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.
This is not what I was going to blog about today, but I need to have a little, or not so little moan. This is how my morning started. Firstly, I received an email from a company asking me if I’d like to get my shop on the ‘1st page of Google’. That is, as you probably all already know, the first page listing web links when you do a Google search. Of course, naturally the listed websites depend on what you are searching for. I would be horrified if you were searching for ‘compost caddies’ and my webpage or image of one of my scarves appeared in front of you. Usually in the mysterious world of Google algorithms and SEO (search engine optimisation) simply typing in a few keywords is enough to generate the right useful links. As with much of life you are first hit with the ‘paid for’ advert links with Google and then, what Google call, the ‘organically’ generated links.
Just now I did a Google search to check if my shop was on the first page (I don’t pay for adverts). The search terms were ‘Hand painted silk UK’, results below.
There aren’t many of us in the UK painting and selling one-off silk scarves and my shop is usually on the first if not second page along with other similar silk artists/painters. However, first thing this morning my search also threw up a link to the ‘Paul Smith’ international fashion business. It was the use of the words ‘hand painted’ I think that triggered the link.
You can call me a nitpicking pedant for this comment, but here goes. The original design for this mass produced scarf was ‘hand-painted’, but this scarf is a printed version of that hand painted work. It is most certainly NOT a one-off hand painted scarf.
Then there was this ‘Painted Garden’ silk scarf.
I think calling this ‘Painted Garden’ is probably more acceptable especially as it is then described as a print silk square scarf. I guess what is happening is in these days with much textile design work being produced digitally that printing a design from an original hand-drawn or hand-painted artwork is now considered unusual enough to be a selling point.
However, I can’t help but feel that the marketing people are implying unique, one-off and hand painted in an attempt to make mass produced products somehow more wholesome and authentic and therefore deserve their ticket price of £110. You can tell this has annoyed me rather a lot. Genuine hand painted silk scarves take hours of work and every single scarf is unique. Sorry, rant over, but here is a photo of the real thing, an unrepeatable, hand-painted silk scarf. (Most certainly not licensed for digital printing either!)
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.
As we approach Mother’s Day (here in the UK) I have been lucky once again to be selected by UK Handmade to have a couple of my scarves featured in their Spring Showcase.
As you may already know I take all my own product and publicity photos. I have been photographing my own work for four years now, but try as I might I still can’t get my head round photographing in advance, in preparation for the next season. I always marvel at the wintery Christmas television adverts that were most likely shot in high summer.
The best I can manage is to create the feel of a season. For spring this year I initially had a go at working with yellow, but in the end I have chosen pink for the main colour. I’m going all out with spring pink. In fact I have even rearranged my shop homepage to start with all the pink and mostly pink scarves. Who doesn’t love a little double pink cherry blossom?
The English autumn has yet to turn chilly and most of my garden is still verdant with the heavy, dark green leaves of late summer, but autumn it is and the light is changing. Last week’s photoshoot certainly underscored this change for me. The full sunlight was less harsh than summer sunshine and it cast longer shadows. Happily, I have bagged some interesting modelled product photos for my new Fenella series.
And, additionally, a couple of photographs have been featured in this month’s UKHandmade Autumn Showcase pages 18 and 19 (not the ones shown above).
Now, it’s time to get working on a new design. Lines and shapes first then paint the initial background wash.
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.
Some plants and flowers inspire us to paint or photograph them because they colourful. They are either bold and dramatic or perhaps pale and delicate. However, other plants are more about shape and the thistle is most certainly one of these. Spiky plants lend themselves to a pared back, silhouette-like rendering. The thistle has inspired many illustrators, artists and designers over the centuries. With its barbed flowers and serrated leaves the history of the thistle motif is seen in many decorative pieces from medieval manuscripts to Elizabethan textiles to Victorian wallpaper.
The ‘thistle’ inspiration for different thistle motifs is a spiky plant, but not always the same one. The Scotch thistle (onopordum acanthium) is probably the one that springs to mind, but the globe thistle (echinops) pops up from time to time. Both the Scotch and globe thistles are at least in the same botanical family Asteraceae. The other thistles that are popular as design inspiration are the sea hollies (eryngiums), but they are in the family Apiaceae.
An early example of a thistle design is a Viking silver thistle brooch dating from the early 10th century now at the British Museum.
The Victorian, Owen Jones, who was an architect and designer, wrote ‘The Grammar of Ornament’ (published in 1856) outlining his theory of design. In his book he and his students attempted to extract and catalogue design motifs from historical sources across the centuries and produce a reference guide for flat patterning.
Victorian design derived from a medieval manuscript illumination.
Another Victorian drawing of thistle motif on an Elizabethan textile.
Victorian design derived from a medieval manuscript illumination.
The thistle becomes more extensively used for ornamentation when monks began decorating medieval manuscripts with native flora. And, of course, the thistle is now known as the emblem of Scotland since it was adopted by James III in the fifteenth century.
My recent photograph of thistles in the front garden inspired me to paint a thistle scarf or two.