A Small Blue Square

The beginning of autumn often brings a change in the general feel of everyday life. I am always surprised as although the days have been gradually shortening for the last couple of months, it seems as all of a sudden the mornings and evenings are darker.

With these seasonal changes I usually update my shop taking stock of the different colours available and adjust my homepage to reflect the new season. And, this time, I have also added my latest small, blue scarf – Jiann Ink.

Jiann Ink on the frame before steaming.

It is one of a series that I have recently finished. I guess this blue feels more like winter than autumn, but we won’t go down that route yet despite the fact that some of us have already been reminded by craft fairs etc. about C. Sorry I can’t bring myself to mention that festive occasion quite this early.

Unusual For Me

What is unusual for me? Answer – hot weather equals working with really hot colours. Yes, but that’s not the entire answer.

Photomontage of orange and pink dahlias for colour palette.

How about hot weather means being inspired by the rich colours of the seasonal flowers? Well, yes that’s sort of right again, but not the full answer.

Painting the same scarf design with the same colours twice? Yes, that is the precise answer. And actually, when I think about it is the first time I’ve done just that, although the two scarves have ended up the same(ish), they are different sizes.

In the past I have often painted the same basic design in different colour ways, but repeating the same design and with the same palette is new for me. And, of course, it is now very clear that accurately repeating my work simply isn’t possible.

I guess this unrepeatable quality is why handcrafted work is appreciated more than identical, laser printed copies or even screen-printed pieces.

Painting Hathor Peli

Back in April 2020 just a month after the World Health Organisation declared the new coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic, I was having a ‘comments’ conversation with fellow blogger, Garrulous Gwendoline ‘The Reluctant Retiree’, about her photographs of pelicans.

Pelicans photographs from Garrulous Gwendoline, ‘The Reluctant Retiree’.

And, as is the way in the convivial world of blogging, Gwen generously checked her photo library and emailed me some beautiful pelican pictures. I knew straight away I would use them in a scarf, but I had no idea it would be over two years before these magnificent birds would finally make an appearance in a design.

Pelicans, Ms Cheeky and Ms Smug are drawn onto a blank silk scarf.

Sometimes my process of painting a scarf is a free-flowing affair and the whole piece takes shape organically. However, on this occasion I did have a layout planned. Firstly, I selected two specific pelicans for my inspiration. One I called Ms Smug and the other Ms Cheeky and after sketching them I made templates of both.

Ms Smug in a corner and a Ms Cheeky in a plumage of red and orange.

A Ms Smug was placed at each corner of a 90 x 90 cm scarf then a Ms Cheeky was popped in-between on the ‘border’ branch. Each of the Ms Smug pelicans in the corners was to be a different colour. In a predictable combination I decided they would be red, yellow, blue and green.

The yellow Ms Smug being ignored by Ms Cheeky.

However, as you can see I don’t do solid blocks of primary colour and instead I worked up my usual very patterned take on the chosen colour scheme. It turned out that the green Ms Smug grew blue patches and the blue Ms Smug developed a mixed plumage with feathers of lilac and magenta vying for attention.

The blue, the green and the red Ms Smugs.

Of course, with a very colourful piece as this you still need areas of contrast.

Blue background with eucalyptus leaves.

The dark and mid blues background were an instinctive and obvious choice as the original pelicans in Gwen’s photographs were shot against a vibrant, Australian blue sky. The blue also worked with the black central area, but what about the border?

Centre panel of the scarf ‘Hathor Peli’ finished.

I think you might have already anticipated, yes, more black, this time to delineate the whole piece. From start to finish the scarf took some time to create, but it was a pleasure to keep returning to my amusing source material.

Scarf Hathor Peli finished.

And, if you were wondering about ‘Hathor Peli’, the scarf’s name, well, I’ve also been working with some Ancient Egyptian bird designs too. Hathor is the Ancient Egyptian sky goddess and I thought ‘Hathor’ sounded like a good name for scarves featuring birds.

‘Hathor Peli’ finished, photographed and uploaded to Agnes Ashe online shop.

From bright to mellow

Earlier this week I was sorting through my stock of small, bandana-sized scarves to despatch one to a customer when I found this scarf. I started painting it last autumn, finished and steamed it just before Christmas and safely stored it away to add to my shop in the New Year. And then, I promptly forgot all about it.

Adding the cardinal red, the azure blue and the old gold.

Of course, I had taken the usual photographs as the piece progressed and after scrolling back and back through my work files I found them. Then the saga all came back to me. I had chosen, with an eye to Christmas, the colours cardinal red, azure blue and old gold to dye my loose design of the Queen of the Night (see header photo of her in full dramatic voice) accompanied by vaguely, medieval maidens.

More and more colour added.

