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.

Thank you for your patience.

You may be here as a regular reader of my wittering, but on the other hand you may be here as you’ve recently tried to access my online shop AgnesAshe.co.uk and found nothing. Or, perhaps you’ve seen some version of ‘sorry, can’t find this site’ that your web browser displays when a website has gone MISSING.

And gone missing is exactly what happened for over 10 days. It’s not only my shop that went missing from the Internet, but the ‘support’ people at the hosting platform went AWOL and the domain registration company were initially less than helpful too.

The very good news is that now it’s all back and running as normal. And, incidentally, within a few hours I received an order.

Painting a scarf in the afternoons after each morning’s computer skirmish.

It has been a strange experience as this was the first major, significant problem I’ve had in nearly 10 years of selling my scarves on the Internet through my own designated shop. And, finding the shop, a daily part of my life, to be absent, offline, disappeared, has been a strange, stressful and somewhat unnerving experience.

Obviously, as soon as I realised there was a serious problem I checked my settings, the stuff I had access to and the stuff I understood. At one point I even found my site had been blocked and may even have been squatted! Reading this made me feel queasy, although fortunately it turns out that was not the case. However, worst of all was the realisation I did not have the skills or knowledge to fix the problem myself.

I hadn’t meant there to be so much blue, but guess that was the mood. Surprised I didn’t cover the whole design in red!

In the end, ten days after having eventually received both the wrong guidance and the wrong solution and feeling completely at a loss, my site was fixed last Saturday, and not by me. It turns out I could have managed if the support instructions had not been out of date or if the domain company hadn’t assumed I was a total idiot. I am not a computer person and certainly have no idea what’s going on ‘under the bonnet’ as they say, but I can follow clearly set out instructions.

I will never know what happened to trigger the disappearance of my shop, but the resetting/configurationing were not in themselves complicated, but you did need to know the ‘new’ information. Anyway, with fingers crossed, let’s hope the matter is now closed. Reflecting on the episode as a whole, I think it has been the issue of autonomy that has been most unnerving, but I will just have to get used to that.

In conclusion, and more broadly speaking, the overwhelming prevalence of and dependance on information technology in our lives is not an entirely benign situation when even simple faults are difficult to locate and awkward to rectify. And, that is all a minor concern compared to the threat of cybercriminals when you consider the Royal Mail has very recently been unable to send packages abroad due to an extortionate ransomware cyber-attack.

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.

A Small Blue Square

The beginning of autumn often brings a change in the general feel of everyday life. I am always surprised as although the days have been gradually shortening for the last couple of months, it seems as all of a sudden the mornings and evenings are darker.

With these seasonal changes I usually update my shop taking stock of the different colours available and adjust my homepage to reflect the new season. And, this time, I have also added my latest small, blue scarf – Jiann Ink.

Jiann Ink on the frame before steaming.

It is one of a series that I have recently finished. I guess this blue feels more like winter than autumn, but we won’t go down that route yet despite the fact that some of us have already been reminded by craft fairs etc. about C. Sorry I can’t bring myself to mention that festive occasion quite this early.

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.

Hot Days in a Suffolk Backyard

Well, the British are known for their conversations about the weather so naturally this past week of record-breaking temperatures requires a comment – it was hot.

Not pleasantly, summer hols hot, but horrible hot. Here in Suffolk there was even a wildfire as grassland together with a field of wheat went up in flames not two miles from where I used to live in Tunstall.

According to the Fire & Rescue Service a wildfire is “Any uncontrolled vegetation fire which requires a decision, or action, regarding suppression” and this particular Suffolk wildfire required active suppression. The fire-fighting was captured for the East Anglian Daily Times by my next-door neighbour. She is a staff photographer on the local newspaper and just happened to be driving along the A12 (the main road up the eastern side of the county) when she spotted dark smoke filling the skyline. Diverting across country to Campsea Ashe she arrived at the scene as the first fire crew began tackling the blaze. You can see her amazing and frightening photographs here.

The seasonal bedding plants like direct sun, but potted up even they need watering twice a day in the recent high temperatures.

With 40 degrees Celsius being recorded for the first time in the UK more and more people are finally realising what we are facing with the Climate Crisis. If nothing else, this week’s heatwave has shown the UK’s housing stock to be poorly insulated. Good insulation not only means keeping homes warm in the winter, but it helps to keep indoor temperatures liveable in the high heat of summer. Unlike homes in tropical or even Mediterranean countries our housing is not built with the heat in mind and a solution of widely installing air conditioning is neither affordable nor environmentally sound. It’s time for some political leadership to get a national insulation scheme up and running – whoops, I forgot, we don’t have a leader. And, with the tragedy of short-termism in our political system, I can’t see either of the current candidates for Prime Minister making housing insulation a priority. In fact, despairingly, I can’t see either of them moving the green agenda forwards.

