Darker tones for darker times

January 2022 appears to be bringing with it more sombre greyness than just the weather. In truth the grey gloom of the weather and the pandemic has simply carried on from the end of last year into the beginning of this one. I remember when the news of Omicron first hit and, as is so often the case with me, the general mood of current affairs eventually filtered through and into my work.

When I began working on this large, 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf in December I had intended the background to be entirely midnight blue.

Drawing out the basic design in gutta resist.

However, as I added other colours to the scarf the blue background didn’t feel dark enough.

The process of painting with dyes.

The blue, even as dark as it was, was not creating enough contrast to make the muted pinks and muted mouse browns as crisp and sharp as I wanted.

Pure black behind making seed heads more defined.

So, I got to work with the unadulterated black. Although, I frequently use small areas of black to achieve depth, it is a long time since I have used black for a background. I think you can see the difference it makes compared to the blue.

A large scarf like this takes some time for me to paint and, additionally, I had a break over Christmas when I cleared my studio to offer a comfy space for a large, visiting dog. When I returned to my work, I immediately saw that there seemed to be a gash in the design. It was not intentional. The order in which I had painted the colours had revealed this shape, gradually emerging running diagonally across the scarf as the pinks and reds were added.

A gash has appeared across the design.

At this point, and with the New Year fast approaching with hope in its wake, my mood changed and I felt I wanted the gash to be filled with soft colour.

Muted pinks making for a softer background.

The result was a background of the muted pinks with the seed heads painted with the mouse browns. I think you can see the line of the browns flowing diagonally from the top left to the bottom right of the scarf in this photo below.

The painting is finished and the scarf is ready for steaming.

With the scarf completed it is clearer to see how much black I’ve ended up using. Dark and moody, yet with more pink than I planned when I changed the blue for black. I guess the daylight hours are increasing and maybe Omicron is not as bad as it was first considered and the result is a little more colour and a little less black.

The scarf has now been steamed and photographed and added to my shop, and as usual, the photos don’t really give an accurate portrayal of the piece. I must say that considering the times in which it was painted, I at least, am very happy with the finished scarf. In truth and unexpectedly it’s turned out to be one of my favourite pieces of work! Clouds . . . silver linings . . . and all that.

Another flower-inspired bandana

Well, it’s the 25th November and it’s four weeks to Christmas and that’s it for my backyard for this year. There are a few pink cosmos plants limping on and the hydrangea blooms will be slowly fading, or rotting away for the rest of the winter, but until next spring they’ll be no flowers from my yard to cut and bring into the house.

Drawing out and painting the first corner design.

Just as well I took the time to photograph some of my favourite combinations from the summer and early autumn flower arrangements.

Finding another colour combination for opposing corner.

I keep a selection on my iPad which I use when looking for colour inspiration.

Beginning painting the centre panel featuring the full large vase arrangement.

And, every now and then I do sort of copy an arrangement and include the vase as well. You may even recall that I painted a picture of the tall vase arrangement before the design ended up on scarves.

The example below will probably be the last one of this series as the season and the light have moved on and I am feeling the arrival of winter and with that a change of palette.

There once was a bunch of flowers

Back in September I had a good selection of homegrown flowers that made a large and colourful flower arrangement. You may have seen the arrangement in my Blog post ‘Light or Dark‘. I liked them so much I decided to have a go at painting them. It is some years since I last had my paints out and I’d forgotten how different it is to working with dyes on silk.

It turned out to be an interesting lesson and a reminder to me to look and observe more carefully. Of course, I couldn’t let such an arrangement not feature in my silk work as well. And, it was revealing to see how the essence and not the detail ended up in the silk design.

Drawing out a loose version of the original flower arrangement.

As you might be able to guess this isn’t a full-sized scarf. I thought I would start with a bandana/small square scarf to see if the translation from gouache on paper to dye on cloth was worth pursuing. The jury is out on that at the moment. I have just started drawing out a 90 x 90 cm twill scarf to eventually include the arrangement, but probably as a repeat motif rather than a central ‘picture’.

For the time being this bandana is finished and steamed and on the shop.

An On/Off Project

As many of you know I have been painting silk for years and mostly selling painted silk scarves, but that was until Covid.

First the lengthy job of painting the long, long piece of silk.

When the pandemic arrived and with it, eventually, the wearing of masks in crowded spaces and on public transport and during a lockdown or not, there was an explosion of homemade masks of every shape and colour. And, as some of you know, I started painting and making silk versions. All that was until the arrival of working vaccines and the gradual reduction of mask wearing.

After painting and steaming the silk a backing was add with a layer of wadding between the silk and the backing to give a richer, thicker slightly quilted appearance.

Now, anybody who knows me in real life knows that I view sewing, by hand or machine, as a means to an end. Getting my old sewing machine out to make masks was an interesting experience for me. In the end sewing and making joined painting as part of my everyday work.

Random flowing machine embroidery make swirling shapes and loose gold stars.

All this prattle brings me to the point that for some bizarre reason at the beginning of this year I decided to embark on a large painting and machine embroidered piece of work. Yes, I did just write ‘at the beginning of this year’, because this has turned out to be a very long drawn out endeavour. And, I am now at the stage where I have picked it up and started and stopped so many times I am wondering whether it will ever get finished. The working day routine of sewing masks pretty much ceased back around last Easter and in between periods of scarf painting, this long, involved project began to take more and more time. Now, as we move into autumn my patience for machine embroidery on this scale is seriously running out of steam.

It is easier to see the freehand machine embroidery on the reverse.

Anyway I thought I’d share my progress so far and I will blog about it again if it ever gets finished.

