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.
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.
Sometimes I stick quite closely to my source inspiration as with the first two of my recent Edlyn series of silk scarves. Picking a panel and details from one of the panels of the St Edmund’s rood screen and working up a design.
But sometimes I get diverted.
After I have drawn out some patterns and motifs a few times I start to wander off down my own road. I think it is a similar to when authors say that their characters somehow take on their own lives beyond the control of the writer. I feel this scarf is my version of my ‘visual’ characters marching off in their own direction especially regarding the colours.
This affair is probably better shown than described. As you can see from the photographs, the outline drawing still has a feel of the medieval panels about it, but it is loosening and the choice of colours has clearly moved away from the rood screen originals.
The creative process is not entirely describable, but here is the finished silk on the frame.
Four years ago during the autumn of 2014 I blogged a sequence of posts relating how I was inspired by the Ranworth rood screen to create some silk scarves. Now is that time of year when I turn to looking at all those warmer, rich shades of autumn and feel the need to work with old gold and dusky damsons. Or, as Hilary Mantel so beautiful wrote “wearing theirfallen fruit silks of mulberry, gold and plum” when describing the gentlemen’s clothing at the Tudor court.
Looking at my recent photographs of another medieval rood screen this time in Suffolk, there is much to admire and inspire. Despite its age, over 500 years old, the screen at St Edmund’s, Southwold still has a wealth of medieval painted panels filled with faded colour and I have found plenty of inspiration.
Firstly, I decided to work with a delightful motif repeated on the cloak of the prophet, Isaiah. I copied the motif and worked up a whole scarf design on paper before using three templates to transfer the completed work to a square, flat crepe scarf.
This part of the process is surprisingly controlled to ensure I get balance and movement across the whole scarf. Next it is time to add the specific details, drawing lines and shapes using the gutta resist. This part is a little more loose and random as the resist flows freely and quite rapidly from the applicator pipette.
Finally, once the outlining is finished and has completely dried the softer and unfettered painting can begin. This is the first of my Edlyn Series of silk scarves inspired by the St Edmund’s rood screen.
I have been having a serious clear out of cloth. I am trying to be disciplined about this. I am attempting to organise all my work materials so there is studio space that is conducive to work and not one that is so chaotic it drains me of all my creativity.
During this protracted endeavour I came across some of my old silk work. In the photo above there is a bird hidden within all the colours. The original idea came from a medieval bas-relief bird I photographed on a visit to a cathedral (possibly in Germany, but it could’ve been in France) a couple of decades ago. In my memory it was always Speyer Cathedral on the Rhine. However, I have just Googled Speyer and though the magnificent 11th century Romanesque church is the building I have in mind’s eye, I can’t imagine where I thought this bird was ‘perched’. Strange how our memory plays tricks with us, isn’t it?
Anyway, I can now see that my ‘stork’ and ‘heron’ phases had a long forgotten forerunner lurking somewhere in Europe.
Of course, a freehand one-off motif once designed doesn’t remain fixed for very long.
Over time my bird motifs have lost most of their definition and morphed into little more than blobs with spikes!
Might be time to track down my old photos and revisit the original ideas and try working up a new motif or two from the primary source material. I haven’t unpacked either box marked ‘photos’ yet, but I am hoping that I didn’t bin them all the last time I had one of my ‘once every 10 years’ clear outs.
Last month on Tuesday, 30 January 2018, the BBC ran a report by their Education Correspondent, Branwen Jeffreys, reporting the squeeze currently occurring in many English schools on the creative subjects . Basically, the findings suggest lessons and opportunities for music, art and drama, as well as design and technology are being reduced or even cut. At first I wasn’t particularly surprised by this as when times are economically tough there is a history of various governments talking up so-called ‘work’ skills as they slyly talk down the creative arts. As a consequence of this prevailing attitude hard-pressed schools, with one-eye on the national league tables, actively increase contact time for core subjects at the expense of art, music and drama.
