Re-imaging the Book of Durrow

The work is a reproduction of the opening double page of St John’s Gospel in the Book of Durrow. I have created the work on rag paper using archival watercolours, acrylic ink with added gesso and 24 carat gold leaf embellishment aimed at giving the modern viewer an appreciation of the. wonder and awe with which 7th and 8th century readers of the manuscript must have held the pages.

St Ninian

Saint Ninian, bishop, missionary, and apostle to Scotland, drawn and painted in the style of a early medieval illuminated manuscript. Inspired by the Book of Kells, the ruins of Whithorn Abbey, and artifacts such as the clog-rinny (the Bell of St Ninian).

The Green Man

A new image illustrated using watercolour and coloured pencil.
Based on the ancient celtic symbol of rebirth and my love of my garden and the surrounding trees, the Green Man has been portrayed many times in various forms. While not technically as intricate as previous work, I like the idea of the visual link between the creative style and the ancient celtic tradition.

Re-imaging the Book of Durrow: the opening double pages of Luke’s Gospel

It is difficult for people in the 21st century, routinely surrounded by colours of every hue, to imagine how the sight of the Book of Durrow would have affected viewers in the late 600s AD. I have attempted to convey some of this wonder by recreating pages in watercolour and ink using modern lightfast organic pigments augmented with raised gesso and 24 carat gold leaf in the manner of later medieval illuminated manuscripts.

While this treatment may seem like heresy to some, I argue that my own experience when I first witnessed the transformation that the addition of polished gold brought to the designs was a valuable addition to my understanding of the experiences of 7th century and later early medieval viewers of these books. The addition of polished gold leaf not only adds the experience of ‘the Light of the World’ reflecting out of each page, but it also helps tie the designs more firmly to the Eastern manuscript traditions of Byzantine and Greek Orthodox religious art.

Re-imagining Luke’s Incipit Pages in the Book of Durrow

This is a further attempt at reproducing a double page illumination from the Book of Durrow in modern organic watercolour pigments similar in tone to how the pages might have looked when first illuminated back around 680 AD.

I have again embellished some areas of the illumination with raised gesso and 24 carat gold leaf in an attempt to give modern eyes the sense of awe and wonder that the original manuscript might have induced in the world of mainly muted tones in the 7th century.

The Wedding of the Robin and the Wren

An illustration based on the old Scots poem of the Robin and the Wren.
The pair are sitting safely on the sill of the church, whilst the predators the robin meets on his way make up the imagery on the stain glassed window. They are frozen in time and therefore unable to pursue the robin or his new bride.
The composition allowed me to re-use or adapt a number of previous works including the red kite, the foxes, the cats and the robin previously used as a Christmas card.
The original image was produced in watercolour with detail using coloured pencil.

An dá Ghrian {The Two Suns}

Originally inspired by two sisters singing Gaelic harmonies at a pub in Glasgow Scotland, this piece has come to represent Áine and Grainne, sisters of Irish mythology. Áine, whose name means “radiance”, was believed to rule over the light half of the year and Grainne reigned over the darker half. Grainne might also represent another aspect of Áine, the shadow and light that dwells within us all. This piece was painted with mixed media on hand-made paper.

Interlace saucer designs

These are two of George Bain’s exquisitely restrained interlace designs, created for painting onto white china dinner or tea sets. Both are made up of two strands interlacing into six motifs. One is formed of paired forms. The other has larger, slightly different single shapes.

Going round and round

A fascinating set of four similar interlace designs, each formed of two strands of different colours. We think they were created for painting onto white china dinner or tea sets.  They reflect George Bain’s fascination with how new designs might be made. At first glance the designs look quite simple but when one tries to analyse them their varied, complex, nature becomes evident.

Knotwork from Durrow

George Bain was fascinated by the various geometric designs used in the early medieval Book of Durrow. He couldn’t refer to the original, so he copied the images that were published in 1908 in Celtic Illuminative Art.  Here Bain draws out the complex knotwork elements from the ‘carpet’ page that precedes the Gospel of St Luke. His fine use of watercolour aids the reading of what should be a continuous strand.

Bain was clearly immersed in the sophistication of the overall design. But he finds that the detail isn’t perfect. He discovers that there is no continuity. The knotwork is formed of three different strands when it should be just one. He then analysed them to find out where the design had gone wrong. 

He identifies two places in the small connecting element at the centre right of the design where mistakes have been made.  Then he works out how to correct the error, restoring a single, continuous strand. Bain was clearly focussed on perfection.

See FSH Robinson 1908 Celtic Illuminative Art

Key pattern knitting chart

This angular, geometric design seems to have been a favourite of George Bain’s when creating knitting charts. The straight lines of the key pattern are easily transferred onto grid-paper, unlike the sinuous curves of interlace. The stepped lines, so obvious at this scale, merge into smooth diagonals once you move back. 

This particular design is the most commonly used across insular art. Bain shows readers how to construct it as the very first example in his illustrations of key patterns.

Here we see Bain playing around, rotating and mirroring the basic cell of the design. He uses colour to create quite different panels. Were any of these ever knitted into finished items by the crafters that Bain wrote to and sent patterns? We have yet to find out.