One for me and one for the shop

About once a year I paint an experimental, trial scarf for myself, then tweak the design and when I’m satisfied paint a very similar more refined version for the shop.

The prototype for my new small scarf series.

Not long ago I reviewed my stock and assessed the different colours available. I realised recently I have been mostly working with blues, turquoise and pinks. On my shop there’s also scarves in pink and green, soft green and gold, but no strong green.

Last time I did this ‘one for me (prototype) and one for the shop’ I was working with strong, vivid reds. This time I thought I would use the same approach to work with some zestful, bright greens.

My prototype left and ‘Evy Apple’ now on my shop. I think the shop version works better with the darker areas of Prussian blue adding contrast and depth.

Of course, sometimes there’s a fashion for a certain colour and I notice green has become popular of late. Now, this bright green is quite a change for me and for a first experiment it was always going to be working with my smallest scarf size.

Painting the first bright green ‘prototype’ scarf.

Also this small ‘neckerchief’ size is a personal favourite as it can be worn to add a small accent splash of colour, especially when it is such a zingy colour.

And one for the shop – painting the second bright green small silk scarf.
Two bright green scarves.

Finally, both green scarves were finished and steamed and now one is on the shop and I am wearing the ‘trial’ one as I type this post!

Share the Love

As artists, artisans, creatives and makers we all form part of the visual culture community and as such it is always a joy to see and be inspired by the work of others past and present.

One commendable opportunity offered by the Internet is the ability to share our finds and photos of inspirational art particularly the unnamed work of past artisans. Sharing our appreciation gently reverberates across the net as pleasantly, every now and then somebody pops up and leaves some much appreciated positive feedback for my own work.

Just recently I have received a couple of delightful mentions one by Sheri 42 from the blogging world

and one by ‘Suffolk Artists’ on Instagram. And, so I thought I would blog a ‘thank you’ post for both mentions and share the love as they say.

Warmer Colours

It might be a cool and wet start to July, but recently I have turned to painting with a warmer range of colours.

It is another layered mid-sized scarf which has ended up more patterned with the second layer than I had originally intended.

And, after steaming the colours have turned out to be stronger and hotter than expected as well. Perhaps this weather is going to get the idea and also turn hotter too and then we’ll have a summer after all.

As inspired by aquilegias and alliums

Last month I took a few photographs of the flowers that had managed to do their thing despite a very wet May.

Aquilegias and alliums inspirational flowers

As it happens it was the photo of the deep purple and pale lilac aquilegias that consciously caught my attention and became the inspiration for a silk scarf.

And, in that strange way that colours and shapes so often infiltrate the sub-conscious, the alliums found their way into my design too.

The second layer of shapes and colours added over the first fully dyed silk made for a messy looking composition, but after steaming the completed scarf, Eladora Sea, has turned out to be one of my favourites.

After steaming the silk scarf is washed, photographed and then added to my shop.

Adding a dark background

Along time ago when I was a student my textiles tutor once commented to me that she could always recognise my work by my use of black. At the time she had been looking at drawings for a floral fabric where I had used only the tiniest hint of black behind lime green stems.

Adding a dark mottled red to a red and pink neckerchief.

I also remember my mother (an amateur oil painter) making a comment that she never used black, but only ever Payne’s grey.

Adding purple to a square flat crepe scarf.

Over the years I have begun to include more and more colours in their darker shades instead of the black to add depth to my designs. Every now and then I think I am going to stick with a pastel background, but somehow I find I want the design to be a little more punchy . . .

Adding Prussian blue as the final layer.

And then a pot of a dark Prussian blue or an imperial purple or even a rich brown is unscrewed and the dark dye banishes the pastel.

Adding dark brown and dark grey to a large crepe de chine scarf.

However, as I write this there’s work on the frame where I have designed from the outset to use pure black. I know it might seem strange, but to get the best black it has to be painted onto the natural silk before any other dye has been added. You’d think that black would just cover any previously painted area, but some of the initial coloured dye binds to the silk and even though the black is strong, it never quite looks as sharp.

Currently using black again.

Finding myself working again with black it seems, as with so much in life, even one’s creativity can turn full circle as part of a cycle. Apparently for me it turns out I am on a roughly seven year circuit! Of course, it’s never a true repeat, but a revisiting with the benefit of experience.

An example of a black background from the outset. One of the first five scarves I created when I launched my online shop back in 2013.

A tricky colour to photograph

Sometimes for some strange reason, and unwittingly, I just make my life that little bit more awkward and this is one such occasion. I absolutely know that the one colour I find virtually impossible to accurately photograph is pale turquoise. Naturally, therefore that is the very shade that has ended up being THE conspicuous colour for my latest 90 x 90 cm silk scarf.

I simply cannot explain how this happened, as you can see below it all began innocently enough with simple, primary highlights of red, green, yellow and blue and then a few dark smudges of deep purple.

However, after painting in the black and grey border I pondered, considered and then decided the small corner details could be in a turquoise/sea green colour and then suddenly I find I am industriously splashing it all over the centre panel.

I expect you have heard authors say that often their characters take on their own life and lead a story off in a completely new and unexpected direction, and I, behind my hand, have thought right, okay, sure. But, after my experience with this scarf, I believe them. I am totally converted to the idea that a creative process can somehow evolve pretty much under its own steam.

So, there you have it a pale turquoise (or is that sea green?) silk scarf with a few highlights of other colours!

Stealing from ceramics

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.)

Carlton Ware ‘Fantasia’ by Violet Elmer. Lustre and gilt, 18 cm high. circa 1930/31. Sold April 2017 for £439.

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.

Millefiori paperweight. Glass. 1832.

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.

Inspired by a ceramic vase design.
And, another version.

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!