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.

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The Suffolk Show 2019 – a few pictures

Attending the Suffolk Show 2019
Starting young
“Am I being judged?”
Entertaining competitive displays – Double Harness Scurry Driving
Speedily through the cones
Here we come
Racing round the course
And finished – what was our time?
Judging Suffolk Honey – a serious business.
Naturally, there was also competitions for humans too. A Race to the Top – forestry skills on display.

From then to now

It’s late May and the irises are in full bloom. Irises are definitely in my top ten favourite garden flowers along with roses, foxgloves, poppies, lilies, hellebores, tulips, clematis, dahlias, and, those great favourites of the medieval illuminators, columbines. Each May when the aquilegias flower I think of illuminated manuscripts and the unnamed artisans who spent hours in their workshops decorating religious texts.

Columbines (aquilegia vulgaris) decorate this page from the Isabella Breviary, 1497, Flemish. MS18851, f.124

And, it wasn’t just aquilegias that filled the margins, for illuminators included images of the different flowers found growing in their own local districts. From about 1300 onwards there is a wonderful variety of illustrations including daisies, honeysuckle, clover, cornflowers, the dog rose along with the blossom of fruit trees and the blooms of flowering herbs.

Irises decorating the Bourdichon Hours, early 16th century, French.. MS 18855, f.33

Gradually, during the course of the 14th and 15th centuries, the making of illuminated texts became a specialist business with the production of breviaries, prayer books, psalters and books of hours from workshops across Europe. Stylised and simple motifs of flowers gave way to more naturalistic representations such as the irises seen in the Bourdichon Hours (above) and the almost ‘impressionistic’ iris seen in the Huth Hours (below).

Iris from illuminated page of The Huth Book of Hours. 1485-1490 Flemish. MS 38216, f130v

I haven’t got any irises in my backyard as yet, and I’m still wondering if there would be enough hours of direct sunshine for them to bloom, but, fortunately, halfway down my road I spotted some in the little community plot.

Irises bringing some colour to the raised vegetable beds at the local community plot.

This plot was one of those small, unloved areas which didn’t belong to anyone and has now been turned into a shared space, a community veg plot with a handful of raised beds and some seasonal flowers to brighten the whole affair. A number of local people who live in neighbouring flats or homes without gardens, spend their spare time planting, weeding and harvesting. This attractive project was instigated by one of my neighbours who’s also the Green Party candidate for our ward.

There is something heartening and positive about the continuing existence of a genus of flowers, admired and illustrated, that way we can track through the centuries. It would be nice to think that humans will be around for the next 700 years to enjoy the iris and the rest of the natural world, but that requires the present generation of world leaders to put their own personal ambitions aside, take a longterm view and start to deal with the climate crisis – seriously.

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.

Pears for your heirs – planting for the future

In one of those strange moments several threads of my life came together over the Easter weekend. As a keen gardener a four day break with glorious weather was not wasted and I eventually managed to plant two pear saplings and a fig tree.

I also visited my nearest park, Christchurch Park, and popped into the beautiful Christchurch Mansions to take photographs of their 17th-century exhibits. It has been on my to-do list for a while following hearing the rerun of the brilliant recording of ‘God’s Revolution’ by Don Taylor (original broadcast back in 1988). The drama takes us through the English Civil War and as I listened I remembered how my school history lessons had completely drained me of any interest in the 17th century. I had also been left with the impression that the 17th century had been very grey, plain and practical under the influence of the Puritans. It has been a pleasure to discover that this was not the case.

Embroidery panel – Satin stitch appliqué and canvas work scattered on a satin ground. Circa 1650

Of course, skills and craftsmanship did not suddenly evaporate overnight with the Puritans and even though much religious art was destroyed or defaced by the likes of William Dowsing, plenty of interesting examples of visual culture survived the 17th century including new work created during that period. Just think of the monumental splendour of Wren’s St Paul’s. And, then we have at the other end of the scale of English creative expression, small, private handiwork such as this beautiful embroidered panel (above) dating from around 1650.

A startled or slightly comical lion was a popular motif to include. (Bottom right corner of Christchurch Mansion panel).

The full embroidery panel shows a young woman in a garden filled with images of nature. These flowers, animals, birds and insect motifs represented natural gifts from a bountiful God and were celebrated as such. The abundance of nature was a common theme for domestic pieces at this time as displaying overt religious imagery became less popular. It is interesting that the lion and leopard each have their own corner. Their placement is probably significant as it is not an uncommon arrangement, as seen below, in another similar embroidery from the mid-17th century.

Laid silk embroidery circa 1660. Image from Witney Antiques.

Also included in the embroidered menagerie of the Christchurch panel is a unicorn. According to Ruby Hodgson of the V&A, when a lion, leopard and unicorn appear together it is thought to be a reference to royalty.