Then I remembered towards the end of last year reading a piece from the Craft’s Council discussing trends in public engagement with the arts in general. I was so impressed with the 77% engagement with the arts and the significant increase in visits to a heritage site, or, to a museum or gallery, that I saved this graphic below. Engagement means actively visiting and presumably spending money at these sites, paying entrance fees and making gift shop purchases. And, that is not to mention all the work generated by creative people to fill galleries, put on shows and concerts, and, contribute to the creative industries such as advertising and media.
Now, being a pedant by nature, I noticed that the data is not particularly recent with results from those surveyed between October 2015 and September 2016. Naturally, I then went on a search for more recent information and visited the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport which commissions the ‘Taking Part’ surveys.
It would appear that this 2015/16 report is the most up to date analysed information available and, to me anyway, paints a fairly positive picture of cultural engagement across England – enough I would say, for the DCMS to be actively and publicly challenging the Department for Education regarding the reported squeeze on Arts Education. In the future museums, galleries, theatres, concert halls and ad agencies, the film industry, computer games companies, etc etc, are still going to need creative people and Arts Education in schools is a vital starting point inspiring, supporting and preparing youngsters for a career in the creative industries.
If you were wondering about the top and bottom pictures. Top is child creatively exploring within a nursery school environment (opportunity still widely available) and the bottom is an adult creatively exploring at an adult education evening class (sadly, opportunity almost non-existent these days if it doesn’t lead to a ‘qualification’).
When folk consider flowers for Valentine’s Day, the perennial favourite is the red rose. I think there is something intensely romantic about a single, velvety, dark red rose, but if I were to be receiving a bouquet of roses, I think I would prefer pink roses.The bonus with giving or receiving roses is many are fragrant too, with most of the old fashioned varieties perfuming a whole room with their beautiful, rich scent.
Of course, as you may have already guessed, I don’t just love old fashioned pink roses, but pink blooms in general and find them a great source of inspiration for my flowery silk scarf designs. And with that in mind, here’s a jug of last summer’s dahlias providing just such stimulus!
I use photographs a lot for my work. I am always looking for inspiration from the world around me and use my camera to capture these moments. Recently, when reviewing and rearranging my current online shop collections, I recognised subtle influences from my photography. I had been searching through my various memory sticks of stored images to freshen up my product listings. It was clear from comparing dates on the files that after a few sessions of photographing some summer garden flowers, shades of peach started to appear in the pink scarf I was painting at the time. Although I was not directly using the flowers photos as source material their influence was quite obvious with hindsight – up until then peach was not included in my work.
I also opened my Bury St Edmunds memory stick. There were plenty of photographs of the glorious stained glass in the cathedral, both motifs and colours from the glass I have since featured directly in my silk scarf designs. However, after working in the cooler tones of the glass for a few months I can see I gradually moved to a palette of warm, rich colours. This was not the conscious process as before but I think the beautiful rich red windows had left their mark. Looking at the dates on these files I think the autumn weather was also a factor.
It hasn’t only been colourful images that have unconsciously influenced my work. When you are looking for a good shot you examine your surroundings with more attention and details so often overlooked are literally brought into focus. Shapes I hadn’t thought I had noticed at the time have been added to my stock of motifs such as the details on these sculptures.
In the end though sometimes there is no obvious inspiration for the colours of a scarf. With one of my favourites, this blue and green scarf below (long sold), I worked up the design layer on layer adapting my choice of dyes after each layer was steamed. A less controlled more serendipitous process. . . . . . . but I had been recently photographing seascapes!!!
Living in East Anglia there are many parish churches that still retain both medieval and Victorian church art. Painted rood screens and colourful stained glass provide a wealth of inspiration for my silk scarf designs.
Detail from St Lawrence, part of rood screen paintings. St Helen’s, Ranworth, Norfolk.
Decorative detail from a Victorian stained glass window. St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
I like to steal ideas for motifs and also re-work various colour combinations. Often I will just use a tiny part of a much larger stained glass window whether its from a Tudor pane or details ornamenting a Victorian light.