However, when all the colour had been added we were well and truly into the dark, gloomy month of November and the painting just seemed all too bright. Initially, I had thought it looked rich and vibrant, but in the end I felt it was simply garish. It was time for the big brush, plenty of water and knocking back the colour. The final effect is more like a watercolour and the whole scarf has a soft, muted quality.

Before and after the attack with the big brush.

Speed forward to June 2022 and this week I finally got round to photoshopping the product photos for ‘Ama’ and adding it to the shop. It has only taken six months from start to finish!

Scarf ‘Ama’ photoshopped and added to my online shop.

Looking for colour inspiration

We are fast approaching the end of April and I look at a blank piece of silk and feel I want to turn to floral colour for inspiration. I do have several containers of tulips almost in bloom, but they are either the double or parrot varieties typically at their best in May, and, as yet none of them are fully into their stride. Yes, I know there’s blossom, but in my backyard the trees; a couple of pears, the Victoria plum and the cherry ‘Stella’, are all white. And, there’s even more white with an unexpected abundance of honesty (Lunaria annua var. ‘Alba’) this year.

White honesty and more white honesty.

So I’ve resorted to scrolling through my photo albums and hunting down colourful flower pictures. I’ve been looking for pinks and oranges and, funnily enough, golden or possibly even yellow examples to inspire me.

Colourful image featuring strong orange and pinks.

In the process of selecting images I discovered that it’s almost three years since I’ve painted a yellow scarf or even a scarf of muted golds.

Digital Photomontage of a dinner-plate dahlia, oranges and a hint of medieval gilt work behind.

And the more I looked at all the pictures the more I felt like a return to yellowy warm hues.

Digital Photomontage of pears and sunflowers over a medieval painted screen.

It’s probably not going to be the strong yellows of the sunflowers, but a mixture of the softer apricot and cream of this bearded iris ‘Barbara My Love’ tempered by the time-worn gold of medieval St Jude from the rood screen of St Edmund’s, Southwold.

Left – Bearded Iris ‘Barbara My Love’. Right – St Jude, rood screen St Edmund’s Church, Southwold.

Merging the two photographs (the digital photomontage image below) has produced interesting, subtle tones which I feel fit with my mood. I think I’ve found my inspiration.

Another Nixie scarf, but this time bright and petite

Back in the depths of winter I painted a large, 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf that acquired the name ‘Nixie Noire‘. It had followed on from a small, bandana-sized scarf called ‘Nixie Petite’. Weirdly, I had forgotten all about Nixie Petite until yesterday when I was doing my annual stock take.

Nixie Petite – out of the box for stock take.

Doing my stock take isn’t an arduous task as I rarely have more than 50 scarves available to buy at any given time. Instead, my stock take becomes a short journey of rediscovery as I work through my boxes and find work I’d forgotten I’d painted.

The design is drawn out and then the colours are painted in.

It might seem odd that I should forget my own work, but seeing the photos of my scarves on the shop isn’t the same as handling them. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but even the best photographs are not a substitute for the soft and almost luminous quality of a scarf in real life.

In passing I would also say, that at the various craft shows I have sold my work, interestingly, most people still only look. I have to suggest that people can pick up a scarf and feel it. I also have a small, gilt mirror to encourage customers to try on a scarf and see how it looks and feels when worn. I guess we mostly buy with our eyes.

Nixie Petite -finished and ready for steaming.

Anyhow, counting the stock requires seeing the real item and in the case of Nixie Petite being surprised by it. Goodness, those colours and all that fiddly pattern. I must have been in an easygoing, light mood when I started that one!

And, if you ever wondered from where I get the names for my scarves, I choose them from an old book of baby names.

Nixie – from the Old High German, nihhus, ‘nymph, sprite’. A mythological mermaid, half-woman, half-fish, who could be glimpsed by lovers on nights of the full moon.

Painting Mirelle

Sometimes I am a forgetful idiot. A sensible way of painting a large silk scarf is to start in the middle and work your way out finishing with the borders.

Painting the border first.

There is a logic to that as often a border will use the predominant colours of the main design of the scarf, but in a different amount and at a different scale.

And, then there is the time I began by painting the border in its entirety first .

Next drawing out the centre.

I did have a rough idea of the colours I wanted to use for the whole scarf, but as I painted the borders they looked dead and dull and despite deciding I was NOT going to use any turquoise, there it was added to the border and bringing lightness and energy.

Adding the colours to the centre panel.

I think adding the turquoise to the borders worked and in the end it didn’t significantly change the colours for the centre panel except for featuring as a 50% dilution on the vase motif.

Very nearly done with source painting (top left).

As I think you can see in the original painting which I used as the source for this scarf (above top left), the vase was blue and white with red flowers with not a single brushstroke of turquoise in sight.

Finally finished and ready for steaming.

Unusually in my case, it turns out on this occasion it was better for me to start painting the more restricted borders before splashing out in the centre.

Mirelle is now finished, steamed, photographed and on my shop.

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.