Drafting the Pookah (Ps)

The Pookah is a piece that I hadn’t planned to share quite yet, but I have actually been working on it all along.

I started this piece wholly from scratch in October, writing the poem and drafting an idea all at once. No old sketches or old poems to start with. I decided to start exposing the early stages of working on it after I realized that ‘Daughter of Lir’ would be taking a longer time to prepare. So, this piece will be including more of the sketching phase.

Again, unlike the other three pieces I have covered so far, this one is new. The other pieces have been waiting for a chance to be painted, and this one is jumping at the chance.

The layout was originally a practice piece. It is an accurate, proportional rendering of a layout from the early medieval manuscript, the St. Gall Gospels, page 208. Originally it was the background, complete with the halo, for the portrait of St. John. I had wanted to use it to create an upright piece, a study of Celtic spirals with a sunburst in the space defined by the halo, but when I tipped it sideways, the image of the running Pookah against the moon began to take shape.

Proportional rendering of old manuscript pages is something I do to understand the feel and rhythm of the older art. It involves a study of the ‘Golden Mean’ or ‘Golden Section’ which is a proportion recognized actively in ancient Greece and Rome. It is an underlying principle of design in the natural world, which can be manipulated to bring a sense of ‘oh, that just looks right’ to a number of artistic skills. More on the details later.

In manuscript painting, it is used to describe the difference between the height of an illustration and its width. The proper proportion looks ‘right’ and anything else seems slightly narrow, or oddly squared. From the initial outside proportion, inner measurements are developed, including borders and major portions of the illustration, such as large halos, thrones and the direction of hands.

Because the outside dimensions are developed as proportional to one another, rather than measured and copied as inches or millimeters, the design can be created in any size. Inner measurements are dictated by the initial outside dimensions, so everything is easily cut down to small sketches or expanded to huge murals. Manuscript books were different sizes, dependent on the size of the skins available and on the usage of the final book. Small pocket books and large altar manuscripts followed general proportional guidelines, and in some cases the designs themselves were obviously copied from single sources.

The borders on this piece are heavy, and in the original portrait they are filled with decorative knots. I am emphasizing spirals in this border, using the later ‘classic’ style of tight spirals with multiple turns, rather than the older, openwork spirals of the La Tene style.

I measured out the small parts of the border and tucked the measurements into a sketch pad, so that I can experiment with the spaces, working up a variety of spiral panels. The use of small panels to create larger compositions is a traditional method used from the earliest ‘classic’ examples of design in stone, metal and bone patterns. Earlier La Tene designs use this ‘building block’ method sometimes, but not as often, as the S-curve designs usually sweep over the entire decorated surface without dividing it into pieces. Space is often defined in the earlier style through the change in design, rather than the use of borders or divisional lines.

Because only the forepart of the Pookah is clearly defined against the brighter moon, I experimented with sketches of running horses until I found a shape that suited my purposes. The hind legs and tail will primarily be defined by the shadowy dark on dark of the body against a night sky, so I found a configuration that kept the hindquarters and tail simple, while giving me some dynamic movement in the forelegs.

More to come, with some photos of sketches.



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