But what of my ‘concrete scarred’ backyard in the heat. The summer bedding is doing okay.

Pelargoniums enjoying the full sun.

Of course, with most of my plants in pots due to the concrete issue, there’s lots of regular watering to do.

The concrete issue – and there are layers too!

However, even with watering and positioned in partial shade, some flowers have gone over very quickly so I cut them for the house.

Lilies, rose ‘Breath of Life’ and a few sweet peas.
Orange canna and peach rose for colour inspiration.

This year is the first year that the climbing rose ‘Breath of Life’, on a south-facing fence, has flowered. However, before the blooms were scorched to crispy, dried flowers I cut them and took them indoors. I love both their scent and their colour.

Finally, there are some plants that have been lapping up the hot sun in the displays at the local park such as these tropical cannas. I have singled out a gorgeous orange canna and together with the peachy orange rose found some ‘hot’ inspiration for my work.

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.

From bright to mellow

Earlier this week I was sorting through my stock of small, bandana-sized scarves to despatch one to a customer when I found this scarf. I started painting it last autumn, finished and steamed it just before Christmas and safely stored it away to add to my shop in the New Year. And then, I promptly forgot all about it.

Adding the cardinal red, the azure blue and the old gold.

Of course, I had taken the usual photographs as the piece progressed and after scrolling back and back through my work files I found them. Then the saga all came back to me. I had chosen, with an eye to Christmas, the colours cardinal red, azure blue and old gold to dye my loose design of the Queen of the Night (see header photo of her in full dramatic voice) accompanied by vaguely, medieval maidens.

More and more colour added.

However, when all the colour had been added we were well and truly into the dark, gloomy month of November and the painting just seemed all too bright. Initially, I had thought it looked rich and vibrant, but in the end I felt it was simply garish. It was time for the big brush, plenty of water and knocking back the colour. The final effect is more like a watercolour and the whole scarf has a soft, muted quality.

Before and after the attack with the big brush.

Speed forward to June 2022 and this week I finally got round to photoshopping the product photos for ‘Ama’ and adding it to the shop. It has only taken six months from start to finish!

Scarf ‘Ama’ photoshopped and added to my 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 Nixie scarf, but this time bright and petite

Back in the depths of winter I painted a large, 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf that acquired the name ‘Nixie Noire‘. It had followed on from a small, bandana-sized scarf called ‘Nixie Petite’. Weirdly, I had forgotten all about Nixie Petite until yesterday when I was doing my annual stock take.

Nixie Petite – out of the box for stock take.

Doing my stock take isn’t an arduous task as I rarely have more than 50 scarves available to buy at any given time. Instead, my stock take becomes a short journey of rediscovery as I work through my boxes and find work I’d forgotten I’d painted.

The design is drawn out and then the colours are painted in.

It might seem odd that I should forget my own work, but seeing the photos of my scarves on the shop isn’t the same as handling them. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but even the best photographs are not a substitute for the soft and almost luminous quality of a scarf in real life.

In passing I would also say, that at the various craft shows I have sold my work, interestingly, most people still only look. I have to suggest that people can pick up a scarf and feel it. I also have a small, gilt mirror to encourage customers to try on a scarf and see how it looks and feels when worn. I guess we mostly buy with our eyes.

Nixie Petite -finished and ready for steaming.

Anyhow, counting the stock requires seeing the real item and in the case of Nixie Petite being surprised by it. Goodness, those colours and all that fiddly pattern. I must have been in an easygoing, light mood when I started that one!

And, if you ever wondered from where I get the names for my scarves, I choose them from an old book of baby names.

Nixie – from the Old High German, nihhus, ‘nymph, sprite’. A mythological mermaid, half-woman, half-fish, who could be glimpsed by lovers on nights of the full moon.

Mother’s Day 2022

There’s not so much to be positive about at the moment, but we can at least take a moment to think about and celebrate our mothers.

My mother in her late twenties.

I have much to thank my mother for not least her interest in the visual arts. She was in the audience for one of my early forays into the world of fashion when she attended a catwalk show in London where some of my work was presented. And, she did see my daughter the evening she went off to her Prom in a painted silk chiffon dress I’d made.

Painted silk chiffon for Prom dresses. My niece in the lilac and my daughter in the peach.

However, sadly she never knew I launched a business with an online boutique.

Example of my work. Professional studio, lighting and model.

Of course, for those of you lucky enough to still have your mothers in your lives there are plenty of gifts of all types and kinds these days. There are edible, wearable, watchable, doable, learnable and give-aid-able gifts on offer.

Naturally, in the ‘wearable’ option there are my hand painted silk scarves!