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.
Scrolling 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.
Bird design on Sutton Hoo Helmet.
Bird design, wings and beak more clearly seen on the replica of Sutton Hoo helmet. Bird faces upwards meeting the mouth of a snake coming over the crown.
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.
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.
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.
Last 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.
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.
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!
Last 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.
Silk chiffon – Valeria by Agnes Ashe
Silk twill -Ardith Tangerine sold.
Or, a small square can be tied niftily to add a splash of colour.
Flat crepe silk scarf Morgan yellow
Flat crepe silk scarf Morgan Willow
Of course, draped or tied round your head is always an option.
Pink silk crepe de chine by Agnes Ashe.
Cream silk crepe de chine by Agnes Ashe.
Silk chiffon – Valeria by Agnes Ashe
Or, why not arrange it casually like a shawl or even try out the recent trend for belting your scarf across your body!
Draped like a shawl Ophelia Blue long crepe de chine silk scarf hand painted by Agnes Ashe.
A 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.
Just 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!
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.
This scarf has now been steamed and is listed in my shop – Mildred Pink.
At 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.
Stained 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.
Part of the ‘Susannah and the Elders’ window, St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
Part of the ‘Susannah and the Elders’ window showing painted architectural detail.
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.
Portrait of a Man by the Flemish artist Quintin Massys. 1520
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!
Bow detail part of the ‘Susannah and the Elders’ window, St Edmundsbury Cathedral
Currently, I’m working the ‘Tudor bow’ motif with a blue palette.
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.
Building Noah’s Ark, St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Victorian
Moses receives the Law, St Edmundsbury, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Victorian
God creates Eve, St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Victorian.
The Flight to Egypt, St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Victorian.
Susannah and the Elders, St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Late medieval either Flemish or French.
Jesse, the Father of King David, St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Victorian.
The Last Judgement St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Victorian.
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).
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.
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.