Lions, unicorns and Hawksmoor’s last church

Hawksmoor-spire-detailThe parish church of St George, Bloomsbury, is a glorious example of English Baroque architecture. It was consecrated on the 28th January 1730 and is the last parish church designed by architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. Within 20 years the church with its idiosyncratic spire (stepped like a pyramid) was a well-known building on the London skyline and as such appears in Hogarth’s famous print ‘Gin Lane’.

Hawksmoor St Georges
St George’s, Bloomsbury
Stunning portico
Architect Nicholas Hawksmoor
It has a very grand classical portico, but you have to look up 150 ft to the base of the spire to see the sprawling lions and rearing unicorns (best viewed with binoculars). Each 10ft sculpted animal is not an original as these were removed in 1871. The civic minded Victorians feared that in their decaying state a beast could crash down and cause a fatality. Fortunately, Nicholas Hawksmoor’s original drawings for this striking architectural ornamentation have survived and as part of an extensive programme of renovations in 2006, the sculptor, Tim Crawley, was able to re-create these dramatic pieces. Hawksmoor’s interpretation of the ‘lion and unicorn’ theme has the animals fighting over representations of the English crown.

spire of St Georges Bloomsbury
Spire stepped like a pyramid with St George at the top and the lions and unicorns around the base.
This provocative imagery displayed on a spire topped with St George was considered inappropriate by the Commissioners who initially refused to pay for the work. It is not that the lion and the unicorn used for architectural ornamentation is unusual, but that they are shown fighting over the crown. The lion represents England and the unicorn Scotland as in the traditional heraldic symbolism used from the reign of James I (1603) onwards. The pertinent point here is that at the time of the design and building of St George’s the dust was still settling on the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland that created the United Kingdom.

'Gin Lane' - Hogarth. 1751 Detail taken from print with the St George's spire clearly visible.
‘Gin Lane’ – Hogarth. 1751
Detail taken from print with the St George’s spire clearly visible.
And, of course, there’s the old English/Scottish/British nursery rhyme:

The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn
All around the town.
Some gave them white bread,
And some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake
and drummed them out of town.

Anonymous aliens arrive


The anonymous aliens release their messages for all humanity.
The anonymous aliens release their messages for all humanity.

Well, that was last night the 5th November.

Screenshot of Twitter last night, 5th November 2014, following the Million Mask March in London which attempted to protest at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster.
Screenshot of Twitter last night, 5th November 2014, following the Million Mask March in London which attempted to protest at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster.

Protesting in London on the way to the Houses of Parliament, rowdy, serious and in the end a little violent, but in reality it’s still business as usual despite the banking crash and the supposed, virtual meltdown of capitalism! And, back in the very, very ordinary world where I live the local council had a predictable, rather safe family affair ‘fireworks display’ in the community park opposite my street. Only, the tickets were too expensive for many families and so they came and parked down my road and the children stood on the pavement trying to see over the row of houses between them and the park.



I think I'd prefer a visit from some anonymous aliens perhaps a few blue-sky thinking economists??
I think I’d prefer a visit from some anonymous aliens perhaps a few blue-sky thinking economists??

Grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt

Ludwig Vordermayer Heubach

raven rossetti
The Raven – pen and ink drawing on paper by Rossetti.
ca 1848, V&A, London
It’s that time of year again with Halloween fast approaching that thoughts turn to the bleak and morbid and ravens. Famously, this ‘Grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt’ bird inspired the poem, The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe. A poem which in turn inspired the Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti to draw an intense, slightly creepy illustration.

Ravens also prompted the German sculptor, Ludwig Vordermayer to create the above dramatic ceramic piece for the Heubach factory in Koppelsdorf sometime around 1908. This hard-paste porcelain raven can now be seen lurking on a top shelf within the ceramics display at the V&A Museum.

The amazing genus Corvus gives us a group of birds that the derogatory expression ‘bird brain’ does a gross injustice to. Evidence suggests that crows, rooks, jackdaws and ravens are top of the avian intelligence pecking order. These birds have been observed constructing tools, using bait and even possibly exhibiting self-recognition. As a child I remember being amazed by the size of the ravens at the Tower of London and being bewitched and entranced by the way they stared at me. But this morning I had to make do with a common, but clever crow on my neighbours television aerial.


Double feature, double exposure – no wait, triple!

Agnes-|Ashe-Featured-UKHandmade-2014We have an expression here in England, I used to say it a lot when I lived in London “You wait half an hour for a bus and then three come along at once!”. Well, in this case three pieces of my work have just been featured in three different publications.

I applied to be in the UKHandmade Showcase for jewellery and accessories, and they chose this scarf to fit in with the overall muted colours of their spread. (First bus)

Over the weekend I was checking out the UKHandmade site and looked at the latest edition of their magazine – UKHandmade Magazine Autumn 2014 and, surprise, another of my scarves has been included on the inside front cover. (Second bus)

And, finally, arriving in the post this morning, was the Guild of Silk Painters Year Book 2014 with another pleasant surprise – another scarf, another photo. (Third bus).

