A golden doubling up

Two-pieces-at-once

Last October three metres of crepe de chine arrived to be painted for a blouse. Three metres will take me about two weeks to complete, but before I begin such a project I take the opportunity to make some samples and often a scarf to establish that I’ve interpreted the brief as expected.

Here are a few photographs as the work progressed.

The finished scarf after steaming showing the colours just that little bit brighter.

Cora-gold-hanging

And, half way through the three metres of crepe de chine – last autumn.

Cora-by-the-metre

Fast-forward to February 2016 and the silk has been made up. I’m always thrilled to see my work transformed into garments.

Now-a-blouse

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A creative process – medieval art, craft and artisans (part 2)

Following sorting through my collection of Ranworth photographs (see previous post) it is time to begin working up the design, its shapes and colours.

First, I look for an appealing sequence of motifs and patterns.

Then, I open one or two photos on the computer screen and with continual reference to these images I start to mix the colours I want to use. It is worth noting that it’s only really since the mid-19th century when William Henry Perkin discovered aniline dyes that the option for very bright, clean colours has been available. Even if used as a dilution, the basic, unmixed dyes are too sharp, too harsh. For my work to achieve the more muted, slightly muddy colours similar to the variety of pigments, dyes and gilding of the medieval screens, I mix either a little brown or grey into each colour blend.

Once I’m happy with the colours I work up some small scale designs in my sketchbook.

Then it’s time to pin out the silk.

Fading green – inspired by nature, again.

Cosmos-garden-bokehFading flowers and foliage in the autumn garden provide inspirational shapes and colour as the vibrant summer greens lose their intensity.

Eventually after a couple of hours in the steamer the dyes are fixed and the scarf can be modelled, photographed and uploaded to the shop.

A commission goes to the Summer Ball

ball dress full length silk chiffon
At the ball
(4m hand painted silk chiffon made up into a 1930s style, bias-cut, full-length evening dress)
Working to a tight brief can be a rewarding experience. I think the key to success is to help the client crystallize their ideas as early in the design process as possible. It may be they just have a particular colour palette in my mind and the rest is down to me or they may have a very clear idea of the finished piece.

In the past I have asked people to send me a mini mood board. That is simply a postcard with scraps of magazines, fabrics, dried petals or even feathers stuck to it, indicating the overall feel they want their silk to have.

More often though nowadays putting together a selection of pictures on Pinterest can work equally as well as a starting point. (I keep and add to several boards almost on a daily basis for visual inspiration). Online photos grouped together can certainly indicate a general, wished-for ‘look’, but care has to be taken if true colour matching is required as screen colours and printed colours rarely accurately reflect ‘real life’ fabric colours. And, in some cases the colours are so wildly inaccurate a blue could be called green! In reality this dress is a paler softer peach colour with pale pink highlights that shimmer as the chiffon glides over the pink silk lining – an effect not captured in a still photograph.

The Poppy – An Inspirational Flower

Poppy-RoseWith this year’s centenary commemorations for the start of World War 1 there will probably be more representations of poppies than usual.

poppy-shirley-series

Various forms of the poppy single or double, annual or perennial and in a variety of colours from white through yellow to salmon pink to deep red are found all over the world.

Katsushika Hokusai poppies
Poppies by Katsushika Hokusai
Edo period (19th century) woodblock print.

The delicate annual field poppy (papaver rhoeas) germinates from recently turned soil, thriving and blooming across the summer. Up close poppies are striking, but still have an ephemeral quality that has long inspired visual artists.

silk Japanese furisode
Vintage silk Japanese furisode with poppy design. Thought to be from the Taisho period (1912-1926).

There’s even the stunning blue Himalayan poppy, meconopsis. I once grew some meconopsis (M. baileyi I think) in my front garden as it provided the best conditions. Eventually in its second year it bloomed. I was so thrilled with the amazing colour, but to my utter surprise the next day somebody leaned over the low wall and picked all the flowers and I hadn’t even had chance to take a picture! I hoped it was a child that was so in awe of the colour that they had taken the flowers home to show to their family.

