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.

Celtic Sparring Hares

A very early image depicting two hares sparring in the moonlight.
The original drawing was produced in pen and ink. The image was then scanned into Photoshop and the eggshell blue colour added to give some interest.
Used predominantly on greetings cards, this image is also my logo design.

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.

Health and vigour

After the 2nd World War George Bain collaborated with William MacLean Publishers Ltd of Glasgow. They printed his booklets on Celtic design, and then amalgamated them into Methods of Construction. They produced various greetings cards designed by Bain. MacLellan’s also commissioned illustrations from him for various magazines and other books that they produced.

The very richly coloured, bold image has a small circlular motif at its centre. Three strand spirals, known as triskeles, flow around it and the other circles of the design. Two of the arms of each strand in a spiral end in trumpet openings. The third splits to form a knotted closure. Around the central design is an outer ring of angular key pattern. It is very similar to that found in the Book of Durrow.

It isn’t just the greeting that is in Scottish Gaelic and English. Bain has signed it, as he often did, in both languages.

A hunting scene

We know when Bain designed this Christmas greetings card because he mentions Drumnadrochit. In 1946, on retiring from teaching, he moved to the village for a few years. It was his wife’s family home and he tried to establish a College of Celtic Cultures there. It seems that he engaged with local pupils at Inverness Academy to obtain Gaelic translations of his texts.

The knotwork entangles hunting imagery. The stag, boar, hunting dogs, horse and rider were favourite motifs of Bain. He used them in his design for a ‘hunting’ rug for Quayle and Tranter Ltd, carpet manufacturers in Kidderminster, Worcestershire. They’re also included in designs for items such as the final dinner menu for the International Pen Congress in Edinburgh in 1950.

Inside the card is his own explanation of the background to the design. It holds good today. ‘The huntsman and other symbols of the chase were favourites of the Celtic peoples, portraying not only the fearless qualities but also the questing spirit of enquiry and aspiration that lies at the roots of art and religion …‘

Thoughtful words

The sympathetic message on this card is quite different to Bain’s other greetings cards. This text, in Gaelic and English, could be relevant to someone starting a new chapter in their life. Or perhaps it was meant as consolation after a bereavement. It is one of twelve designs for cards in his collection.

The intricate pattern focuses on four men, drawn in a semi-realistic style. They entwine to form an equal-sided cross. Outlined in yellow and red, their main joints are shown as simple scrolls. The intersecting arms, legs and torsos are marked by cross-hatching, an unusual detail in insular art. Their long hair and beards form elaborate knotwork patterns. The strands meet in four pairs of double-coiled spirals.

Bain had found a similar motif of four male figures on one of the cross-shafts at Clonmacnoise in Ireland. It is included in his Methods of Construction, as is another of three men from the Book of Kells.

See: Bain’s Celtic Art, Methods of Construction page 115, Plates 13 & 14

A Manx cross

In this design Bain uses a Celtic cross from the Isle of Man but alters its decorative details. The result is an entertaining and engaging puzzle. He draws our attention to the sculptor’s use of a single, continuous line and encourages us to follow it.

By breaking one edge ‘turn’ of the interlace at the base of the cross, he creates two ‘ends’ to the interlaced strand. If you carefully trace the line from point A, you’ll end up at point B. If Bain had not broken the strand it would of course be continuous, symbolic of Eternity in a religious context.

This Celtic cross is one of several at the church of St Adamnan in Lonan, on the Isle of Man. Beyond the island, it wasn’t a very well-known site and so it would be interesting to know how Bain became aware of it. The cross is the most ornate of the group. Bain amends its form and adds his own details, like the knotwork between the arms of the cross.

Overflowing chalice

You can almost see the wine in the chalice on this intricately decorated greetings card. It was designed by George Bain. The rich colours give it an almost 3D effect. The overflowing contents are shown as spirals, some of which extend into knotwork. The stippling gives the effect of floating in liquid.

The body of the cup is decorated with pairs of intertwined birds, symbols of friendship. Their wings are folded and their necks entwined, forming an elaborate interlacing. The words, in Scottish Gaelic and English, are reminiscent of those in the 23rd Psalm. It begins ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ and contains the line ‘Thou annointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over’. 

The card was used by Chirsty, George Bain’s elder daughter. She sent it to her husband Zbigniew Lomnicki.

The Tara brooch

The ‘Tara’ brooch is an iconic and exquisite piece of Celtic metalwork. It’s hardly surprising that Bain was drawn to it as a subject. There’s a large, more detailed black and white drawing of the brooch in the Collection. We think he was working from a photo in a book rather than from the original. He probably used that to create the coloured, adapted version on this card.

Very little of the enamel or coloured glass settings survive on the brooch. Bain therefore used his imagination to create an appealing, colourful interpretation of the design, based on what can still be seen. In so doing he created a beautiful piece of artwork in its own right.

The brooch was actually found on a beach at Bettystown near Dublin in 1850. It was falsely linked to Tara, seat of the High Kings of Ireland, by the jeweller who bought it. He did so to increase the popularity of the replicas he made.

New Year greetings card

George Bain was inspired for some of his greetings cards while studying the Book of Kells.  This image is adapted from a small part of the illuminated page of opening words of St John’s Gospel.  Bain is determined that those he sent the card to should realise the expertise of the manuscript’s scribe. His caption notes that the original width of the man and beast is only ‘1½ inches’ (38mm).

This vivid, multi-coloured design is of a seated man wearing elaborate robes and holding a goblet. He’s looking glumly at a sharp-toothed beast. Is it friend or foe? The bible has various stories of lions. This beast could be one of the ‘tame’ lions in Daniel’s den. Or maybe it’s the lion David killed while protecting his sheep. The beast’s long red tongue seems unnervingly close to the man’s face but it’s mouth isn’t open, so perhaps it’s kindly.

Unlike many of the designs Bain uses, this has no interlacing and only a few spirals.  Instead, many of the curving lines end in scrolls.  They represent the lion’s wild mane. Bain adds stipple to various parts of the design. It’s a technique used occasionally in illuminated manuscripts and early medieval sheet metalwork, as on the bowls from St Ninian’s Isle, Shetland.

See: The Book of Kells, TCD MS58, folio 292r, Trinity College Dublin (detail top right)

Lucky horseshoe

George Bain enjoyed creating new card designs that were then printed by W LacLennan Ltd of Glasgow. They are all based on Celtic art from across Britain and Ireland, including Pictish motifs. The messages are usually bilingual, in both Gaelic and English.

During his studies of Celtic art Bain drew various Pictish horses. The Inverurie incised Pictish stone was clearly the model for this design. He found here that he could create a roundel with three horses. A lively, continuous line of golden knotwork interweaves with three of the legs of each horse. But their straight forelegs are linked centrally.

The colourful, surrounding horseshoe is filled with interlaced birds and snakes. They are inspired by zoomorphic manuscript art such as found in the Book of Kells.