Adding a dark background

Along time ago when I was a student my textiles tutor once commented to me that she could always recognise my work by my use of black. At the time she had been looking at drawings for a floral fabric where I had used only the tiniest hint of black behind lime green stems.

Adding a dark mottled red to a red and pink neckerchief.

I also remember my mother (an amateur oil painter) making a comment that she never used black, but only ever Payne’s grey.

Adding purple to a square flat crepe scarf.

Over the years I have begun to include more and more colours in their darker shades instead of the black to add depth to my designs. Every now and then I think I am going to stick with a pastel background, but somehow I find I want the design to be a little more punchy . . .

Adding Prussian blue as the final layer.

And then a pot of a dark Prussian blue or an imperial purple or even a rich brown is unscrewed and the dark dye banishes the pastel.

Adding dark brown and dark grey to a large crepe de chine scarf.

However, as I write this there’s work on the frame where I have designed from the outset to use pure black. I know it might seem strange, but to get the best black it has to be painted onto the natural silk before any other dye has been added. You’d think that black would just cover any previously painted area, but some of the initial coloured dye binds to the silk and even though the black is strong, it never quite looks as sharp.

Currently using black again.

Finding myself working again with black it seems, as with so much in life, even one’s creativity can turn full circle as part of a cycle. Apparently for me it turns out I am on a roughly seven year circuit! Of course, it’s never a true repeat, but a revisiting with the benefit of experience.

An example of a black background from the outset. One of the first five scarves I created when I launched my online shop back in 2013.

Blue – Bright and Cheery

Perhaps because it’s been an unusually cool spring I have found myself painting brightly coloured highlights against very, very blue backgrounds.

Fuchsia pink and burnt orange were the starting combination.
I nearly always sign my work early on as it is awkward to almost impossible to add at the end.
And this is the first of the strong, bright blue being added.

I am not sure whether you would call this blue, cobalt blue, royal blue or ultramarine, but it’s certainly a bright and uplifting colour.

Nearly finished, adding a circle of a dark navy with corners of black.
The painting is finished and this 90 x 90 cm scarf is now ready for two hours in the steamer.
Finished and uploaded to Agnes Ashe online.

Well, whether the blue is royal blue or cobalt blue or even ultramarine, I still think, as usual, Mother Nature does it best.

Brunnera macrophylla aka Siberian Bugloss part of a partial shade, roadside planting in Ipswich’s town centre.

A tricky colour to photograph

Sometimes for some strange reason, and unwittingly, I just make my life that little bit more awkward and this is one such occasion. I absolutely know that the one colour I find virtually impossible to accurately photograph is pale turquoise. Naturally, therefore that is the very shade that has ended up being THE conspicuous colour for my latest 90 x 90 cm silk scarf.

I simply cannot explain how this happened, as you can see below it all began innocently enough with simple, primary highlights of red, green, yellow and blue and then a few dark smudges of deep purple.

However, after painting in the black and grey border I pondered, considered and then decided the small corner details could be in a turquoise/sea green colour and then suddenly I find I am industriously splashing it all over the centre panel.

I expect you have heard authors say that often their characters take on their own life and lead a story off in a completely new and unexpected direction, and I, behind my hand, have thought right, okay, sure. But, after my experience with this scarf, I believe them. I am totally converted to the idea that a creative process can somehow evolve pretty much under its own steam.

So, there you have it a pale turquoise (or is that sea green?) silk scarf with a few highlights of other colours!

Tuesday, 9 March 2021: Made in UK Day

It is the 10 year anniversary for the folk at ‘Make It British’ and as part of their celebrations they are marking the day, Tuesday, 9 March 2021, as #MadeInUKDay.

Since its launch 10 years ago, the Make It British site has been visited by more than 6.5 million people looking to buy UK-made products and search for UK manufacturers. This year alone has seen a 68% increase in enquiries since the UK left the EU’s single market and customs union. UK manufacturing is currently worth £192 billion to the UK economy and employs 2.7 million people.

The campaign, mostly using social media, is to remind everybody of the wider benefits when buying items made in the UK. Below is a series of images and graphics that will be appearing on various social media platforms in the lead up to next Tuesday’s #MadeInUKDay.

There are plenty of well-known manufacturing names listed on the Make It British directory, but let’s not forget all the small businesses and solo enterprises creating a wide range of crafted products too. And, some of these makers have offered products that will feature in a special Made in UK Day competition.

A Romantic Time of Year?

It is hard to believe or maybe not, but it is about a year since all this Covid business began plaguing our lives. I am still amazed that during February last year I visited my daughter in London who had just returned from the French Alps! We travelled around on the buses and Tube, and then spent nearly three hours sat amongst a tightly packed, full-house to see Cyrano de Bergerac in a traditionally ‘cosy’ West End theatre. I am going hot and cold just writing about it.

A year on, another February and another Valentine’s Day, but this time it will be a first. It will be the first Valentine’s Day in the middle of a lockdown. Over 10 million folk in the UK have already been jabbed with one kind of vaccine or another and some lucky people have even had the two required doses. Even so, it won’t be a Valentine’s Day of restaurant visits or theatre treats. And, despite my father being fully vaccinated, there will be no birthday trips (he’s a Valentine’s baby) to the opera or even up the road for a concert at Snape Maltings. All closed.

The marshes and reed beds backing onto Snape Maltings.

As an alternative to those standard treats, I expect some people will turn to the Internet looking for a special gift. I have read in the British press and heard on the radio and television that the pandemic has accelerated the decline of many High Street stores as more and more of us have become familiar and comfortable shopping online. What is bad news for some is inevitable good news for others and I have definitely benefited with more visits and sales from my online business.

In fact this week I have just sent one of my scarves to Canada. I think receiving the gift of a silk scarf is a romantic gesture, but I am not sure how I’d feel about being given a silk face mask for Valentine’s though! Is that a maybe or a definite no? I am not sure.

Returning to Scarf Painting

After several months of working at a smaller scale painting patterns for silk masks, I have recently returned to painting scarves.

This change in scale is more tricky than it appears. I experienced and learnt that when I first started painting the smaller pieces for masks. With a move back to larger work I didn’t want to misjudge the gear shift whilst painting a full 90 x 90 cm square, so I have returned by first painting neckerchiefs.

Pinning out the 55 x 55 cm squares and loosely laying down the first outlines became a poignant experience as I reflected on the intervening seven months since I last worked on any scarves. I then reached for the darkest, dark blue I have and painted in the background.

2020 really has turned out to be a ghastly, ghastly year.

And, finally now, the 31st December, we can say goodbye and good riddance to it.

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’.