Kitchen-flowers

An inspirational aquilegia

Aquilegia-inspiration

Long the love of monks scratching away in the scriptorium, the aquilegia, known to medievalists and monks alike as the columbine, has decorated scores of illuminated manuscripts.

st dominic illumination
Exquisite aquilegia from Saint Dominic illuminated page.
Flemish c.1510-1520
Tempera colours, gold, and ink on parchment
The J. Paul Getty Museum
Aquilegia part of the border decoration of a medieval antiphoner.  Mainz, c1490 V&A MS 609
Aquilegia part of the border decoration of a medieval antiphoner.
Mainz, c1490
V&A MS 609
























The various shapes and colours of aquilegias offer plenty of combinations to get the creative juices flowing. Their form can be rendered into simple, quite graphic representations. They are shapes I often return to.



Hello, hello - spot the fly!
Hello, hello – spot the fly!

http://www.agnesashe.co.uk/collections/long-scarves/products/la-donna-green-hand-painted-silk-scarf
Agnes Ashe Green Silk Scarf

Forget-me-nots and the Erpingham Gate

Sir Thomas Erpingham was a fifteenth-century English nobleman who distinguished himself when in charge of the King’s bowmen at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. As an important and significant Norwich figure he made substantial donations to the city’s religious institutions. Charitable donations during the medieval period were more than just duty, they allowed an individual to display their status, but, more importantly, financially supporting the church purchased a speedy journey through purgatory and up to heaven. A wealthy knight like Thomas Erpingham made a very significant earthly and heavenly mark when he provided the funds for the building of a new gatehouse at the entrance to Norwich Cathedral.

The gatehouse was built between 1420 and 1435 and has a single arch supported on each side by semi-hexagonal buttresses. The arch is divided into two decorative schemes, the inner order is the twelve apostles (probably) set in a series of niches, and the outer is a series of twelve female saints. The carved foliage, used as a visual linking device running up the arch, has been weathered over the centuries, but you can still see that it is oak leaves and acorns. The buttresses are covered with shields and devices of the families of Erpingham, Clopton, and Walton (those of Sir Thomas Erpingham’s wives), but I couldn’t pick out the forget-me-not design which apparently also makes up part of the Erpingham heraldic achievement.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t see the forget-me-not sculptural detail so I’ve had a good hunt round the Internet. One of my past Art History lecturers, now retired, has spent six years accompanied by his photographer wife, surveying the public sculpture of Norfolk and I’ve studied her excellent, up-close and detailed photographs and I’ve found the forget-me-nots. It is a single flower motif carved above a shield, above a falcon rising on the outer front columns of the buttresses – second panels up in this early nineteenth-century etching by Cotman – still a bit difficult to see though not as eroded as now.

erpingham gate cotman
Etching of the Erpingham Gate by John Sell Cotman, 1818. 10″ x 8″

Below is a ring from MagpieHouse showing a contemporary version of the single, more architectural form, of the forget-me-not motif. When you are looking at weathered architecture it certainly helps to know the basic design shapes you are looking for, but it is only when the scaffolding goes up for repairs that accurate recording and high quality photographs can be achieved.

The fifteenth-century forget-me-not sculpted motif is in the middle of the upper niche in this photograph on the right.

forget me not
The simple five petalled flower of the forget-me-not.

The pleasure and the pain – Internet shopping versus the mall.

Tiles detailI spent last Sunday in the garden, came in wind blown and muddy, balancing on one leg to get my boot off lurched towards the door and ripped the curtain down. How clumsy? After sorting myself out I examined the curtain damage and realised it was beyond repair.

Royal Arcade Norwich
The Royal Arcade, Norwich.
A beautiful example of Arts and Crafts architecture, 1899
Now, I never really liked the curtains, but I chose the fabric as the least objectionable of a poor selection in a big department store about a decade ago. At the time I had been to four different specialist shops (two have since folded) before ending up in the John Lewis soft furnishings department. I ordered from their swatch samples and had to wait a couple of weeks for delivery.

It wasn’t really a painful experience just irritating and certainly not pleasurable. This time I’ve spent a couple of evenings on the computer searching through an almost overwhelming choice, have had swatches arrive speedily and have received my chosen curtain fabric this afternoon. Less than a week and with so much choice – Internet shopping – a great improvement, but I had missed something.

