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!

Painting Mirelle

Sometimes I am a forgetful idiot. A sensible way of painting a large silk scarf is to start in the middle and work your way out finishing with the borders.

Painting the border first.

There is a logic to that as often a border will use the predominant colours of the main design of the scarf, but in a different amount and at a different scale.

And, then there is the time I began by painting the border in its entirety first .

Next drawing out the centre.

I did have a rough idea of the colours I wanted to use for the whole scarf, but as I painted the borders they looked dead and dull and despite deciding I was NOT going to use any turquoise, there it was added to the border and bringing lightness and energy.

Adding the colours to the centre panel.

I think adding the turquoise to the borders worked and in the end it didn’t significantly change the colours for the centre panel except for featuring as a 50% dilution on the vase motif.

Very nearly done with source painting (top left).

As I think you can see in the original painting which I used as the source for this scarf (above top left), the vase was blue and white with red flowers with not a single brushstroke of turquoise in sight.

Finally finished and ready for steaming.

Unusually in my case, it turns out on this occasion it was better for me to start painting the more restricted borders before splashing out in the centre.

Mirelle is now finished, steamed, photographed and on my shop.

Darker tones for darker times

January 2022 appears to be bringing with it more sombre greyness than just the weather. In truth the grey gloom of the weather and the pandemic has simply carried on from the end of last year into the beginning of this one. I remember when the news of Omicron first hit and, as is so often the case with me, the general mood of current affairs eventually filtered through and into my work.

When I began working on this large, 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf in December I had intended the background to be entirely midnight blue.

Drawing out the basic design in gutta resist.

However, as I added other colours to the scarf the blue background didn’t feel dark enough.

The process of painting with dyes.

The blue, even as dark as it was, was not creating enough contrast to make the muted pinks and muted mouse browns as crisp and sharp as I wanted.

Pure black behind making seed heads more defined.

So, I got to work with the unadulterated black. Although, I frequently use small areas of black to achieve depth, it is a long time since I have used black for a background. I think you can see the difference it makes compared to the blue.

A large scarf like this takes some time for me to paint and, additionally, I had a break over Christmas when I cleared my studio to offer a comfy space for a large, visiting dog. When I returned to my work, I immediately saw that there seemed to be a gash in the design. It was not intentional. The order in which I had painted the colours had revealed this shape, gradually emerging running diagonally across the scarf as the pinks and reds were added.

A gash has appeared across the design.

At this point, and with the New Year fast approaching with hope in its wake, my mood changed and I felt I wanted the gash to be filled with soft colour.

Muted pinks making for a softer background.

The result was a background of the muted pinks with the seed heads painted with the mouse browns. I think you can see the line of the browns flowing diagonally from the top left to the bottom right of the scarf in this photo below.

The painting is finished and the scarf is ready for steaming.

With the scarf completed it is clearer to see how much black I’ve ended up using. Dark and moody, yet with more pink than I planned when I changed the blue for black. I guess the daylight hours are increasing and maybe Omicron is not as bad as it was first considered and the result is a little more colour and a little less black.

The scarf has now been steamed and photographed and added to my shop, and as usual, the photos don’t really give an accurate portrayal of the piece. I must say that considering the times in which it was painted, I at least, am very happy with the finished scarf. In truth and unexpectedly it’s turned out to be one of my favourite pieces of work! Clouds . . . silver linings . . . and all that.

Well, well, well – alpha, beta, delta . . .

Omicron. Yes, the latest variant of concern has brought with it the return of compulsory mask wearing in shops and on public transport in England. A point to note here is that the rest of the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (devolved for matters of health from the UK’s Westminster government) had not joined England’s laissez faire approach. Since, 19th July 2021, the so-called English freedom day, one has been encouraged to make a personal choice to wear a mask or not based on one’s own assessment of the Covid risk. And, naturally, following the example set by the Prime Minister as well as seeing the government benches stuffed with maskless Tories, many people simply assumed Covid was done and dusted and had stopped wearing face coverings.

Mmmm, I could embark now on an intense rant about the rinse and repeat poor leadership together with the sporadic wishy-washy messaging from our government, but instead it’s time for me to calm down and get out the silk and the dyes . . .

Find the last few rectangles of backing silk

Dig out the black elastic from the bottom of my sewing box

And sew up a few more silk masks.

Maybe or maybe not the last masks to be added to my online shop.