White backgrounds are practically de rigueur . . . but

White-backgrounds-de-rigueur

When it comes to selling products online the received wisdom is that the white background rules. Even if it’s an item of clothing and being modelled on a human being more often than not the white background is de rigueur. Of course, there are still beautiful fashion shoots intricately styled and shot on location. Turning the pages of any fashion magazine or Sunday newspaper supplement and you see these photographs printed. The same images will also appear online on the opening pages of the brand’s website, but once you start clicking through to any specific product, there’s the model/product positioned hovering in the white, computer void.

I have to admit that I have bent to the norm of the white background, but in my heart of hearts I think colourful and complex, or dark and moody shoots produce infinitely more engaging images.

Originally it was a stork!

Stained-glass-plus-birdExperimenting with the bird inspired design means layers.

Am almost at the end of stage one.

It is going to look very different with a second layer, but I’m going to have to be patient. Before I start the second layer this piece will have to be fixed by steaming for two hours.

First-layer-bird-stork-inspired

First layer now finished, off the frame and ready to be prepared for steaming.

Off-frame

Birds for inspiration

Bird-inspiration-mandarin-duckScrolling through a selection of recents photographs I noticed how often birds have been used as a source of creative inspiration. Using creatures symbolically is as old as human culture and even if a bird or animal representation is purely decorative, the work still offers an insight into how the maker viewed their natural environment.

There is this fierce goose-like bird from the Anglo Saxons. It is part of the metal helmet (circa CE625) found amongst the treasures of the Sutton Hoo ship burial discovered in Suffolk, East Anglia. The bird design works as part of the structure of the helmet too with the wings shielding the eyebrows, the body of the bird protecting the nose and the tail fashioned into a metal moustache above the wearer’s mouth.

Then we have a simple, stylised bird on this French jug from about 1300. French pottery was popular during the 13th century when shipped as part of the wine trade to the English royal court from Aquitaine to England. Despite its age this bird motif has a contemporary ‘now’ feel.
French-earthenware-jug-bird-decoration-c1300-Saintonge-France

Birds often featured in hunting scenes as shown in these paintings which decorated the late-fifteenth-century East Anglian parish rood screens.

And, birds have often alluded to the unworldly or exotic as shown by this needlework representation of  ‘A Byrd of America’ from about 1570. This textile was embroidered either by Mary, Queen of Scots, or, Elizabeth, Countess of Hardwick and forms part of the Oxburgh hangings.

Oxburgh Hanging Byrd

Then we have my recent photograph taken in North Norfolk of a black stork and the beginnings of its translation into the design for a silk scarf.

Sharing ways of working, sharing inspiration

Guild-of-Silk-Painters-JournalLast weekend I was very pleased when the Summer 2015 edition of the International Journal of the Guild of Silk Painters arrived in the post. It’s a great little journal that allows a widely spread collective of artist/artisan silk painters to keep in touch, share their inspiration and publicise personal and group work.

Guild-article-Ornate-and-Beautiful

I was especially pleased as it included my article about the inspirational medieval rood screens of East Anglia. It was interesting to see photographs of my work in print as opposed to on a backlit screen, and I must say the colour printing was excellent and very true to life. It made me wonder why so often colours in clothing catalogues are wildly wrong. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s down to the lighting.

Guild-article-four-page-spread

The scarf pictured on the frame (above) has since been sold, but this one, Hilda mouse, is currently available and we took some time to get the shot and get those colours right!

A trend or a staple?

Agnes-Ashe-silk-scarf-hand-painted-Valeria-pink-2Last month Vogue UK had an update piece on the Spring/Summer 2015 trends commenting on the presence of all kinds of scarves on the catwalks. So I had a quick click around to see what all the fuss was about and to use the Biblical expression ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’. I guess when you think about it a simple square or length of cloth is an elementary item of clothing and can be tied up into all types of apparel.

But as a ‘scarf’ you can wear a long piece draped artfully round the neck.

Or, a small square can be tied niftily to add a splash of colour.

Of course, draped or tied round your head is always an option.

Or, why not arrange it casually like a shawl or even try out the recent trend for belting your scarf across your body!

Naturally, some folks take styling more seriously than others and my mother took my daughter in hand at an early age!

And, finally the best use for a large scarf – wearing it as a sling for baby.