Looking at the Christchurch panel the most striking representation of the abundance of nature is the pear tree laden with ripe pears in the centre of the composition. It occurred to me that as this example shows a young woman alone in her garden, that the pear tree with fruit maybe a symbol of fertility and allude to her as a potential wife and mother, especially as she stands with her hand outstretched drawing the observer’s attention to the tree.

However, it might simply have been the convention to include a fruiting pear tree as the visualisation of the 17th century English proverb, ‘Walnuts and pears you plant for your heirs’. Old English varieties of pears take years to mature before they bear fruit perhaps not fruiting during a single lifetime and therefore are grown to benefit future heirs. I know that planting avenues of trees for the future such as the famous Spanish Chestnut avenue at Croft Castle, has been a long tradition for the grand and wealthy, but ‘pears for your heirs’ is a discovery for me.

Another pear tree. Mid-17th century embroidered panel. Photo from Wilkinson Auctioneers.

And, that brings me to the third thread of my Easter Weekend, my heir, my daughter. She spent most of her four day holiday break in London moving between Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Marble Arch as part of the Extinction Rebellion civil disobedience protests. Like so many others including all kinds of folk from all generations, she wants the climate crisis at the top of the global to-do list. Since Easter the recent summary from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has highlighted even more bad news regarding human beings’ detrimental effect on biodiversity. We have become accustomed to disregarding our natural environment and it appears that since the 17th century ‘pears for your heirs’ has faded from common use and yet . . .

It is time we started planting for the future.

. . . attempting to finish on a more optimistic note, it is not just me who has been planting a tree or two, the Woodland Trust hope to plant 64 million trees over the next decade.

If we go down to the woods today. . .

It’s that time of year, if you are lucky and live near a bluebell wood, to go strolling through one of Mother Nature’s more enchanting realms. Delicate English bluebells form carpets of violet-blue beneath deciduous trees tinged with the palest of lime green.

I remember several childhood ‘bluebell’ walks. A couple were through the woods near Little Baddow, in Essex and another was an occasion when my family visited the woods near Butley Priory in Suffolk, decades before the remaining gatehouse was restored into a wedding venue.

But what if you live in the middle of a town?

A glade of bluebells, Holywells Park, Ipswich

Well, Holywells Park, Ipswich, does it again. The wooded area of the park may not be vast nor the ‘Bluebell Walk’ exactly long, but they are there, delicate, bluebells nodding gently in the breeze.

The Woodland Walk, Holywells Park

The Woodland Walk partly runs along one side of the park. On the other side of the high, brick boundary wall there’s Bishops Hill, also known as the A1156, busy with traffic. Yet as you walk on down into the peace and quiet of the park you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the middle of a large country estate complete with a wildlife pond.

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.

Spring in Benjamin Britten’s garden

The Red House on the outskirts of Aldeburgh in Suffolk was the home of Benjamin Britten from 1957 to 1976.

The Red House from the croquet lawn.
The Red House through some budding mahonia.

Britten shared this extended, late-seventeenth century farmhouse with his partner, the tenor, Peter Pears, until Britten’s death in 1976.

The Composition Studio with first floor window giving views across the orchard.

Many of Britten’s world famous operas and music pieces were composed working in his first floor composition studio. Once when giving a talk he said

At the moment in my studio where I work in Aldeburgh . . . there’s a blackbird making a nest just outside my window and I’m very interested to know whether she’s sitting on her eggs when I should be working.

Benjamin Britten, 1963.
Viburnum, mahonia and ornamental flowering currant are planted along the garden wall of the Red House.

When I visited the garden earlier this week it was full of floral potential and already the gorgeous scent of an early flowering viburnum was wafting across the path on the way to the archive building.

There were buds and tightly furled leaves just waiting to burst given a couple days of sunshine.

The orchard has some old apple trees supporting mistletoe and a variety of new fruit trees that were added in 2008 as the garden was rejuvenated and recreated following the 1950s layout. The orchard has been underplanted with daffodils and pale yellow primulas and hellebores are growing beneath the surrounding hedging.

Receipts discovered in the extensive Britten-Pears Foundation Archive show that in 1958 Benjamin Britten ordered 63 fruit trees, 76 roses and two dozen blackcurrant bushes from Notcutts, the local nursery in Woodbridge.

It was a gentle, pleasant English garden and will be worth another visit later in the gardening year.

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.

Such changeable weather

We’ve had some high winds and fast moving weather systems recently in East Anglia. Clouds, some with and some without rain, have been whipping across the Suffolk countryside.

These photographs were taken in less than a minute as we drove through the pleasant village of Little Glemham. It was almost a Hitchcock moment with the sudden darkening of the sky, but without the multiple flocks of birds.

And, then back in Ipswich on Monday, walking through Christchurch Park, it was all jolly waving daffodils in the bright spring sunshine . . .

and I spotted . . . a flashy, noisy bird who turned out to be camera shy!

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.