Like most people before the pandemic and the restrictions and the lockdowns, I used to go out. I went out locally as well as further afield to visit churches, museums and galleries always looking for inspiration for my work. Medieval sculptural details and the patterns painted on Victorian stained glass, so common in our parish churches, have been a great resource. However, for the time being most churches are locked and entry is not permitted.
Naturally, like many people working from home I have turned to the Internet and have found viewing online Fine and Decorative Art Sale Catalogues very worthwhile. These catalogues often have great photos with good colour showing off the beautiful detail that can be found on unusual antiques such as this Carlton Ware vase by Violet Elmer (1907-1988). (And, to my surprise, Violet had a link to Suffolk as her great-grandparents had lived in Scotland Street, Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk, in the early 19th century. There is an interesting article in the East Anglian Daily Times about a couple of collectors from just outside Ipswich who have filled their home with Carlton Ware and hunted down some biographical details for Violet. She was born in Oxford in 1907 and moved to Stoke-on-Trent in 1928 to work as a designer at the Carlton Works. Sadly, for us, she stopped work in 1938 when she got married.)
This fine example of her work is vase decorated with exotic birds (disappearing round the top righthand edge), flora and foliage on a pale plum ground. I think it is both beautiful and charming and you could imagine that perhaps Violet Elmer had herself been inspired by a Victorian millefiori paperweight. The shape of those little flowers is so typical of millefiori.
Inspired by or maybe stealing from artists from the past has a long tradition and I am happy to join in and make my own reinterpretation in a different medium.
It is just a pity that the silk I have painted was for those unglamorous, yet currently necessary, face coverings.
PS – I actually painted these silk pieces during the second lockdown and have only just made them up into masks. Lockdowns have seemed to roll one into another. Sigh. And, now I hear they’ve cancelled Glastonbury and UEFA are also proposing this summer’s tournament to only take place in one country (and I have tickets for a game in Glasgow) and, well, Easter? 🤞🏻 Who knows!
From this Saturday, 4th July 2020, in the UK it’s all change or not! As I write this I have the radio on in the background and I keep hearing ‘chaos’, ‘mess’ and ‘confusion’ from various commentators. There are members of the general public calling-in with questions about all the measures needed to ensure safety for ‘Independence Day’ as the tabloids are dubbing it. No doubt Cummings and Johnson are quietly satisfied this cynically selected date is being trumpeted in this predictable manner. Hospitality and travel will be joining retail instigating up to the minute protocols for the new normal. This will include new hygiene routines and maintaining people are physically distancing. Good luck everybody.
Looking at the retail sector specifically and the recent economic data reported in the press the lockdown has had an immense effect on the this sector. The high street had already been struggling in recent years and now as the lockdown lifts more and more shops are finding they are longer viable. Perhaps many shoppers are now less willing to brave the high street stores for non essentials as at the same time more consumers are now accustomed to buying online. However, once you are shopping online you soon find there is an almost overwhelming choice.
Personally, when I am shopping online I like to minimise the ‘product miles’ due to environmental concerns and for that reason prefer to order from the UK. The ‘Make It British’ people have made it easier with their vetted platform listing UK makers and manufacturers. Last month, with my business hat on, I decided to apply to the directory as a maker as well as already being a shopper.
And last weekend, I was delighted when they featured my silk masks in their ‘Top 21 British-Made Face Coverings’ promotion.
It is not always the case for me, but with seasonal changes I often find that I am choosing a different palette for my work.
Back in November we had a brief, cold snap. The frost was enough to blacken the dahlias in the backyard and I noticed that I was already painting with cool blues again.
Since my summer visit to the Ipswich Museum I have been working and re-working the delightful ‘Iceni’ horse motif found on the Freckenham staters. By November it was time for me to move on from painting versions on silk neckerchiefs and to develop the motif into a full design for one of the bigger squares of silk I paint.
