Research Trip to North Norfolk

I’ve been away on a research trip, for my PhD work on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship on country house estates. These photos are from the beautiful Holkham estate.   


Gilded frames

Examples of frames made over the past few years. Some are oil gilded, others the extremely time consuming water gilding process. Recently I have become particularly interested in applied decorative elements, and unusual techniques to add texture to the frames seen in the small frame with the bust of Hermes, which sits on an oil gilded plinth which hides Pandora’s box, or more prosaically, my wireless router. Trips to Italy have been inspirational for the ability to watch craftsmen at work in small studios, still using these very traditional techniques. There are a few framers left in the UK who still do this sort of work, and their help and technical advice has been invaluable.


Lines of Beauty

Sea Scrolls

I watch sea scrolls pulse towards my screen.
The wind whips them closer; pinched and zoomed
until crested, they deform.

People gather, urgent to freeze
frame each wave’s motion.
Their increasing updates crowd this stopping place.

Seeking respite from the relentless refresh,
this clear glass is the only filter between me
and these sinuous forms.

I watch them, but insight eludes me from
behind the wheel.
To appreciate their line of beauty takes time.


At the start of the terrible weather currently disrupting much of Aberdeenshire, I found myself stopping to watch the waves of the North Sea. Something in the shape and rhythm of the waves resonated with me, and somehow an attempt at poetry seems to be the best form to try to articulate this.

Amongst the turmoil of the increasingly bad weather, people started arriving in ever greater numbers, iPhones and cameras at the ready. Like many, I am borderline addicted to technology, but that afternoon I was in need of respite from messages, emails and text, so I cast it aside and resisted the desire to try to photograph the impressive waves and just sit and watch them instead.

Something, under the threshold of consciousness (see Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on creative process for a deconstruction of the creative process) began to twitch: in grand terms, a pre cognition of an insight to come. However, that insight eluded me, until suddenly I realised that what I was watching was Hogarth’s line of beauty in motion. These serpentine forms are the essence of the C and S scrolls that feature in much classical decoration, ultimately derived from natural forms.


The poem – a form I haven’t used for over twenty years – alludes to technology as a distraction from the simple act of watching and thinking. Ironically, then, the first draft of the poem was written on my iPhone, as I had nothing else to hand…


How an idea takes form: the temple of Artemis at Ephesus I

Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.

Antipater of Sidon

One piece I am currently working on is inspired by one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, in Turkey. Rebuilt three times in its history, little of it now remains sadly.

The finished piece will combine a painting, laser engraving on Perspex sheet and in built lighting housed within a gilded frame that is a homage to a Kit Kat club frame.

In writing this post, I am attempting to unravel my own thought processes that led to the development of the idea. One of the main strands of my professional academic life is the teaching of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, and in particular how to generate ideas, and I am endlessly fascinated by the process of ideas developing, whether my own or my students’.

In the case of this work, the idea has had a slow genesis, starting with the desire to make a replica of a Kit Kat club frame, having earlier experimented with the Palladian style of picture frame with its distinctive eared corners and bold egg and dart mouldings.

 Here you can see a mirror that I made in this style in late 2011 I think. Having never hand carved wood before, but finding pre-carved mouldings difficult to source and prohibitively expensive at the time, I taught myself the basics of carving with hand gouges.

Whilst imperfect in its carving, the overall effect from afar is quite satisfactory, and works to integrate into the architectural scheme of the room, in a similar way to the William Kent frames that this was inspired by.
More recently I became aware of the Kit Kat club portraits, mainly on display at the National Portrait Gallery, which I managed to finally view in the flesh last year, when I visited a country house conference next door in the National Gallery.

Designed as a suite to fit the unusually proportioned portraits by Sir Godfrey Kneller of the club members, they are a magnificent group of frames.

Determined to make my own homage to this style, as a technical challenge as much as anything, I then began to think about what would be an appropriate painting to display in it. Of course most frames are made to accommodate their paintings, but in this case I have inverted that traditional process.

The egg and dart moulding, which is a strong feature of the vast majority of Palladian frames, is a type of enrichment found on the mouldings of Ionic temples, so I wanted to create a painting which had a symbolic relationship with its frame.

Some research into Ionic temples later, I discovered the temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Having had an emotional connection with the goddess Artemis, later known as Diana, from my early days as an undergraduate art historian from the magnificent Titian Diana paintings in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh where I studied, the moment of insight occurred. Could I recreate Artemis in her Doric temple within the recreation of a frame, itself inspired by Doric architecture?