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.
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.
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.
And the more I looked at all the pictures the more I felt like a return to yellowy warm hues.
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.
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.
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.
Just as well I took the time to photograph some of my favourite combinations from the summer and early autumn flower arrangements.
I keep a selection on my iPad which I use when looking for colour inspiration.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last month I took a few photographs of the flowers that had managed to do their thing despite a very wet May.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
Spring cleaning is one of those jobs that I never quite manage to begin let alone complete in spring and this year, well, as we all know life took on all kinds of other new directions. Eventually, however when the second lockdown came along, I found myself sorting out my understairs cupboard. This is where I keep all my craft fair paraphernalia and as this November there was no ‘British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn’ I thought I’d take the opportunity to reorganise all the gear.
Of course with any sorting, cleaning and clearing-out there comes that moment when you find something tucked away you’d completely forgotten about. As you may have guessed I have a fair amount of fabric stored around my house. Most of it is in boxes and despite my attempts to keep track of what is where, my hastily labelled boxes approach has much to be desired.
I am appalled at the time I waste looking for some offcut I know I have somewhere, opening and digging around in boxes and wishing I had kept the contents list up-to-date, but then comes the moment for a nice surprise.
One of the understairs boxes contained a favourite silk I painted in 1980s. I have long since stopped wearing uber-short, sleeveless shift dresses, but have not been able to part with this one.
When I rediscovered it, screwed up at the bottom of a box, I thought, oh yes I’d like to work with these colours again. However, when I came to use the pattern and colour combination I didn’t think it worked for a large scarf, so I scaled it down and instead painted silk for face masks.
It was another week and another neckerchief inspired by the Iceni horse. I have really fallen for this charming motif found struck into the Freckenham staters that make up part of the Wickham Market Hoard.
After first drawing out the basic design I had painted in the Iceni horses, but hadn’t decided on the colour combination for the overall interpretation. It was the middle of August and I had a mini glut of sweet peas some of which had been stuffed into a vase. The morning sunlight was catching the petals beautifully and I thought, yes, possibly these colours will do arranged in front of the stained glass panel. With some slight adjustments to the vase position I had a palette with which to paint the scarf.
However, when most of the colours were added I felt the overall effect was too pale and the piece had more than a hint of a gelato selection about it or even a bag of liquorice allsorts. My first thought was to fill in the background with black, but perhaps that would be too harsh. In the end I chose a darkish grey to add a more subtle contrast.
All finished, steamed and then photographed. That sounds so straightforward and simple, but I have to say that this is one of the those scarves that has been really difficult to photograph. How we see colour is a complex process, but it is most definitely affected by the quality of the ambient light, whether that’s light at dawn or dusk, or full summer sunlight, or electric light, or even candlelight! You can tell that despite sitting at my computer adjusting these photos, as I held the actual scarf in front of me, the colours in each photo look slightly different. I suppose any image is an approximation of a reality. We easily accept a painting as a visual interpretation, but often forget that a photograph is a visual rendering too, added to which the camera always lies to a greater or lesser extent!
Well, other things might not be happening today, 31st October 2019, despite the premature minting of ‘Brexit’ coins, but Halloween is still on. And, this post, photographs of skeletons on display at the Ipswich Museum, is a little contribution to the general spookiness of the day.
Some skeletons are easily identifiable, but this massive bone arrangement for the Woolly Mammoth has an air of a rocky outcrop about it and I had to take a hard look to figure out what I was seeing.
However, this dramatic looking skeleton caught my attention with the obvious rib cage and the recognisable skull. It was displayed in the post-glacial section of the exhibition, so I guessed it might have been a badger, but I was wrong. It was a beaver. Skeletal remains of beavers are quite common in the fens of East Anglia and this one was found in the peat in Burwell Fen, Cambridgeshire. Sadly, the beaver was hunted for fur and food and finally exterminated in England in the Saxon times. However, recently there have been successful re-introduction programmes in several parts of Great Britain (see Devon Wildlife Trust’s Beaver Project).
After being sidetracked by the Ice Age displays I went off to the Geology Room to find what I had actually come to see, a really, really big skull. The skull of a whale. It was from a whale that swam up the River Orwell in 1811 and died after becoming stranded on Denham Beach.
It is so large it is difficult to photograph and get a sense of its size, I guess its about 3 metres by 1.5 metres. It is also difficult to comprehend what you are seeing especially if marine mammal anatomy is not your field.
Beneath the whale skull were a range of cabinets with skeletons of creatures from modern times. Specimens of mammals, birds and fish are displayed and, although, a casual visitor may not be able to identify individual species, it was not hard to guess the animal from the bones. For example, you would know that this was a skeleton of a primate, but was it a chimpanzee, a gorilla or perhaps even an orangutan?
At first glance you might even briefly think it was an early human skeleton, but the main differences between a gorilla skeleton and a human skeleton are seen in the teeth, skull, pelvis and large toes. That looks quite a jaw and heavy brow on this lady.
Back in my studio and always interested in finding interesting shapes and patterns for my work I took another look at my photographs. The fish, the gorilla and the ostrich bone pictures had possibilities.
The fish skeleton makes for perhaps a better print-like image (top of this post) than a glowing line treatment, but the gorilla skull is transformed with glowing lines into an impressive Halloween portrait.
However, easily the most elegant of all the bones I saw at the Ipswich Museum was the ostrich skeleton and it’s made the best picture.
You may or may not recall that last year I was inspired to work with some Tudor motifs following my visit to the splendid exhibition ‘Wolsey’s Angels‘ held at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich. I was particularly taken with an oak fire surround with beautifully carved details that included a repeating pheasant motif which I stole and reworked for a scarf design.
Sometimes when I finish a scarf and steam it I am very pleased with the result, but this is not always so. As I’ve mentioned in the past the steaming process intensifies the colour, but it is not entirely predictable. When the scarf is finally washed and pressed I can properly appraise the results. And, I have to say I was very disappointed with this pink one.
The pale background did not deepen as much I thought it was going to during the steaming and consequently the balance between the heavy lines of the motif and the pale background was way off. Fortunately, having a very pale background has allowed plenty of scope to successfully develop a second, richer layer.
I added more darker lines to the central area and generally softened the whole design by adding pale greys and a mouse brown over the pale pink.
After steaming, washing and pressing the scarf was ready for another assessment. A little surprisingly it as turned out much better than I thought, but, rather annoyingly the tonal range has also turned out to be awkward to photograph satisfactorily. You can’t win them all.
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.