With all the dyed and resist areas dried the silk square was steamed and photographed. It is now January, and winter proper, and this scarf of winter blues has been added to my online shop.
It was another week and another neckerchief inspired by the Iceni horse. I have really fallen for this charming motif found struck into the Freckenham staters that make up part of the Wickham Market Hoard.
After first drawing out the basic design I had painted in the Iceni horses, but hadn’t decided on the colour combination for the overall interpretation. It was the middle of August and I had a mini glut of sweet peas some of which had been stuffed into a vase. The morning sunlight was catching the petals beautifully and I thought, yes, possibly these colours will do arranged in front of the stained glass panel. With some slight adjustments to the vase position I had a palette with which to paint the scarf.
However, when most of the colours were added I felt the overall effect was too pale and the piece had more than a hint of a gelato selection about it or even a bag of liquorice allsorts. My first thought was to fill in the background with black, but perhaps that would be too harsh. In the end I chose a darkish grey to add a more subtle contrast.
All finished, steamed and then photographed. That sounds so straightforward and simple, but I have to say that this is one of the those scarves that has been really difficult to photograph. How we see colour is a complex process, but it is most definitely affected by the quality of the ambient light, whether that’s light at dawn or dusk, or full summer sunlight, or electric light, or even candlelight! You can tell that despite sitting at my computer adjusting these photos, as I held the actual scarf in front of me, the colours in each photo look slightly different. I suppose any image is an approximation of a reality. We easily accept a painting as a visual interpretation, but often forget that a photograph is a visual rendering too, added to which the camera always lies to a greater or lesser extent!
My online shop has been up and running for over six years now and about three times a year I place an order for plain silk blanks. I use three different suppliers depending on what type of silk I require. All three companies offer plain scarves with hand rolled hems ready for dyeing. The two European suppliers, one in Belgium and the other in Spain, list my favourite silk twill including the classical 90 x 90 cm squares. The third company I use is based in the United States and they sell excellent quality flat crepe pieces.
Earlier this year I ordered 12 neckerchief sized squares and for only the second time in my years of painting silk I noticed one of the scarves had a fault in the weave.
Now you’ve probably guessed I do own one or two scarves that I have painted myself – actually most of mine are over 30 years old and date from the time when I was a fashion/textile student. Amongst my own collection the only red I have is a full 90 x 90 that was originally a peachy pink. It had been a gift to my mother and was returned to me on her death. She was of the generation that often wore their scarves pinned with a brooch and when I came to overpaint the peach with red (peach is not a colour for me) I noticed several of the pin pricks had become small holes. It was good to experiment extravagantly and boldly with red dyes, but I still didn’t have a wearable red scarf.
As you can now see, a faulty blank has given me the opportunity to get the red dye out again and go for it big time. The design is looser and has more swirls than my usual style with plenty of red and a dash of very bright fuchsia. Naturally, this neckerchief with a fault isn’t for sale (mmm, fortunately, it seems it’s fine for me though!).
But, as you may have already gathered, I do like this combination. And indeed, so much so I have painted another similar version on pristine silk. It, too, is the neckerchief size. A size I think works well when you feel like some bright colour, but not too much. An accent.
And, here’s the finished piece now available on my shop.
Now I am a fan of the colour green. In one way or another it has been a colour I have used in painting different rooms since my first house back in 1996. Of course, there are greens and greens. I remember the first time I used green it was a bright apple green and in a south-facing room it definitely had a hint of lime about it. At the same time I was painting the walls the plumber was installing the central heating and he could barely conceal his revulsion!
It appears that lime green is not a popular colour in our northern light and as we have so few days of summer sun when it looks really good, I reappraised the one lime green scarf on my shop and decided to give it the layer treatment.
Now, regular perusers of my blog will know that amongst the tools in my ‘creative process’ box layering is a technique I use to change my work and give it more depth.
