Lady Drury’s Melancholy Pines

Of all the 61 painted panels that originally covered the wall of Lady Drury’s closet at Hawstead House, only one panel was painted without an emblem or a motto. This ’empty’ panel, consisting of a hilly background and two Scots pines, offers a melancholy scene.

The Reverend Sir John Cullum did not discuss this particular panel at all in his eighteenth-century account. Perhaps he simply considered it an unfinished section. However, the twenty-first century scholar, H L Meakin, suggests the ‘blank’ panel may have been deliberately left empty to encourage spontaneous meditation.

It is also possible to read the two, stark, thin pine trees as visual metaphors for Lady Drury and her husband. They’re standing mature, living apart from each other within a dark and hilly landscape. After all they had existed in a world of challenges and grief following the loss of their young daughters.

Bottom panels painted with herbs and flowers.

More generally, in her summary of Lady Drury’s closet, Meakin offers ideas from Seneca and Montaigne as well as current research considering the lives of early modern women. She suggests there was not a simple division between the public and private spheres, and proposes this tiny, private room offered a space to both think about as well as retreat from the wider world.

Despite the gloomy appearance of the ‘pines’ panel, I find the silhouetted trees make a compelling composition.

Scarlet pimpernel and wild pansy

And, I also admire the painted herb and flower decorative panels displayed at the bottom of the panel collection.

Deadly nightshade and dandelion

These panels show bugle, corn marigold, speedwell, dandelion, deadly nightshade, honeysuckle, scarlet pimpernel, wild pansy and a wild strawberry plant.

Wild strawberry
Bird’s eye speedwell, corn marigold, bugle
Honeysuckle

Overall, the panelled room is both intriguing and inspirational. So inspirational I decided to paint a series of neckerchiefs using the two pines, the scarlet pimpernel and the corn marigold. Here’s the first of the series showing how the scarlet pimpernel rapidly morphed into a larger, less delicate flower to balance the composition.

Painting finished and now ready for steaming.

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St Edmund’s, Southwold. Revisiting Rood Screens Suffolk IV – finishing the first Edlyn

Painting-Edlyn1When I last posted about my Edlyn series I had just begun painting the first Edlyn scarf.

Edlyn2With continual reference to my photograph of the Isaiah panel of the rood screen, I began selecting my colour combinations and mixing up the dyes. Then I started painting.

Edlyn3

As the colour was added the whole piece began to take shape.

Edlyn4

At this stage I felt the painting looked too flat and clean, so with a wide stiff brush I added sweeps of thick, brown resist to give a hint of ageing. Edlyn gold is now finished and awaiting steaming.

E-text

Edlyn-gold

Layering – Part III – Darker Backgrounds

Header-linesIn the third and final part of my series about painting layers on silk I have turned my attention to the challenges of starting with darker backgrounds. This is a design that I have painted in more than one colourway. The black and pink version sold, but this royal blue and green has had very few clicks and I have decided that perhaps it’s the zingy green that’s the issue.Silvia-green-original

So adding a little black to some of the royal blue.Adding-blackThen overpainting the greens with a soft, pale brown to give some depth to the leaf design and knock back the green a bit.Adding-depth-to-leavesAnd, here below shows the contrast between before and after halfway through the second layer.Halfway-throughFinally it’s all done and ready for steaming.Ready-for-steamingIt appears a little muddy in the pictures, but in real life the finished look is more subtle than the original, plain, strong greens and I think for that reason more effective.Silvia-green-black-finishedMore photos of the finished scarf can be seen on my shop. January 2019 update now sold.

Agnes-Ashe-Silvia-daylight

Silk scarf painting

outlines-fenella-2

Last autumn I felt like renewing how I approach my work. Nothing major, but some adjusting here and there, some tweaking and a few small changes in how I create my silk pieces. I have been developing using some of the more regimented medieval motifs into less restrained pieces, combining the stylised forms with looser more naturalistic ones.

fen2-nearly-done

Then when introducing the colours I started by wetting the silk with water first and then adding the dyes in a painting style more similar to working with watercolours.

The results – after steaming to fix the dyes – were okay. I was happy with the outcome using this type of medium weight flat crepe and this scarf is now listed on my shop.

fenella-two-board

Preparing for a show

Books-no-canvases

Now looking at this opening photograph you’re perhaps asking, ‘Is this preparation for a literary function?’ ‘Has Agnes decided to write, make, craft a book about painting silk?’ Well, actually no.

Full-Square-Five-wp

Yes, you’ve guessed correctly – it’s silk painting, but not scarves.  Technically the work is being drawn and painted in a similar way, but it has a different starting point. Initially, wearing my art historian’s hat, I revisited my thoughts and interpretations on the Ranworth rood screen. I reread my notes and thoroughly looked through my 100 plus photos of the beautiful yet gently faded apostles and saints. Then I worked up some ideas.

FS-5-in-progress

After painting a couple of muted and faded pieces I decided to stick with the time-worn old gold tradition but add in some rich crimsons and deep blues. I think these colours would have been familiar to a medieval cloth merchant, however, including so much zingy turquoise might be too 21st century for a 15th-century sensibility.

FS-6-finished

Oh yes and the show – it’s a Parallax Art Fair, in Chelsea Town Hall, London, in February 2016.

 

Sharing ways of working, sharing inspiration

Guild-of-Silk-Painters-JournalLast weekend I was very pleased when the Summer 2015 edition of the International Journal of the Guild of Silk Painters arrived in the post. It’s a great little journal that allows a widely spread collective of artist/artisan silk painters to keep in touch, share their inspiration and publicise personal and group work.

Guild-article-Ornate-and-Beautiful

I was especially pleased as it included my article about the inspirational medieval rood screens of East Anglia. It was interesting to see photographs of my work in print as opposed to on a backlit screen, and I must say the colour printing was excellent and very true to life. It made me wonder why so often colours in clothing catalogues are wildly wrong. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s down to the lighting.

Guild-article-four-page-spread

The scarf pictured on the frame (above) has since been sold, but this one, Hilda mouse, is currently available and we took some time to get the shot and get those colours right!

Lines of resistance

Thistil-hand-painted-silk-scarfHand painting silk is similar to using watercolour on paper when you apply background washes that diffuse into each other. Dye on silk flows and pigment is dispersed across the cloth. The nature of concentrated dyes radiating out across the silk often reminds me of some of those simple chromatography experiments we did in school chemistry.

dyes diffusing on silk
Dyes allowed to flow into each other.

One of the principle differences with dyes on silk as opposed to watercolours on paper is that the moment a line of resist is drawn on silk a barrier is created and the colour is then clearly contained and defined. Most commonly these barriers, these resist lines are gutta (a form of liquid rubber) or sometimes artisans use hot wax. The design can be simply drawn out and then coloured in with dye.

basic design drawn out
Design drawn out with dark grey coloured gutta.

Of course, you can use thin (fine nibs) and thick lines (broad paint brushes).

The resist can also be coloured with dye and painted onto the silk.

thick brush gutta lines
Using coloured resist to paint thick bold lines and shapes.

Antidiffusant can also be sprayed on to the fabric before painting which makes the silk more like paper or canvas and allows a more painterly effect.

hand painting silk
A mixture of techniques. Thin and thick resist lines in different colours. Pure enclosed colour and areas where colours have bled into each other.

Finished, steamed and modelled.
Finished, steamed and modelled.

I think more interesting silk work is achieved when a variety of methods are used for one piece. Thin and thick resists, different coloured resists and some dyes kept pure and enclosed whilst in other areas the colours are allowed to flow and bleed into each other.