Detail from the Susannah Window at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
Design drawn out on silk using coloured gutta and resist paint brush daubs.
And, once I have created the whole design and transferred it to the silk I then steal colour combinations from a completely different medium such as the oil on board paintings of local medieval rood screens.
The finished work may not obviously look either Victorian or medieval in style, but if you look closely you may be able to spot a motif or two and recognise the ‘dirty pinks’ from the painting of St Lawrence’s robe.
Earlier this week on Tuesday, 2 May 2017, Chad Dickerson, the Chief Executive of Etsy, quit his job following unexpectedly poor results for the first quarter of 2017. Etsy made an unpredicted loss of $421,000 (£325,000) during the period. The business is now under investor pressure to restructure – mmm, I wonder how many of those investors are crafters too?
I admired the original premise of the Etsy founders and the platform has certainly been extremely successful for over a decade. Dickerson once commented “Etsy is very much a community-based business. What we’re really trying to do is build an ‘Etsy economy’ that’s about connecting people.”
And from . . .
A handcrafted beginning (from the Etsy homepage)
Etsy was founded in June 2005 in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York to fill a need for an online community where crafters, artists and makers could sell their handmade and vintage goods and craft supplies. In the spirit of handmade, founder Rob Kalin and two friends designed the first site, wrote the code, assembled the servers and spliced the cables to get Etsy up and running. In 2008, Chad Dickerson joined Etsy as its first CTO, and created the company’s foundational engineering culture, treating “Code as Craft”. Chad became CEO in 2011 and began championing the “reimagination of commerce,” a transformation of every aspect of how goods are made, bought and sold. Under Chad’s leadership, the website that began in an apartment in Brooklyn has evolved into a sophisticated technology platform that connects Etsy sellers and buyers across borders, languages and devices, a company that spans the globe and a business that is committed to creating lasting change in the world.
Etsy has burgeoned into an enormous global ‘marketplace’. The successful original idea has grown and grown.
However, back in 2013 significant changes that broadened what was accepted as handmade work were introduced much to the concern of many Etsy crafters. These changes permitted the hiring of help to make your work and the opportunity for wholesaling your work.
I must admit at that time I was a newbie to Etsy and was more perplexed about ‘wholesaling my work’ than annoyed about it. I simply couldn’t imagine how I could create and physically paint enough silk myself and then offer it wholesale to be resold (mark up of at least 100%) at a price to even cover my costs let alone make a small profit. For me the wholesale idea didn’t fit with my craft. And, this is the rub – truly handmade, craftwork is neither cheap nor high volume. As you may remember just about a year ago I decided to close my Etsy shop as my one-off, handmade work was difficult to find, swamped amongst the thousands of laser printed or amateur silk pieces offered for sale.
The Etsy craft platform business model appears to have a hit a bump in the road as those 2013 policy changes have eventually resulted in less one-off original pieces and many more ‘me too’ products. And, if you are fine with the ‘me too’ world why not simply go elsewhere to buy/sell on Amazon Handmade or eBay. Etsy has ridden the crafting wave successfully, but nothing grows for ever and if, in the world of handmade, you water down your standards to achieve volume, quality will inevitably suffer.
I used to think that Etsy helped promote craft, but now I’ve realised that the resurgence of interest in craft and the ‘so-called’ boom was well underway at the grass roots before Etsy came into being. (If you are interested fellow crafter and early member of the Etsy craft community, Grace Dobush, has written a superb article about craft and the Internet.)
And, finally back to Chad Dickerson. During the 947 days that I had my Etsy shop, I watched several Etsy ‘live chats’ with Chad Dickerson and his Etsy staff. He came over as an interesting, thoughtful guy. He certainly appeared to believe in his quoted wish to champion ‘the re-imagination of commerce”. However, perhaps, at this point in time, we’re re-discovering that authentic craft has more local than global appeal.