The Internet purchasing was efficient and the choice amazing. Even some of the eShops were beautiful too, Fabrics and Papers, for example, but I was still stuck at home on my computer. I suppose in an ideal world we’d have the choice that’s available online, but sourced locally and found round the corner in a delightful emporium staffed with smiling, helpful assistants.

Royal Arcade Arts CraftsHere, in Norwich, we are lucky enough to have the Victorian’s version of a mall, the Royal Arcade. A charming Arts and Crafts shopping arcade designed by local architect, George Skipper, and built in 1899. The souvenir guidebook published at its opening tells us about the agreeable activity of shopping in the Royal Arcade.

“Dainty lady and robust manhood may dally over the delights of shopping, undisturbed by the vagaries of the weather.”

Nowadays, the Royal Arcade is home to a variety of shops including longtime residents, The Colman’s Mustard Shop and Langley’s Toy Shop, and a recent newcomer Macarons & More selling delicious cakes. In the 21st century we all wish we had the time to dally over the delights of shopping and perhaps purchase a box of macarons.

polychrome arts and crafts
Look up and see the polychrome brickwork and colourful tiled details of this fine Arts and Crafts architecture.

Do we think painterly florals are ‘Wearable Art’?

wearable art
Catalogue cover advertising ‘painterly florals’

Last week a mid-market catalogue arrived in the post with this cover page. Now the expression ‘Wearable Art’ is extremely flexible and let’s be honest a bit naff. Not for one minute am I saying that some art isn’t so beautiful you want more of it, for yourself, to remind you of seeing it. Most major art galleries and museums now have ‘the shop’ where you can buy all kinds of items emblazoned with reproductions of traditional, formal art. I have to admit to being so enamoured of Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ that I made myself a sunflowers silk top, but I never thought I was wearing his art. Art inspired, yes, but not art.

And, that is what I think about the rest of my wearable work, often art inspired, but perhaps not actually art. In the past, I have created art by painting silk where content has been an expression of a concept and knowing that the piece will be mounted and viewed flat on a wall has both broadened and constrained my approach. And, now we return, as so often, to the divide between art and craft where the flexible boundaries are bent by original intent.

thistle and dahlia design

As this year’s spring/summer fashion hits the stores, apparently one of the major trends in both fashion and interiors is ‘painterly florals’. I suppose this will be clothes made from floral textiles where the printed fabric designs were originally painted flowers with visible brushstrokes. I’m guessing it doesn’t mean cloth directly painted with flowers! Shame – as that would be such a boon to us silk painters who often actually paint flowers, sometimes called art, sometimes wearable, but always one-off images.

flowers and birds design
Work in progress – painterly flowers, birds and urns.
Will be wearable

Image Translations

seed heads fennelSoaking up images, internalising and then creating something slightly different. Sometimes it’s form, sometimes it’s colour, but mostly it’s a combination. Currently working on a piece that feels like the end of winter – let’s hope!


An end of winter feeling.
An end of winter feeling.

Autumn Sunflowers – Late Arrivals at the Ball

helianthus annuusIt has been a very mild autumnal day here in East Anglia with the thermometer on my sheltered terrace reading 22°C (72°F) at lunchtime. This mild spell has saved my sunflowers (they were planted out too late – my fault, I forgot them) and they are only now just in full bloom. But what inspiration? We can all see why a certain amazing Dutchman worked so hard to capture their intense yet fleeting vibrancy.

I lived in Holland for a short while and when friends and relatives came to stay I used to love to take them to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. I was so inspired I even had a go at copying his sunflowers and made a summer top from the finished silk.

van gogh sunflowers
Sunflowers, Arles, 1888 – Van Gogh
Caroll S Tyson Collection, Philadelphia

Recently, I found the old top in a box in the loft and was struck by the change in my own style of working. But, I was also reminded of the admiration I had felt for Van Gogh as when you settle to copy a great work of art, even in a very small insignificant way, you notice more of the choices the master has made in creating the original work. Copying is a valuable tool for teaching.

It is not just the colour that is striking as even the sunflower’s outline is unmistakable.

sunflower shadow