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.

Our Lady of The Dome

An illuminated quote from a 1928 sonnet by Rev. Patrick J. Carroll, CSC, Vice President of Notre Dame University. Done in 8th century Kells style with egg tempera on vellum, this artwork incorporates elements of 1920s Art Deco, as well as religious symbolism reflecting the poem and the poet.

Birds on a bowl

Bain explored how early medieval artists used stylised birds, animals and humans in his book Methods of Construction. He copies them from illustrated manuscripts like the Lindisfarne Gospels and Book of Kells. Examples are also shown from metalwork, like the Tara brooch.

The birds always have very long necks that are often interlaced with the tail feathers or neck of another. Their beaks may grasp neck, tail feather or foot of an adjacent bird. Or the head may turn back so that it can clutch its own body. This is what is painted here in a fairly simple red and blue design, with spots along necks and tail feathers.

Jessie Bain, George Bain’s wife, has painted the interlaced birds onto a plain glazed bowl, signing it JB on its base. She probably decorated it while they were living in Drumnadrochit. Having retired to the village, this is where Bain wanted to set up a College of Celtic Cultures. He hoped to encourage others to create their own designs on objects and revitalise Scottish artistic craftsmanship.

Jessie’s bowl of birds

The intricate design on this white bowl was drawn and painted by Jessie, George Bain’s wife. She has signed it underneath as JB 1952. We presume that DR stands for Drumnadrochit, by Loch Ness, where they lived for six years. But sometime that year they moved to Staffordshire, to live with one of their daughters, Chirsty.

The design features pairs of birds with necks and tail feathers intertwined, repeated three times. The two-stranded necks give a length that allows them to turn back, so their beaks can grasp their bodies. The taloned feet hang down, partially intertwined with their sinuous tail feathers. Altogether there is a rotational symmetry to the piece. The sloping sides and circular shape makes this quite a complex design to calculate, but it is beautifully executed.

The limited palette of colours helps to make the individual birds stand out clearly. One of each pair is mostly outlined in orange and cross-hatched in yellow. The other is lined in black with a bright green fill. But the tail feathers of each are in the opposing colours. This is quite a surprise and shows considerable thought.