Celtic Art

An overview:

I get excited about Celtic Art. Most of you cannot sit with me over coffee or over a pint, and watch me wave my hands about and draw examples as I tell you about Celtic Art. Maybe it is best, as I might spill your pint.

So here is the start of something amazing and glorious. A blog series on Celtic Art.

A lot of people have a lot of opinions on what constitutes Celtic Art. I want to address ALL of them, which may be a bit excessive, but there it is. So let me know what you think and ask me those questions about Celtic Art that you wanted to know.

I’ll start with a definition of Celtic Art. It might get complicated, but we’ll work out the basis of an understanding so at least we’ll all have an idea regarding what I am gassing on about. The historiography, or the history of how history is analyzed, is also relevant to the discussion, so I’ll throw a bit of that in too. Did you know that scholars of history are prone to fads as much as any Hollywood Diva?

I’ll do book reviews from the specific viewpoint of how the book contributes to the understanding of Celtic Art itself and to the construction and creation of more Celtic Art. Do you have a specific book you’d like me to talk about? I might. I’ll introduce you or reintroduce you to Francoise Henry, D. W. Harding, George Bain and other authors of books on Celtic Art.

Did you ever see a design or piece of artwork on your travels and wonder about it? I have done extensive research on symbols and artifacts, and if you find one I’ve never seen before, we’ll both learn more. Are you planning a trip and hoping to see specific artifacts or museums? Stone Crosses? The Book of Kells? I’ve done a bit of traveling in Ireland and Britain, so let me know what you want to see and maybe I can help.

Have you ever wanted to know how to create some basic designs? I’ll show you a few. More complex designs? Sure, why not? I have studied the geometric underpinnings of some of the most amazing ancient and Medieval artifacts and manuscripts. I have my own collection of sketches used to create my art, I have hundreds of reference books in my library and there are places on the web for information too.

We’ll ramble through history and we’ll ramble through the hills of Donegal. We’ll talk about the Urnfield Culture of the Bronze Age, the Celtic Revival of the late 1800’s and the Arts and Crafts Movement. We’ll put art into historic context. You will see what sorts of influences there have been on Celtic Art from non-Celtic sources, such as Scythians, Greeks and Vikings. I’ll blatantly advertise the works of some modern artists, and hopefully by the time I’ve finished up the outline I’ve put together, I’ll have more ideas and subjects from you and we’ll keep right on going.

I get excited about Celtic Art.

I hope I can inspire someone out there as well.



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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