Head of the Patriarch Semei, c. 1180. From Canterbury Cathedral now in the V&A.
Detail of silk scarf inspired by early medieval stained glass.
A couple of months ago I was asked to design and paint a ‘stained glass’ scarf.
When undertaking a commission the easiest way for me to understand a client’s wish is to ask for a ‘mini’ mood board. This can be a small postcard-sized piece of card covered with torn pieces of magazine pictures, snippets of cloth, small cuts of wool and screwed up cotton thread that give me an idea of the colours required. In the past when one customer wanted a scarf to complement her new winter look she gave me a snippet of cloth from the inside seam of her new coat.
However, more recently, the wealth of beautiful photographs on the Internet, has allowed mood boards to be generated very easily on platforms like Pinterest. The advantage of this approach is the ease with which ideas come together. Unfortunately, the downside is that accurate colour portrayal of ‘real-life’ on screen is notoriously unreliable and even the same image across different screens/devices can vary significantly. So, if an accurate tonal range is critical then an old fashioned, mini mood board is still best.
With the light shining through, early medieval stained glass panels photograph well (if not too high up in a window!) and the frequent use of bright reds and blues imparts a recognisable aesthetic. It is such a strong visual form that it was easy for the Victorians to mimic and then extensively develop in their Gothic Revival church windows, and, is probably what springs to mind when most people think of stained glass.
Silk scarf stained glass design.
Childebert receives St Germanus from a window in Saint Germain des Prés, Paris, c1240-5. Displayed in the V&A.
Stained glass inspired silk scarf as worn.
With my Art History hat on my personal preference is for the work of the late-Victorian Christopher Whall particularly his early 20th-century windows. This example panel depicting St Chad dates from 1901-10. It is now in the V&A Museum, London, and is from a collection of stained glass produced for a commission for a new window in the Lady Chapel at Gloucester Cathedral.
St Chad by Christopher Whall (1849-1924). Slab glass with painted detail. Displayed at the V&A Museum.
St Chad by Christopher Whall – robe detail.
St Chad by Christopher Whall – detail showing nature of slab glass.
The other week I worked up a design by looking through many Japanese woodblock prints and selecting a number of Ukiyo-e images as inspiration for both pattern and colour. The end of the process was a blue and green scarf also currently my banner above.
I liked the finished look and decided to work the pattern in a new colour combination and started from nature’s beautiful pink and yellow combination in this poppy with the added golden detail of the hover flies collecting nectar.
With the poppy in mind I started looking round building a collection of images with pinks, gold and black, starting with work by fine artists. Next I delved into contemporary visual culture from all over – here tea towels, table decorations and masks.
Ah yes, inspiration this time came from another kind of ‘floating’ world, Venice, and their famous carnival and masked balls. Sumptuous colour combinations and fascinating, ornate detail were now the recipe for the day.
The painting of my new banner is now completed and has been left overnight to ensure it is entirely dry.
It has been rolled in paper along with three other pieces, steamed for three hours, washed thoroughly, pressed and is now finished. I think it is very clear which prints contributed most to this creative process. Oddly, it’s all blues and greens considering the starting point was the photo of a pale pink hollyhock.
I have now settled on the design for this new banner. I’ve worked up the sketches and have drawn it out on the silk. It will also be a scarf.
It takes me about an hour to mix up the dyes in the shades and dilutions I’m looking for. I dab them onto a small off-cut of silk, but quite often I find once I start painting that I need to mix up one extra special highlight colour. This time it has been the dark green of the sheath-like leaves.
Like many people who work from their own studio or from home I spend many hours engrossed with my work – not great company and often resentful of interruptions, sorry. Whilst painting I listened to unabridged audiobooks borrowed from my local library. When I look at some of my past work it triggers memories of the novel I was listening to at the time of painting especially if it was a deeply moving or passionate story.
As I’m working on this piece I’m listening to ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ by Sebastian Faulks – it is beginning to get moody and intense.
Now, today, I have returned to my mood boards and the world of Japanese woodblock prints.
Since I was a teenager I’ve been interested in Ukiyo-e prints. I remember accompanying my mother when she went to visit a German friend who had come to live in Suffolk. Whilst they chatted I looked through her art books and found one about the art of Japanese prints. The text was in German (I couldn’t understand), but the images caught my attention they were so refined and pared back to convey just the essentials. It is a very appealing aesthetic and, of course, in the West has inspired some of the great Impressionists and Post Impressionists. There were some interesting comparisons made in a 2009 exhibition about Monet which can still be viewed online. http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/exhibitions/monet/MonetsLife.JapaneseArt.aspx
Now that’s all a bit awkward – I’ve never been great at sketching and now I’ve got the ingenious ghosts of Monet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh buzzing round my head. Must say bye to the thinking brain and rev up the creative brain.
This photograph was snapped, opened on the computer and surprise – it just felt so familiar. My daughter looked over my shoulder and said “Looks like ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ to me”, and I said “Ah yes, it does, doesn’t it”. I had no intention of reconstructing a picture in the style of this famous portrait – it just happened.
It is fascinating how images get lodged in our visual memory and then become markers or signposts without our conscious effort. Thinking about it, I suppose when you view a fair number of photos some are bound to spark wider connections and as I prepare to launch my online shop (agnesashe.co.uk) I have looked at a lot of photographs!
With my own work I find shape and colour gradually gets distilled from primary experiences that have been captured first in my photographs.
This beautiful flower of clematis Proteus, saved from relentless slug attack by being dug up and replanted in a large pot near the house, is one of my favourites. Its intriguing shape has contributed to my work.
Flowers and foliage in the garden, architectural details I’ve spied and sometimes the inspirational works created by others, all goes into the melting pot during the design process.
Much of everyday life can be the source of inspiration for a creative piece. But every now and then a splendid object can catch your attention and you simply have to keep looking at it until a new interpretation crystallizes in your mind’s eye. Just last week I saw this photo of a Moche mask and I was captivated by the colours.
The Moche were a pre-Columbian peoples from Peru who were highly skilled in metalwork, ceramics and textiles. It is believed that their civilisation failed during the eighth century when particularly harsh environmental conditions prevailed as a result of a severe ‘El Niño’ period. Nowadays, it is a privilege to see their beautiful creations. And, some of us are lucky enough to live near the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts based at the University of East Anglia where an amazing Moche fox head, fashioned out of copper, is on display – you can also see it here.
Fascinatingly, in real life despite its smallish size (12.7 cm) the fox head has an unexpected potency.
Anyway, inspired by the mask I have mixed up some colours and have been painting these scarves.
Easter Break in Aldeburgh turned out to be a test of endurance. Here’s a moment caught in the freezing lazy east wind – known locally as ‘lazy’ as it doesn’t go round, but instead goes straight through!