I did like the flat pattern of the original, but I can see that the very nature of the flatness made the lime green less appealing especially in the photographs.
Over-painted, steamed again to fix the work and newly photographed and now uploaded to my online shop. I think it is definitely a more interesting piece.
It’s one of those elements to be taken into consideration when shopping on the Internet – size. It is so easy to simply assume you have a rough idea of the size of anything you are looking at, but checking the measurements is essential.
I recently painted a set of neckerchiefs, my Hudeca series, inspired by Lady Drury’s Hawstead Panels. The design worked for the neckerchief sized squares (50 x 50 cm) and so I thought I’d paint a larger, 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf. You might guess from the above picture that they were the same size. It’s only in a photograph containing other points of reference that you see one scarf is almost double the size of the other.
Even in this video it is difficult to judge the overall size of the scarf with just my hand and a couple of paintbrushes flitting about.
Usually at some point during the designing and painting of my work, a scarf acquires a name. This is important as it helps me keep my work in some kind of order especially if I paint roughly the same design in several different colour combinations and use different silk of different sizes.
At first glance my naming process may seem random, but it is usually linked in some way or other to the original source of inspiration. This time I wanted an Anglo-Saxon girl’s name beginning with ‘H’ for Hawstead and chose Hudeca. The 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine (a really gorgeous, 14mm weight piece of silk by the way) painted with my ‘Hawstead’ design became Lisette and not a Hudeca. I arrived at ‘Lisette’ from Elizabeth for the bigger scarf as Lady Drury was the mother to two daughters, neither of whom reached adulthood, and one was called Elizabeth.
Every now and then I find an idea I have been keen to develop for a scarf goes awry in the painting. This was the case when four years ago I attempted a ‘bluebells’ scarf.
The finished scarf was a delicate pale pink dotted with stems of bluebells. The pink was subtle in real life. It was a soft, easy colour to wear close to your face especially for those of us over fifty. However, this scarf when photographed, well, it looked totally washed out and almost dreary. And, now when reviewing the design, I see the overall appearance was too messy and busy, and failed to be dynamic. Time for change.
Initially I adjusted my creative process making some large and bold additions to the scarf. I overpainted with broad flowing brush marks of coloured resist in order to balance the small bluebell motifs.
I then added some mid-sized periwinkle like flowers in a bluey green and created depth to the whole piece by painting small areas of the background in black.
The scarf has been steamed again to fix the dyes and the finished, more interesting piece has now been added to my shop – click pic to see.
I never paint the same scarf twice. The combination of my loose, freehand gutta work and then the random way the dyes flow into each other make it an impossibility. However, I do roughly repeat a design in different colours. I usually paint four or five different colourways of the same design to produce a mini collection.
My recent visit to see the Hawstead Panels at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, inspired me to create a design for a neckerchief. The first one in this series based on the pines and wildflowers painted by Lady Hawstead, was a combination of blues and mouse brown.
Having established this basic design and feeling comfortable with the patterned components, I then moved on to a new colour combination.
This neckerchief design is a mixture of techniques with thick, coloured gutta for the pine tree tops, single colours painted into delineated spaces and some resist layering.
I like resist layering, but you have to wait for the gutta to dry. This can be speeded up by using a hairdryer. Resist layering is where you add the clear gutta resist to a pale area in a pattern let it dry, then added a slightly darker dye, then add more clear gutta patterning let it dry and finally another layer of even darker dye. You are left with a more painterly effect and even a hint of brush marks or should I say daubs.
When all the dyes have been added and all the gutta has dried, the neckerchief is rolled in protective paper and steamed for two hours.
The finished neckerchief is photographed and added to my shop.
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.
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.
And, I also admire the painted herb and flower decorative panels displayed at the bottom of the panel collection.
These panels show bugle, corn marigold, speedwell, dandelion, deadly nightshade, honeysuckle, scarlet pimpernel, wild pansy and a wild strawberry plant.
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.