The enduring appeal of the peacock display of colours recently caught my attention and prompted me to venture into a so-called forbidden combination. I think I first heard my Nanna declare ‘Blue and green should never be seen’, when I was a child.
How ridiculous, obviously nobody told the peacocks. And, when you think about it blue and green has been a popular and classic combination for centuries!
Dragonflies also come along in blue and green combinations providing even more inspiration if you find that splendid peacock not enough.
It is strange how in our 24 hours a day wired and connected world we can not truly escape nature’s deep, slow rhythms. This November I’ve been working on some scarves in a range of colours I thought I’d chosen as I’d seen this pleasing combination from the Canadian Interior Designer Jane Hall of Jane Hall Designs.
As I have mentioned before, when I’m painting I often listen to an audiobook and for a couple of weeks I’ve been listening to ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel. She has a superb historical imagination and a descriptive writing style that evokes a sense of place without being overdone. As I was busy preparing my autumn colours I heard this phrase from Wolf Hall
“wearing their fallen fruit silks of mulberry, gold and plum”
Reflecting on the natural colours of fallen fruit retrieved from the fading garden and looking at the colours I’d mixed up, I realised how unconsciously I’d absorbed and then responded to the changing scene. I’ve had a few peaches, figs, apples, pears and plums filling the kitchen fruit bowl from this year’s domestic harvest. It’s been the best year so far for the fan pear, though I have lost all the cobnuts to the squirrels, again. But what a bonus – the muted colours of fallen fruit.
In the hands of a master the most simple images can come to life and spring out of the past with uplifting vitality. I know it is, as usual, down to personal taste, but I think this oil and coloured wax picture by Paul Klee has its own intense energy that grabs your attention. Anyway, I have attempted to plug in and channel some of the energy for my own work by using his restricted colour palette for a painted silk scarf.
Although the colours are quite similar and I’ve used them in roughly the same percentage, it is nevertheless definitely very different.
Then I thought I’d use the basic overall design, but with different colours.
Every now and then I’m asked to create a silk piece guided by the colours and decorative qualities of a non-textile form. Sometimes a commission is quite personal, a customer may wish to have a special scarf to remind them of a person or a pet or an event. Or sometimes, and this is more difficult, a sentiment.
People often turn to nature and, in particular, flowers for inspiration for silk painting, but I suggest shape, colour and the decorative details from other human made artefacts can also elicit visually creative solutions. In order to get a firm idea of what a person is looking for I suggest they select pictures that fit their mood. Often beautiful glass and ceramics are a rich source of inspiration and can be reinterpreted and reworked to produce the type of scarf that they are looking for.
Head of the Patriarch Semei, c. 1180. From Canterbury Cathedral now in the V&A.
Detail of silk scarf inspired by early medieval stained glass.
A couple of months ago I was asked to design and paint a ‘stained glass’ scarf.
When undertaking a commission the easiest way for me to understand a client’s wish is to ask for a ‘mini’ mood board. This can be a small postcard-sized piece of card covered with torn pieces of magazine pictures, snippets of cloth, small cuts of wool and screwed up cotton thread that give me an idea of the colours required. In the past when one customer wanted a scarf to complement her new winter look she gave me a snippet of cloth from the inside seam of her new coat.
However, more recently, the wealth of beautiful photographs on the Internet, has allowed mood boards to be generated very easily on platforms like Pinterest. The advantage of this approach is the ease with which ideas come together. Unfortunately, the downside is that accurate colour portrayal of ‘real-life’ on screen is notoriously unreliable and even the same image across different screens/devices can vary significantly. So, if an accurate tonal range is critical then an old fashioned, mini mood board is still best.
With the light shining through, early medieval stained glass panels photograph well (if not too high up in a window!) and the frequent use of bright reds and blues imparts a recognisable aesthetic. It is such a strong visual form that it was easy for the Victorians to mimic and then extensively develop in their Gothic Revival church windows, and, is probably what springs to mind when most people think of stained glass.
Silk scarf stained glass design.
Childebert receives St Germanus from a window in Saint Germain des Prés, Paris, c1240-5. Displayed in the V&A.
Stained glass inspired silk scarf as worn.
With my Art History hat on my personal preference is for the work of the late-Victorian Christopher Whall particularly his early 20th-century windows. This example panel depicting St Chad dates from 1901-10. It is now in the V&A Museum, London, and is from a collection of stained glass produced for a commission for a new window in the Lady Chapel at Gloucester Cathedral.
St Chad by Christopher Whall (1849-1924). Slab glass with painted detail. Displayed at the V&A Museum.
St Chad by Christopher Whall – robe detail.
St Chad by Christopher Whall – detail showing nature of slab glass.
The other week I worked up a design by looking through many Japanese woodblock prints and selecting a number of Ukiyo-e images as inspiration for both pattern and colour. The end of the process was a blue and green scarf also currently my banner above.
I liked the finished look and decided to work the pattern in a new colour combination and started from nature’s beautiful pink and yellow combination in this poppy with the added golden detail of the hover flies collecting nectar.
With the poppy in mind I started looking round building a collection of images with pinks, gold and black, starting with work by fine artists. Next I delved into contemporary visual culture from all over – here tea towels, table decorations and masks.
Ah yes, inspiration this time came from another kind of ‘floating’ world, Venice, and their famous carnival and masked balls. Sumptuous colour combinations and fascinating, ornate detail were now the recipe for the day.
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.