A Small Blue Square

The beginning of autumn often brings a change in the general feel of everyday life. I am always surprised as although the days have been gradually shortening for the last couple of months, it seems as all of a sudden the mornings and evenings are darker.

With these seasonal changes I usually update my shop taking stock of the different colours available and adjust my homepage to reflect the new season. And, this time, I have also added my latest small, blue scarf – Jiann Ink.

Jiann Ink on the frame before steaming.

It is one of a series that I have recently finished. I guess this blue feels more like winter than autumn, but we won’t go down that route yet despite the fact that some of us have already been reminded by craft fairs etc. about C. Sorry I can’t bring myself to mention that festive occasion quite this early.

Four Days of Angst

Well, this has been a week I wouldn’t want to repeat.

C O M P U T E R problems.

It’s now Friday and September and I feel I’ve been out of the loop for months not just a week. The problems started with my computer after I did the system ’emergency’ update. You might even have heard about it in the news. Apple issued a warning that required people to update their computers and their phones.

My updates went fine until I switched on the computer the next day and my security software starting informing me my computer was vulnerable and now unprotected. Oh the stress. And, it was particularly irritating as each time I thought I had followed the instructions to solve the problem and it had succeeded, 10-15 minutes later, it all kicked off again. To cut a long saga short, and with fingers crossed, I think it’s finally working properly again.

Now I know you’re all thinking these days we can post to our blogs from our phones and folks like me can also similarly access our online businesses too, BUT last weekend I dropped my phone. Now it isn’t working properly, and that’s an understatement! Along with a damaged screen half the functions have disappeared and you need the patience of a saint coaxing it into life.

Rather annoyingly it is going to mean buying a replacement, but the good news is I’ve written this post on my computer and all is operating normally. I am relieved as I have also been able to check the status of my online shop – looks okay, hooray.

In the end, all I can say is that the current hot orange of my shop’s homepage somewhat reflects how I have felt about modern technology this past week. Of course, I’ve been more hot and bothered than hot and orange although the security warnings did light up my screen with orange text.

Unusual For Me

What is unusual for me? Answer – hot weather equals working with really hot colours. Yes, but that’s not the entire answer.

Photomontage of orange and pink dahlias for colour palette.

How about hot weather means being inspired by the rich colours of the seasonal flowers? Well, yes that’s sort of right again, but not the full answer.

Painting the same scarf design with the same colours twice? Yes, that is the precise answer. And actually, when I think about it is the first time I’ve done just that, although the two scarves have ended up the same(ish), they are different sizes.

In the past I have often painted the same basic design in different colour ways, but repeating the same design and with the same palette is new for me. And, of course, it is now very clear that accurately repeating my work simply isn’t possible.

I guess this unrepeatable quality is why handcrafted work is appreciated more than identical, laser printed copies or even screen-printed pieces.

Painting Hathor Peli

Back in April 2020 just a month after the World Health Organisation declared the new coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic, I was having a ‘comments’ conversation with fellow blogger, Garrulous Gwendoline ‘The Reluctant Retiree’, about her photographs of pelicans.

Pelicans photographs from Garrulous Gwendoline, ‘The Reluctant Retiree’.

And, as is the way in the convivial world of blogging, Gwen generously checked her photo library and emailed me some beautiful pelican pictures. I knew straight away I would use them in a scarf, but I had no idea it would be over two years before these magnificent birds would finally make an appearance in a design.

Pelicans, Ms Cheeky and Ms Smug are drawn onto a blank silk scarf.

Sometimes my process of painting a scarf is a free-flowing affair and the whole piece takes shape organically. However, on this occasion I did have a layout planned. Firstly, I selected two specific pelicans for my inspiration. One I called Ms Smug and the other Ms Cheeky and after sketching them I made templates of both.

Ms Smug in a corner and a Ms Cheeky in a plumage of red and orange.

A Ms Smug was placed at each corner of a 90 x 90 cm scarf then a Ms Cheeky was popped in-between on the ‘border’ branch. Each of the Ms Smug pelicans in the corners was to be a different colour. In a predictable combination I decided they would be red, yellow, blue and green.

The yellow Ms Smug being ignored by Ms Cheeky.

However, as you can see I don’t do solid blocks of primary colour and instead I worked up my usual very patterned take on the chosen colour scheme. It turned out that the green Ms Smug grew blue patches and the blue Ms Smug developed a mixed plumage with feathers of lilac and magenta vying for attention.

The blue, the green and the red Ms Smugs.

Of course, with a very colourful piece as this you still need areas of contrast.

Blue background with eucalyptus leaves.

