Ten years with a favourite colour

It is almost 10 years since I opened my online shop selling hand painted silk scarves. And, it is nearly 30 years since I first learnt to paint silk. You might think that when somebody spends hours designing and painting creative pieces they would remember them all, but that isn’t so. Even the creative process when practiced routinely over many years does not see every design endeavour being slotted into the memory bank.

Three scarves; one predominately turquoise, one with turquoise accents and the third with a wide turquoise border.

I realised this the other day when sorting and clearing packets of old photographs. I spotted a long-forgotten colleague wearing . . . , and I looked again closely, yes, wearing one of my scarves. I had utterly forgotten I’d ever painted it. It was definitely made before my move to Germany and the subsequent purchase of my large stainless steel steamer on a visit to Cologne. I have no recall of painting the silk, let alone steaming it although that must have been done in mother’s old pressure cooker.

Another couple of scarves; one from nearly ten years ago and the other from about seven years ago.

So much happens to humans on a daily basis, that much trivia is automatically dumped, but it has genuinely surprised me that I have painted and entirely forgotten some of my early work. Mind you that’s all changed. Since the invention of and the easy access to digital photography, together with the requirement for my shop to have images of my scarves, there now exists a visual record of every scarf and other pieces of silk I’ve painted over the last decade.

And, as you may have noticed from these photos, that although the expression has changed, there has been a favourite colour which has often featured over the years. Interestingly, despite it being an awkward colour to accurately photograph, I have found myself returning to a palette featuring turquoise over and over again. And, I expect there will be more to come in the future.

The colours of wine and flowers

You may remember that in recent months I have posted about painting a couple of scarves with a tree-like design. Here’s another silk scarf in this, my ‘Jiann’, series. Reviewing the photos of my working process, I can see I was unconsciously inspired by a bunch of flowers gently fading away in the studio at the time of painting.

This is a mildly surprising revelation as I’d thought I’d pulled this deep and rich palette of burgundy, claret and port wine colours solely from my imagination. Silly me.

Drawn out and beginning to add colour.

The style and design is the same as Jiann Burnt Orange that you can just see in the photo below. It’s the orange textile hanging behind the pot of paint brushes. It was so hung in a prominent place to remind me what I was supposed to be aiming for.

Photo tucked behind on the left shows the first layer finished. Main photo shows the difference with the splodges of orange and red added.

You can sort of see it is the same design, but as is often the way by the time I get to painting the fourth or fifth in a series it’s all becoming bigger and looser and, dare I say it, more splodgy.

Anyway this muted red version is finally finished, steamed and on the shop.

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.

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 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.

Share the Love

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.

As inspired by aquilegias and alliums

Last month I took a few photographs of the flowers that had managed to do their thing despite a very wet May.

Aquilegias and alliums inspirational flowers

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.

After steaming the silk scarf is washed, photographed and then added to my shop.

Stealing from ceramics

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.)

Carlton Ware ‘Fantasia’ by Violet Elmer. Lustre and gilt, 18 cm high. circa 1930/31. Sold April 2017 for £439.

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.

Millefiori paperweight. Glass. 1832.

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.

Inspired by a ceramic vase design.
And, another version.

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!

Old Dress Inspiration

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.

My sloppy ‘filing’ system.

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.

An old dress also known as a ‘vintage silk shift’!

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.

Painted mask inspired by my 32 year old silk dress.

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.