Changing Times

From this Saturday, 4th July 2020, in the UK it’s all change or not! As I write this I have the radio on in the background and I keep hearing ‘chaos’, ‘mess’ and ‘confusion’ from various commentators. There are members of the general public calling-in with questions about all the measures needed to ensure safety for ‘Independence Day’ as the tabloids are dubbing it. No doubt Cummings and Johnson are quietly satisfied this cynically selected date is being trumpeted in this predictable manner. Hospitality and travel will be joining retail instigating up to the minute protocols for the new normal. This will include new hygiene routines and maintaining people are physically distancing. Good luck everybody.

Looking at the retail sector specifically and the recent economic data reported in the press the lockdown has had an immense effect on the this sector. The high street had already been struggling in recent years and now as the lockdown lifts more and more shops are finding they are longer viable. Perhaps many shoppers are now less willing to brave the high street stores for non essentials as at the same time more consumers are now accustomed to buying online. However, once you are shopping online you soon find there is an almost overwhelming choice.

My listing amongst other UK makers and manufacturers on the Make It British Directory

Personally, when I am shopping online I like to minimise the ‘product miles’ due to environmental concerns and for that reason prefer to order from the UK. The ‘Make It British’ people have made it easier with their vetted platform listing UK makers and manufacturers. Last month, with my business hat on, I decided to apply to the directory as a maker as well as already being a shopper.

And last weekend, I was delighted when they featured my silk masks in their ‘Top 21 British-Made Face Coverings’ promotion.

My painted silk face covering is the bottom left picture, but I am sure you knew that!

Brighten Up to Lighten Up

I paint silk. I have painted silk for over three decades. I have mostly painted silk scarves, but I have also painted silk for dresses, jackets, trousers, skirts, blouses and cushion covers, but this is the first time I have painted silk for face masks. Or, should I properly call them face coverings. This is my response to the so-called ‘new normal’.

Back on December 31st as midnight struck and folk celebrated the arrival of the New Year who knew it would be bringing us Covid 19. A highly contagious, nasty little virus that would suspend global normality as country after country entered lockdown.

After much procrastination and discussion our ‘leaders’ finally decided that perhaps face masks (sorry face coverings) could help reduce the spread of the virus. And, now, here in England, as the restrictions of lockdown are slowly eased, covering your face is to become part of the new normal. If you want to travel on public transport or visit your local hospital you will be required to wear a face covering and we are all encouraged to don them when entering small shops where social distancing is difficult.

I expect like me you have already seen the odd ‘used’ face mask littering the environment. I read that people can buy packs of disposable face masks quite cheaply. The consequence of being cheap and disposable means thousands of non-recyclable masks end up as waste in landfill. Surely, if you don’t need a single-use mask for medical reasons why buy any disposable ones when you can make your own reusable and washable ones. And, if you can’t or don’t want to make your own there are now thousands of cloth versions available online. There are plain, striped, spotted, floral, paisley or even animal versions of face coverings made from cotton, linen, polyester, non-woven fabrics and even silk. Like many people with access to a sewing machine I decided to make my own mask. Then I’ve made some for my family and friends. And now, I have also painted and made some silk face coverings for my shop.

It is most definitely a stranger world when you can only see people’s eyes. Talking and evening breathing with a mask on your face is not a pleasant experience, but we are requested to wear these masks/face coverings to help stop the community spread of Covid 19.

Yes, yes, we have been asked to wear a face covering, but nobody said it has to be dull or dark or serious. Why not take this new normal regimen as an opportunity for a brighter, lighter-hearted or even amusing response to this awful crisis.

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!!!!

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.

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.

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 . . . . .

Inspiration from the Wickham Market Hoard: The Freckenham ‘Horse’ Motif

Last week, I finished my post with a photograph of the beginnings of my new collection based on the Wickham Market Hoard. Strictly speaking it is the designs struck on the Freckenham and Snettisham staters that have caught my attention and specifically the charming horse symbol.

Once I had my version of the horse motif worked out and drawn up I could plan out the whole scarf design. I began this series using the smallest size scarf I paint, that’s the neckerchief square, but what colours for the initial interpretation?

Photomontage of flowers for colour combinations.

Well, it wasn’t difficult to decide as I had plenty of flower photographs capturing all the bright zing of summer blooms. When I pasted some of these together into various photomontages they offered a number of irresistible colour combinations. I chose the pink and red grouping. Below is a sequence of photos from start to finish recording painting the neckerchief where I incorporate my version of the glorious 2000 year old horse motif.

Mmm, the ‘blank canvas’ moment.
Outlines of resist all done and left to dry.
Painting in the colour.
Halfway done with only the horses to complete.
Finished and ready for steaming.

The first in my Freckenham series, the neckerchief ‘Freckenham Carmine’ is now finished and displayed on my shop.

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.

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.