The dark and mid blues background were an instinctive and obvious choice as the original pelicans in Gwen’s photographs were shot against a vibrant, Australian blue sky. The blue also worked with the black central area, but what about the border?

Centre panel of the scarf ‘Hathor Peli’ finished.

I think you might have already anticipated, yes, more black, this time to delineate the whole piece. From start to finish the scarf took some time to create, but it was a pleasure to keep returning to my amusing source material.

Scarf Hathor Peli finished.

And, if you were wondering about ‘Hathor Peli’, the scarf’s name, well, I’ve also been working with some Ancient Egyptian bird designs too. Hathor is the Ancient Egyptian sky goddess and I thought ‘Hathor’ sounded like a good name for scarves featuring birds.

‘Hathor Peli’ finished, photographed and uploaded to Agnes Ashe online shop.

From bright to mellow

Earlier this week I was sorting through my stock of small, bandana-sized scarves to despatch one to a customer when I found this scarf. I started painting it last autumn, finished and steamed it just before Christmas and safely stored it away to add to my shop in the New Year. And then, I promptly forgot all about it.

Adding the cardinal red, the azure blue and the old gold.

Of course, I had taken the usual photographs as the piece progressed and after scrolling back and back through my work files I found them. Then the saga all came back to me. I had chosen, with an eye to Christmas, the colours cardinal red, azure blue and old gold to dye my loose design of the Queen of the Night (see header photo of her in full dramatic voice) accompanied by vaguely, medieval maidens.

More and more colour added.

However, when all the colour had been added we were well and truly into the dark, gloomy month of November and the painting just seemed all too bright. Initially, I had thought it looked rich and vibrant, but in the end I felt it was simply garish. It was time for the big brush, plenty of water and knocking back the colour. The final effect is more like a watercolour and the whole scarf has a soft, muted quality.

Before and after the attack with the big brush.

Speed forward to June 2022 and this week I finally got round to photoshopping the product photos for ‘Ama’ and adding it to the shop. It has only taken six months from start to finish!

Scarf ‘Ama’ photoshopped and added to my online shop.

Another Nixie scarf, but this time bright and petite

Back in the depths of winter I painted a large, 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf that acquired the name ‘Nixie Noire‘. It had followed on from a small, bandana-sized scarf called ‘Nixie Petite’. Weirdly, I had forgotten all about Nixie Petite until yesterday when I was doing my annual stock take.

Nixie Petite – out of the box for stock take.

Doing my stock take isn’t an arduous task as I rarely have more than 50 scarves available to buy at any given time. Instead, my stock take becomes a short journey of rediscovery as I work through my boxes and find work I’d forgotten I’d painted.

The design is drawn out and then the colours are painted in.

It might seem odd that I should forget my own work, but seeing the photos of my scarves on the shop isn’t the same as handling them. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but even the best photographs are not a substitute for the soft and almost luminous quality of a scarf in real life.

In passing I would also say, that at the various craft shows I have sold my work, interestingly, most people still only look. I have to suggest that people can pick up a scarf and feel it. I also have a small, gilt mirror to encourage customers to try on a scarf and see how it looks and feels when worn. I guess we mostly buy with our eyes.

Nixie Petite -finished and ready for steaming.

Anyhow, counting the stock requires seeing the real item and in the case of Nixie Petite being surprised by it. Goodness, those colours and all that fiddly pattern. I must have been in an easygoing, light mood when I started that one!

And, if you ever wondered from where I get the names for my scarves, I choose them from an old book of baby names.

Nixie – from the Old High German, nihhus, ‘nymph, sprite’. A mythological mermaid, half-woman, half-fish, who could be glimpsed by lovers on nights of the full moon.

Mother’s Day 2022

There’s not so much to be positive about at the moment, but we can at least take a moment to think about and celebrate our mothers.

My mother in her late twenties.

I have much to thank my mother for not least her interest in the visual arts. She was in the audience for one of my early forays into the world of fashion when she attended a catwalk show in London where some of my work was presented. And, she did see my daughter the evening she went off to her Prom in a painted silk chiffon dress I’d made.

Painted silk chiffon for Prom dresses. My niece in the lilac and my daughter in the peach.

However, sadly she never knew I launched a business with an online boutique.

Example of my work. Professional studio, lighting and model.

Of course, for those of you lucky enough to still have your mothers in your lives there are plenty of gifts of all types and kinds these days. There are edible, wearable, watchable, doable, learnable and give-aid-able gifts on offer.

Naturally, in the ‘wearable’ option there are my hand painted silk scarves!

Made in the UK Day 2022

Next Wednesday, 9 March is ‘Made in the UK Day’. The campaign is the idea of the folk at ‘Make it British’ – a community of UK-made brands and manufacturers.

