New Design: Summer Squall
The fabrics are almost ready! Thanks to all of you who have inquired. Thank you also for your patience. My web team is busy busy with the custom calculator and I hope it'll just be a couple more weeks until we go live.
In the meantime, I'm also adding a new design to the web shop in January/February 2015. I've been working on it for half a year (I got a little obsessively into all the little details of the leaves, etc.)!
This piece will soon be available as wallpaper and fabric (9 different sorts, including cottons, linen, silks and velvet) at www.elliecashmandesign.com.
Summer Squall has a lot of personal meaning for me. If you want a little background on the design and the process, read on! This is a little piece I wrote about it ...
I started working on Summer Squall at the end of August 2014, when we were descending from the height of summer’s sweetness into the colder, darker months of the year. Unlike the other prints I’d designed previously, I had this one named almost from the very start.
This was a time when I was readjusting to ‘real life’ after spending a blissful three weeks with my parents, my husband and my three children in a quirky summer rental house just a couple of miles from Horseneck Beach, in Southern, coastal New England, not far from where I grew up.
Since I expatriated in 2007, summers have been a particularly special time for me, when three generations of my family are in the same place, when my past, present and future convene on a New England shoreline. It’s a contrast to the rest of the year, when I spend my days in adopted surroundings and don’t often (ever?) feel this connected.
There’s a particular moment I was thinking of as I started work on Summer Squall.
It was an evening in late July, and I was sitting with my parents around a fire pit by a dock on the Westport River. We were, each of us, at distant points on an invisible circle, so far apart that talking was out of the question. The late afternoon light was fading and we formed a ring around my younger daughter, Juliette, who was dancing in the sand, circling the smoldering embers. She was jabbing at the air with a marshmallow stick and licking her tacky fingers. We had just eaten the quintessential summer dessert of s'mores.Juliette had turned four a couple of weeks earlier. For her birthday present, I had put together a photo album for her. I had tried to capture the highlights of her year - vacations, classes, parties, new friends, etc. When placing the photo of her as the new big sister, her three-day-old brother reclining in her arms, my heart broke a little.
When Nathan was born, she became our middle child and, paradoxically, seemed to lose her claim on being the center of attention.
And yet in that photograph, you can read the pride and happiness on her face. For the girl who loved to help take care of all the babies at daycare, this new role was more complicated than she could have known. Three would become a year of tagging along while I picked her older sister up from school, or waiting while I changed her baby brother’s diaper. She would have to entertain herself while I checked my e-mail or answered an urgent phone call.
But on that evening in late July, there she was at the fulcrum of the wheel, pinning us in a blissful orbit around her.
She may have waited all year to be at the axis of my orbit, but here she was now, the middle child at the middle point. Soon, the fireflies would frame the scene, shooting stars buzzing in the brush around us, silhouetted against a watercolor sunset. At long last, Juliette was the center of the universe, and what a universe it was!
Taking a break from her marshmallow, she turned to me. “Mommy, why do we have to wait?” she asked, referring to the fireflies, who hadn’t yet made their appearance.
Looking back, I think she meant, “What’s taking so long?”
But what I heard was, “Why are we waiting for fireflies? Let’s move on.”
And so I answered: ”Because if we’re not here when they come out, their light will be wasted.”
And then I thought, with a heaping dose of mother’s guilt, of how many times Juliette’s spark might have been wasted on me that year. I worried that I had been so busy, so focused on other things that seemed more pressing at the time: big-kid needs, baby needs, my needs. Until this moment, when her light was almost blinding, when it was as if the sunset sky was ablaze with her.
Juliette is my most challenging child. That year, perhaps more so than ever before. She was caught in limbo, between wanting to be big like her big sister, growing into her own personality, or a baby like her baby brother, rolled up in the familiar fold. Somehow, in that moment, it seemed she’d finally found a little peace in her own place, the middle place.
I think we all had.
It had been a long time coming, and it was a moment that I wanted to pause, and place on repeat, if I could.
And yet as an adult, moments like these always come to you coupled with the realization that we will have to let them pass, the way they must, on their inexorable journey from present to past. And the next moment waiting for us - the one in line for Security at Logan Airport, when we’ll all have to say goodbye to each other and go back to our ‘real’ lives - is imminent. This moment will fade to memory like the flames in the fire pit, smoldering to ashes that take to the wind.
