For the second part of my review looking at a decade of selling my work online I thought I would take a look at a few favourites that are currently available.
To begin with let’s look at two of the first five scarves I painted for my online boutique. I painted the same design in five different colours. One sold within the first month of my shop going live. That was the yellow version. Then during the next six months the green one sold. And, at some point, and I can’t remember when, the pale honey coloured version went, but the pink and lilac versions are still on the shop some ten years later.
As is the case with the early pink and lilac long scarves above, you can’t tell what’s going to be popular and what isn’t. Below, in this selection of five 90 x90 cm squares, the three on the left are recent pieces, but the two on the right are a couple of my personal all time favourites and they too have been on the shop for nearly nine years.
It has surprised me how many of the sold scarves along the way that I have entirely forgotten, but I do remember those that were favourites as I painted them.
When I think about the body of my work and what has sold quickly and what hasn’t I have come to the conclusion that it is probably the photographs that make the difference, especially if they are interesting good pictures and particularly if they feature a model.
Anybody who knows me in real life knows that I am not big on marking so-called milestone events or celebrating significant dates, birthdays, Christmas, etc, but I am going to make an exception for once.
I am not having a party or anything like that, but I thought I’d just blog a couple of posts remembering some of my favourite scarves to mark my business being in existence for a * * * DECADE * * *.
If anybody had told when I launched ‘Agnes Ashe Silks’ I would still be in business 10 years down the road I would have fallen about laughing.
Back at the beginning I attended a week’s course ‘Starting a business and being self-employed’. One attendee, a helpful chap, told me and I quote “Nobody will fork out 95 quid for a scarf”.
Well, I have sold scarves for £95 and sold others too ranging from £45 to £125.
But back to my favourites. During the process of remembering and choosing my personal standouts I was pleased that I had kept each scarf’s product photo file in my ‘Sold’ folder. It turns out I had completely forgotten some. Perhaps not such standouts after all then, but on re-acquaintance I have been pleasantly surprised and included some of the forgotten.
Of course, much of my work is memorable to me particularly when the original inspiration is associated with specific places or specific works. For example there have been scarves inspired by medieval rood screens (Ranworth and Southwold), painted panels (Lady Drury’s Hawstead Panels) stained glass windows (Long Melford and Bury St Edmunds) and even golden coins (The Wickham Market Hoard at Ipswich Museum).
I have even taken inspiration from 20th century artists. This scarf, below, was inspired by an oil and pigmented wax picture painted by Paul Klee in 1940.
But I mustn’t neglect the floral scarves. There have been quite a few to choose from featuring my go-to motifs for flowers, leaves, curls and bows in various colour combinations using pinks, blues, turquoise, black and old gold.
It’s March and whatever the weather outside, it’s spring (well meteorological spring at least). There are daffodils and eventually there will be sun. I am wistfully thinking that I do not live in a version of a 1950’s Hollywood musical starring Doris Day, but am definitely in Suffolk . . . in 2023 . . . although I do believe I spy a few green shoots of creativity pushing through the layers of murk accumulated over winter.
For me these lengthening days bring an optimistic outlook and I find myself instinctively reaching for pots of dye containing brighter and stronger shades.
And, fuchsia pink is back in the mix. There’s also orange, splashes of lime green and even highlights of yellow.
Once I’ve selected the hot colours it is a case of working from one end of the scarf to the other transforming a muted background into a scarf with plenty of zing.
The final part of the silk-painting process is steaming and even with bright shades the fixing of the dye intensifies the colour.
Last month I carried out a colour check on my stock. I guess it was because it was the beginning of another year and seemed a natural time to review the colours situation.
Over the years I have found that my creative choices often result in some colours turning up more frequently than others. Blues, pinks, greens, purples, gold and turquoise make regular appearances, but less so yellows and red.
And, the result of my little survey was I noticed there was no predominately red or even a partially red silk scarf for sale on my shop.
That situation has now been rectified with not an entirely red scarf, but one featuring an array of beautiful tones of crimson and burgundy with a touch of scarlet. And, when I was painting it last week I wondered why I didn’t use these darker reds more often.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What is unusual for me? Answer – hot weather equals working with really hot colours. Yes, but that’s not the entire answer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Of course, with a very colourful piece as this you still need areas of contrast.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
However, sadly she never knew I launched a business with an online boutique.
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!