Oh, yes and then there are the real London buses!


An early bird doesn’t always catch the worm

Queue-outside-DM-shopAs part of a rather clever marketing campaign the folks at Dr Martens had a special few minutes this morning when they opened their stores and sold their classic Monkey boot at its original 1960s price – that was £3 – nowadays £110. Obviously there was a limited stock at this low, low price and obviously there was a long, long queue snaking up to their doors.

My daughter and I launched a two-pronged attack, she went to Schuh at Marble Arch in London and I trekked into to join the queue outside the Dr Martens in Norwich. When I arrived it was already over 100 people long with some determined people queuing since 3.00am, but I thought I’d wait anyway. Even in England where we Brits are famous for queuing you still get the odd queue-jumpers. This pair of lads shuffled up to join their friends and then stood their sheepishly as a wave of muttering rolled over them. As it was no-one this far down the queue got anywhere near the £3 boots, but we were all given 25% off vouchers by a helpful shop assistant at 8.50am.

Despite my failure, all was not lost because my daughter (a true early bird) in London got the boots she wanted at the 1960s price.

At least one early bird caught the worm. Dr Martens Cappers  at the 1960s price of £3. (normally £100+)
At least one early bird caught the worm.
Dr Martens Cappers at the 1960s price of £3. (normally £100+)

Skylight – Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy

Skylight-NT-WyndhamsA play with a cast of three leaves nowhere to hide and David Hare’s ‘Skylight’ currently enjoying a successful revival in the West End is no exception. I have to admit I went with my sister who had seen the original run starring Michael Gambon and Lia Williams at the National in 1995. My sister was very enthusiastic about the original and was not disappointed by this version either.

I did have my reservations about Carey Mulligan (playing Kyra Hollis) as it is not always a simple shoe-in for a successful movie star to return to her very early theatre days, and this was also her West End debut. She was good as Kyra, but the whole performance caught fire with the over-the-top, florid entrance of Tom Sargeant played by Bill Nighy and the electric interaction between these two mis-matched old lovers.

Skylight set interestingly shows more of the balconies of the overlooking flats when the centre walls are pulled back.
Skylight set interestingly shows more of the balconies of the overlooking flats when the centre walls are pulled back.

Sometimes a revival feels dated and out-of-step, but sadly this play’s themes of social imbalance between those who appear to have everything and those who are impoverished, resonates even more strongly in 2014 than in the 1990s. And, Kyra’s passionate speech supporting the efforts of social workers received a spontaneous strong round of applause at the performance we attended. Although it is essentially a play about serious issues it is also very funny with spiky, amusing lines delivered with exquisite timing by Bill Nighy. All in all an engaging experience at the theatre.


Just a little afterthought – during the interval whilst sitting admiring the fine late-Victorian ceiling I remembered that I’d also seen Caryl Churchill’s ‘Serious Money’ in this very theatre in 1988. Another play delivering a commentary on our unequal society, but in a more deliberate brash and satirical form. The depressing conclusion is that in the intervening quarter of a century gross inequality has not lessened and, if anything, according to the numbers people, the gap between the super rich and the rest of us is widening.

RA Summer Exhibition 2014 – The prints have it!

The title of this year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is ‘Discover the new. Discover the now.’, which if you stop to think for a moment sums up the approach to ‘art’ for about the last 100 years! Well, what do we have for the new and now of 2014, it would appear that the digital print has certainly come of age. That is not just framing an arty photograph hot off the home inkjet, but the skilful manipulation of images both at the screen level and the print production end too.

RA summer 2014
This poster for the RA Summer Exhibition 2014 uses part of ‘The Shoreless Flower’ by Güler Ates (photograph)

There were quite a few c-type prints. These are digital photographic prints made by exposing light onto light-sensitive, colour photographic paper, and produced using traditional colour photography chemistry. This is done with large professional, continuous tone laser printers that print with a high density giving very saturated colour. (I guess it’s all rather complicated under the bonnet/hood with all that chromogenic chemistry and laser interaction – I couldn’t find a proper, clear explanation so if anyone could enlighten me I would be very grateful!).

Printing a c-type print.
Printing a c-type print.

Then there were the giclée prints also from a digital printer. Ink (pigment) is simply sprayed directly onto the surface of the paper in halftones (using a type of inkjet printer). These printers can handle a wider range of papers and produce larger prints than c-types. An artist might choose a giclée print for an image if they wanted to achieve a ‘watercolour’ feel to their work.

Printing a Giclée print.
Printing a Giclée print.

Then there were all the traditional types of prints, woodcuts, collagraphs, screenprints, etchings, often with a hand-finished component. I’m discussing prints and photography because after spending a couple of hours working my way through the rooms very few of the traditional drawings/paintings in any medium were particularly interesting.

