Like most people before the pandemic and the restrictions and the lockdowns, I used to go out. I went out locally as well as further afield to visit churches, museums and galleries always looking for inspiration for my work. Medieval sculptural details and the patterns painted on Victorian stained glass, so common in our parish churches, have been a great resource. However, for the time being most churches are locked and entry is not permitted.
Naturally, like many people working from home I have turned to the Internet and have found viewing online Fine and Decorative Art Sale Catalogues very worthwhile. These catalogues often have great photos with good colour showing off the beautiful detail that can be found on unusual antiques such as this Carlton Ware vase by Violet Elmer (1907-1988). (And, to my surprise, Violet had a link to Suffolk as her great-grandparents had lived in Scotland Street, Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk, in the early 19th century. There is an interesting article in the East Anglian Daily Times about a couple of collectors from just outside Ipswich who have filled their home with Carlton Ware and hunted down some biographical details for Violet. She was born in Oxford in 1907 and moved to Stoke-on-Trent in 1928 to work as a designer at the Carlton Works. Sadly, for us, she stopped work in 1938 when she got married.)
This fine example of her work is vase decorated with exotic birds (disappearing round the top righthand edge), flora and foliage on a pale plum ground. I think it is both beautiful and charming and you could imagine that perhaps Violet Elmer had herself been inspired by a Victorian millefiori paperweight. The shape of those little flowers is so typical of millefiori.
Inspired by or maybe stealing from artists from the past has a long tradition and I am happy to join in and make my own reinterpretation in a different medium.
It is just a pity that the silk I have painted was for those unglamorous, yet currently necessary, face coverings.
PS – I actually painted these silk pieces during the second lockdown and have only just made them up into masks. Lockdowns have seemed to roll one into another. Sigh. And, now I hear they’ve cancelled Glastonbury and UEFA are also proposing this summer’s tournament to only take place in one country (and I have tickets for a game in Glasgow) and, well, Easter? 🤞🏻 Who knows!
Spring cleaning is one of those jobs that I never quite manage to begin let alone complete in spring and this year, well, as we all know life took on all kinds of other new directions. Eventually, however when the second lockdown came along, I found myself sorting out my understairs cupboard. This is where I keep all my craft fair paraphernalia and as this November there was no ‘British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn’ I thought I’d take the opportunity to reorganise all the gear.
Of course with any sorting, cleaning and clearing-out there comes that moment when you find something tucked away you’d completely forgotten about. As you may have guessed I have a fair amount of fabric stored around my house. Most of it is in boxes and despite my attempts to keep track of what is where, my hastily labelled boxes approach has much to be desired.
I am appalled at the time I waste looking for some offcut I know I have somewhere, opening and digging around in boxes and wishing I had kept the contents list up-to-date, but then comes the moment for a nice surprise.
One of the understairs boxes contained a favourite silk I painted in 1980s. I have long since stopped wearing uber-short, sleeveless shift dresses, but have not been able to part with this one.
When I rediscovered it, screwed up at the bottom of a box, I thought, oh yes I’d like to work with these colours again. However, when I came to use the pattern and colour combination I didn’t think it worked for a large scarf, so I scaled it down and instead painted silk for face masks.
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?
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!!!!
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.
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.
As you can see I have created quite a measured and calculated design.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Even using my powerful daylight bulb capturing this pale blue has been . . . well, virtually impossible.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
The first in my Freckenham series, the neckerchief ‘Freckenham Carmine’ is now finished and displayed on my shop.
Now I am a fan of the colour green. In one way or another it has been a colour I have used in painting different rooms since my first house back in 1996. Of course, there are greens and greens. I remember the first time I used green it was a bright apple green and in a south-facing room it definitely had a hint of lime about it. At the same time I was painting the walls the plumber was installing the central heating and he could barely conceal his revulsion!
It appears that lime green is not a popular colour in our northern light and as we have so few days of summer sun when it looks really good, I reappraised the one lime green scarf on my shop and decided to give it the layer treatment.
Now, regular perusers of my blog will know that amongst the tools in my ‘creative process’ box layering is a technique I use to change my work and give it more depth.
I did like the flat pattern of the original, but I can see that the very nature of the flatness made the lime green less appealing especially in the photographs.
Over-painted, steamed again to fix the work and newly photographed and now uploaded to my online shop. I think it is definitely a more interesting piece.
It’s one of those elements to be taken into consideration when shopping on the Internet – size. It is so easy to simply assume you have a rough idea of the size of anything you are looking at, but checking the measurements is essential.
I recently painted a set of neckerchiefs, my Hudeca series, inspired by Lady Drury’s Hawstead Panels. The design worked for the neckerchief sized squares (50 x 50 cm) and so I thought I’d paint a larger, 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf. You might guess from the above picture that they were the same size. It’s only in a photograph containing other points of reference that you see one scarf is almost double the size of the other.
Even in this video it is difficult to judge the overall size of the scarf with just my hand and a couple of paintbrushes flitting about.
Usually at some point during the designing and painting of my work, a scarf acquires a name. This is important as it helps me keep my work in some kind of order especially if I paint roughly the same design in several different colour combinations and use different silk of different sizes.
At first glance my naming process may seem random, but it is usually linked in some way or other to the original source of inspiration. This time I wanted an Anglo-Saxon girl’s name beginning with ‘H’ for Hawstead and chose Hudeca. The 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine (a really gorgeous, 14mm weight piece of silk by the way) painted with my ‘Hawstead’ design became Lisette and not a Hudeca. I arrived at ‘Lisette’ from Elizabeth for the bigger scarf as Lady Drury was the mother to two daughters, neither of whom reached adulthood, and one was called Elizabeth.
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.