Scarf-as-sling-for-baby

Strange, but perhaps not

Now-for-steamingA couple of years ago I painted some silk for a skirt. Then last week I saw this Saloni skirt featured in a magazine article and I thought that reminds me of a piece of silk I once painted.

I can’t remember what triggered my design idea. Thinking about it now I’m guessing there must have been some harlequin-like styling floating in the ether. After all these classic design patterns never totally disappear and they do come round every few years reinvented in a slightly different form.

And, the finished skirt.

Yellow-patterned-skirt

Blue Mildred goes pink

Pots-of-dyeJust thought I’d share my recent re-working of a design littered with medieval rood screen motifs. This time  the new colour combination is – pink!

Pink-again

I had originally painted a pale turquoise, mushroom and sage version (below left) and after a few sketches decided that a mostly pink with a few old gold highlights would make an attractive combination.

Mildred-Blue-ModelSketching-Pink-version


This scarf has now been steamed and is listed in my shop – Mildred Pink.



Adding-goldFirst-fill-nearly-finishedAdding-distressing-effect

Tudor bows, but art nouveau colours

Dye-pots-bramleyAt the moment I am painting another scarf inspired by the Tudor bows seen in the stained glass from St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds. However, this time I’ve taken the bow motif and, with spring in the air, used some lighter spring pinks and greens.

Strangely, it was seeing this art nouveau ceramic tile that was the final push to make me mix up these seedtime colours.

Inspirational heritage – bows embellish Tudor stained glass

Tudor-painted-glass-Bury-St-EdmundsStained glass is more than just beautiful jewel-like windows flooding interiors with shimmering dappled patches of colour. Many stained glass windows particularly those found in churches are a combination of pieces of coloured glass cut and leaded together to form an image, and parts of the window lights where sections of the glass have been painted. In addition to painting people and animals often vegetal motifs and ornate architectural designs were painted into the backgrounds and borders of the main images.

I noticed an interesting bow motif used by the makers of ‘The Susannah and the Elders’ window in St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds. The artisans who painted this window lived during the first half of the sixteenth century and were either Flemish or French.

In one of the lights you can see the style of dress worn by the Elders and it is typical of the first half of the sixteenth century as compared with oil paintings such as the 1520 painting ‘Portrait of a Man’ by the Flemish artist Quintin Massys. These images immediately made me think of Thomas Cromwell in his legal guise flexing his power and working his charm round Henry VIII’s court. Although, I can’t imagine he wore any flamboyant bows himself!

Currently, I’m working the ‘Tudor bow’ motif with a blue palette.

Creativity, inspiration and mining the past

Sometimes it’s colour combinations, sometimes it’s motifs and sometimes it’s just the overall essence of an image that provides a creative spur when searching for inspiration. We all do it and the Victorians’ passion for mining their past is proudly visible in their cultural output.

Most of the stained glass windows that decorate St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, are the work of three leading stained glass firms of the nineteenth century. Stained glass by Clayton and Bell, Hardman & Co and C E Kempe fill the cathedral windows with their work inspired by long-gone and unnamed medieval craftsmen. There is, however, one window whose lights are not Victorian, but date from the late medieval period. At first glance maybe they all look the same, but one has a different ‘feel’! (I’ve labelled it).

Textiles set the scene – Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall Rylance Cromwell tapestries
Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell from the BBC’s dramatisation of ‘Wolf Hall’
Interior walls enriched with tapestries and floor bedecked with sumptuous textiles.

It’s not often that I wish I had a gigantic television screen, but last week was one of those rare occasions. Watching the first episode of Wolf Hall I was captivated by the lustrous beauty of so many of the shots. The creativity, knowledge and skills of all the designers (costume, interior/set and lighting) came together and gave us, the viewers, an enticing version of the Tudor elite lifestyle – as long as you kept your head! The overall impression was that displaying luxury textiles was the key to the making of a lord, his lady and their noble abode.  And, of course, up until the Renaissance tapestries were the most high status wall coverings a wealthy individual could acquire.

(Above couple of my photos showing the natural lustre of hand painted silk.)

The critical reception of ‘Wolf Hall’ has been good although a few people have moaned about the dark lighting – apparently real candlelight in some instances. I thought the lighting was superb, and as somebody who is used to photographing silk you don’t want powerful harsh artificial light. It is the soft reflection of diffuse natural light from the surface of the silk that captures its rich lustre and intense hues.