And I tell myself that I’m happy that the moment happened at all, that we found that place, recognized it, that we lived it and felt it fully, doing everything short of capturing it and saving it in a jar. Maybe that’s enough to get me through the harder, darker days, the days when we’re feeling less connected. If we felt this peace of place in every moment, we wouldn’t have appreciated this one in the intense way we did, sitting by the fire pit, delighting in marshmallows.
So when I was working on Summer Squall, I was thinking about that feeling, which is so typical for the end of summer. You’ve basked in the light while it was high in the sky, while everything was alive and ablaze, and now it’s time to embrace the passing of the moment, the day, the season and move toward the darker days on the way. Going back to work, to school, to doing things you ‘have’ to do more often than things you ‘want’ to do.
For me, that moment by the fire pit is the smoldering point of light that I’ve taken with me into the darkness. That moment is the perfect white peony suspended above the dark foliage. Behind that flower in full bloom, and behind that moment, the leaves are just starting to rustle with its passing ...
Months later, on a Friday in the month of December, after close to a half year of arduous work, I finished Summer Squall in my attic studio, with Juliette playing with the puppet theater behind me. She had faked sick earlier that day, and I’d picked her up from school on what would have/could have/should have been a work day.
A few weeks earlier, I had scrapped Summer Squall, dissatisfied with the fact that it had become so rigid and dense and void of color. In the months of painstaking effort I’d put into it, I had forgotten about the warmth and beauty and love that was its inspiration in the first place.
Then I started writing about it, which helped me reconnect to its symbolism and make a new plan for it. Then the repeat burst open, I painted the color and the brush strokes back in to the highlights. It started to look less like a William Morris (my original plan) and more like an Ellie Cashman, sharing, in the end, more qualities with Dark Floral and Dark Floral II than had been my original intention.
Once again, there was joy in the process.
It was fitting then, on that December Friday, with my toddler muse at my back, that I shut down my computer on a completed Summer Squall, feeling that, once again, things had come full circle.
This amazing year had come to an end, marked by professional accomplishments I couldn’t have imagined. It was time to wrap up my work and head off on our Christmas vacation.
I sent the final files to my printer and a week later, I was on the receiving end of the service I’d provided my clients all year. On a sunny Monday morning, a FedEx truck pulled up in front of my childhood home in Providence, Rhode Island, delivering a box of final proofs that had followed us in flight over the Atlantic. I unwrapped each one, savoring the moment that I had worked toward for so long: the moment when I finally felt satisfied.
It is a season, a year, a life in chiaroscuro, the darks more prolific, accounting for most of the time and space, and yet it’s as if their only purpose is to direct you to the light, when it does spark. Framed against the darkness, the highlights reach new heights.
For all her struggles, Juliette pirouetted at the center of the summer universe, and for all the frustrations inherent to the creative process, I unrolled those proofs in late December with a feeling of satisfied completion. In the end, these are the moments that catch the light, while the the rest fade into shadow.
And once you’ve seen one glitter and spark, you’re bound to wait in the dark for another. Patiently, persistently, knowing: it’s precisely when the dark deepens, that the most brilliant moments are revealed.
Otherwise, the light is wasted.
Months before, on that night in July, Juliette lay her marshmallow stick in the grass, before ascending a darkened tunnel path up through the woods and back to our summer home. Her passage was framed on all sides by firefly falling stars, first a few, then many. They had finally shown up to give their nightly performance. It was magical, and seemed as if it was timed just for Juliette’s passing through.
Hours later, after a few motor boats had sped up and down the desolate river, after Juliette’s head had hit her pillow, her eyes had closed and she’d drifted off into a deep, satisfied sleep, I imagine a fortunate field mouse must have happened upon that stick.
Marveling at his good luck, he would have gorged himself on the last remaining marshmallow morsels. That gluttonous little rodent would have stumbled home to his mouse hole with a horrible ache in his belly. He would have tossed and turned through his whole day’s sleep.
And then, at the next onset of darkness, he would have woken up to a new night.
And then, as was all he knew to do, he would have gone off again.