Gallery Two RA Summer Exhibition 2014
Gallery Two RA Summer Exhibition 2014

The most memorable image for me was ‘The Shoreless Flower’by Güler Ates which has been partly used in one of the exhibition posters (top of this post) and can be seen in above top right and more in the middle in picture below. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a photograph, but a whole collection of her amazing, dramatic work can be seen at Güler Ates Solo Exhibition.

"The Shoreless Flower" is in the middle of this selection.
“The Shoreless Flower” is in the middle of this selection.

As usual there was a wide and varied range of work and this year I noticed at least four textile pieces – that is weaving, embroidery and even a cloth sculpture, ‘The Bisto kids gone wrong’ by Tim Shaw RA. This was a figurative group in red made of stitched fabric onto steel armature.

The Small Weston Room was not only densely hung (on purpose in salon style), but was also densely populated on my visit and so seeing any of the smaller entries was rather awkward. I am a fan of ‘salon style’ hangs, but it does need some coherence otherwise it can end up looking a random, muddy mess.

The Lecture Room - RA Summer Exhibition 2014 Photo credit - Benedict Johnson
The Lecture Room – RA Summer Exhibition 2014
Photo credit – Benedict Johnson

A calmer space, almost an antidote to the rest of the exhibition, was the Lecture Room curated by Cornelia Parker OBE RA. A room full of black and white exhibits it felt spacious, and invited you to attend more to each single exhibit in comparison to the overwrought atmosphere of the densely packed rooms. In this quieter environment I found ‘La dérive 1’ by Omar Ba both powerful yet poignant. I think it summed up my random route through the Exhibition, the art works that had engaged my attention and how I felt at the end of my visit.

Omar Ba
‘La dérive 1’ by Omar Ba
Oil, crayon, acrylic and Indian ink on corrugated board

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.

What you see, what we saw!

Etsy Ad TV acting dog
Greeting the star of the Etsy TV Advert!

I don’t want to bore for England on this one, so here’s my last comment about the Etsy TV Ad business/episode/eye-opener. I understand that it was shown again last night on UK terrestrial television.

This is what you saw on the screen . . . TV, laptop, iPad, phone whatever.

And this is what we saw. Here are a few shots of the ingredients that came together with a sprinkle of film-world magic to produce the finished advert.

On the set.
On the set.


No, honestly, I can’t believe it either and I was really there. Oh, the powerful charm and mystique of illusion.

And then there was the endless waiting, waiting and waiting.

The glamorous waiting area at the back of the set.
The glamorous waiting area at the back of the set.
silk scarf model
My model (very patient) feeling the early evening chill as the sun went down on the shoot.

Is it level? – Problems with water and horizons

the North Sea
The North Sea following the British Isles as it slowly slides off the planet.
Sometimes it is really obvious that something is just plain wrong with a picture. Of course, you can deliberately have the sea sliding off planet Earth for an effect, but usually it’s just you haven’t noticed the background or in my case trying to photograph the sea/horizon (above) was not holding the camera properly (excuses, excuses).

Doesn't quite feel level does it?
Doesn’t quite feel level does it?

Photographing water – oceans, rivers, canals and even a glass of liquid comes with expectations. It feels right when the liquid looks level. Well, obviously getting a flat calm sea horizon level is pretty easy, but it all becomes more tricky when the waterline isn’t the main focus of the picture.



Since I took these canal photos I’ve been more careful when framing a shot that includes water, but I really, really struggled with this City of London skyline.

City of London horizon
The City of London from Canary Wharf . . . Take 1001!!

And, in the end – defeated – adjusted it in Photoshop.


Okay smarty pants we all know your a natural. Now give me back my camera please.
Okay smarty pants we all know your a natural. Now give me back my camera please.

On the edge – and at the back!

agnes ashe
Bag packed and ready for the TV shoot!
Yesterday, I went to London on a very early train to be on the set at a film studios. Doesn’t that sound glamorous! Well, yes and no. The UK part of Etsy was filming their first TV Ad. About 80 of us (very lucky) Etsy UK traders had been selected via Instagram to take part. We all turned up with some of our work, the long day began and filming continued until the sun went down. Very exciting, but as is the norm for this type of thing there was an awful lot of waiting around.

product thumbnails scarves
These were the pieces I chose to take for the day.

Now I’m not being precious, but we had to sign various forms restricting the uploading of images from the day’s activities, so I’m afraid no pics from the day here until Etsy release the official photos. The final TV Ad is for the British market, but no doubt it will be put up on the Internet in the future for the whole world to see!

My assistant/model and I were on the set. She was on the edge and I was at the back. Some folks love the camera, but I’ve never liked being photographed and unexpectedly there I was an ‘extra’. Can’t wait to see the advert, hope I can see my assistant in it and all the new friends I made yesterday, but genuinely hope I’m lost in the crowd.

sunny morning
So lucky the weather turned out to be fine all day with NO RAIN.