original pink interpretation, nevertheless I am much happier with this intensified more vibrant version.