Words from Kate Hills, Founder, Make it British

This year I’ve decided to mark the day by offering 20% off my hand painted silk scarves. Even though I have been running my online shop for over eight years, it is only recently my daughter showed me how to use the backroom tools to make a ‘Coupon’. It magically gives my customers the discounted price when they add the code during the checkout process.

I have also made a short video for the day too.

Painting Mirelle

Sometimes I am a forgetful idiot. A sensible way of painting a large silk scarf is to start in the middle and work your way out finishing with the borders.

Painting the border first.

There is a logic to that as often a border will use the predominant colours of the main design of the scarf, but in a different amount and at a different scale.

And, then there is the time I began by painting the border in its entirety first .

Next drawing out the centre.

I did have a rough idea of the colours I wanted to use for the whole scarf, but as I painted the borders they looked dead and dull and despite deciding I was NOT going to use any turquoise, there it was added to the border and bringing lightness and energy.

Adding the colours to the centre panel.

I think adding the turquoise to the borders worked and in the end it didn’t significantly change the colours for the centre panel except for featuring as a 50% dilution on the vase motif.

Very nearly done with source painting (top left).

As I think you can see in the original painting which I used as the source for this scarf (above top left), the vase was blue and white with red flowers with not a single brushstroke of turquoise in sight.

Finally finished and ready for steaming.

Unusually in my case, it turns out on this occasion it was better for me to start painting the more restricted borders before splashing out in the centre.

Mirelle is now finished, steamed, photographed and on my shop.

Darker tones for darker times

January 2022 appears to be bringing with it more sombre greyness than just the weather. In truth the grey gloom of the weather and the pandemic has simply carried on from the end of last year into the beginning of this one. I remember when the news of Omicron first hit and, as is so often the case with me, the general mood of current affairs eventually filtered through and into my work.

When I began working on this large, 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf in December I had intended the background to be entirely midnight blue.

Drawing out the basic design in gutta resist.

However, as I added other colours to the scarf the blue background didn’t feel dark enough.

The process of painting with dyes.

The blue, even as dark as it was, was not creating enough contrast to make the muted pinks and muted mouse browns as crisp and sharp as I wanted.

Pure black behind making seed heads more defined.

So, I got to work with the unadulterated black. Although, I frequently use small areas of black to achieve depth, it is a long time since I have used black for a background. I think you can see the difference it makes compared to the blue.

A large scarf like this takes some time for me to paint and, additionally, I had a break over Christmas when I cleared my studio to offer a comfy space for a large, visiting dog. When I returned to my work, I immediately saw that there seemed to be a gash in the design. It was not intentional. The order in which I had painted the colours had revealed this shape, gradually emerging running diagonally across the scarf as the pinks and reds were added.

A gash has appeared across the design.

At this point, and with the New Year fast approaching with hope in its wake, my mood changed and I felt I wanted the gash to be filled with soft colour.

Muted pinks making for a softer background.

The result was a background of the muted pinks with the seed heads painted with the mouse browns. I think you can see the line of the browns flowing diagonally from the top left to the bottom right of the scarf in this photo below.

The painting is finished and the scarf is ready for steaming.

With the scarf completed it is clearer to see how much black I’ve ended up using. Dark and moody, yet with more pink than I planned when I changed the blue for black. I guess the daylight hours are increasing and maybe Omicron is not as bad as it was first considered and the result is a little more colour and a little less black.

The scarf has now been steamed and photographed and added to my shop, and as usual, the photos don’t really give an accurate portrayal of the piece. I must say that considering the times in which it was painted, I at least, am very happy with the finished scarf. In truth and unexpectedly it’s turned out to be one of my favourite pieces of work! Clouds . . . silver linings . . . and all that.

Another flower-inspired bandana

Well, it’s the 25th November and it’s four weeks to Christmas and that’s it for my backyard for this year. There are a few pink cosmos plants limping on and the hydrangea blooms will be slowly fading, or rotting away for the rest of the winter, but until next spring they’ll be no flowers from my yard to cut and bring into the house.

Drawing out and painting the first corner design.

Just as well I took the time to photograph some of my favourite combinations from the summer and early autumn flower arrangements.

Finding another colour combination for opposing corner.

I keep a selection on my iPad which I use when looking for colour inspiration.

Beginning painting the centre panel featuring the full large vase arrangement.

And, every now and then I do sort of copy an arrangement and include the vase as well. You may even recall that I painted a picture of the tall vase arrangement before the design ended up on scarves.

The example below will probably be the last one of this series as the season and the light have moved on and I am feeling the arrival of winter and with that a change of palette.