“I want to design my own embroidery projects, but I’m not sure where to start.” I hear this a lot – design questions frequent my inbox just about as often as technique questions.
Right off the bat, you should know that I’m not a terrific artist. I can doodle, and I can draw “ornament” (roughly!), and I can even color with crayons! But if I sit down with the notion of sketching up a realistic portrait, I’m the type of draw-er that ends up with stick figures or caricatures.
Source books are a great aid when it comes to getting a little nudge of inspiration on drawing your own design. And books that actually teach you how to draw certain types of designs are even better. When you understand the basic structures that make up ornamental designs and how those structures developed, it’s a lot easier to doodle up your own ornaments.
Designing Celtic Ornament by David Balade is a book that will teach you the development of basic design elements in Celtic art, and show you how to draw your own. It’s a nice book! I found it enjoyable to read, captivating to look at, and instructive.
If you like Celtic art and ornament, this book will take you pretty far in being able to design your own.
The book is a combination of art history, design source, and how-to book. The introduction and brief historical overview of Celtic art is well written and enjoyable to read. I think it’s always good to know where an art form comes from, how it developed, what influenced it, and where it spread when you’re delving into any type of art, and Designing Celtic Ornament lays this all out very nicely.
The book is divided into five sections. The first section is on spirals and triskels (defined as “a design consisting of three branches with interlocked spirals and propelled by a gyratory movement”).
A pictorial history of these elements shows us how they evolved in Celtic art. The designs range from simple to complex, and the colorful drawings whet the appetite for the more complex designs to come.
Since animals play a large part in Celtic art, the author touches here on animals used in spirals. But the really complex designs featuring animals are yet to come!
Here we see the triskel emerging as a design element. They were simple at first, but, just like other design forms, they became more and more complex.
Here, the triskels and double spirals are merging with foliage, for fuller designs.
Of course, Celtic crosses come into the picture!
This illustration of how the different elements in Celtic art developed and evolved from simple to complex takes place in each section of the book. The next section is on interlace – that elaborate form of knotwork that is typically associated with Celtic art.
Again, we begin with “simple” (!) interlacing, and gradually move up to complex interlacing. The chapter includes these subsections: 1. Interlace and trees of life; 2. Single ribbon interlace; and 3. Interlace with animals.
Each sections is thoroughly illustrated, and many of the illustrations show how the designs are “built” to make up their complex interlacings. As the reader absorbs all this – both through reading and the visual aids throughout the book – the whole mechanics of Celtic design become much more understandable and even doable!
When the interlacing starts to get really complex, things get fun! There’s a good bit on lettering and on the inclusion of animals.
Following the section on interlace, the author covers labyrinths in Celtic art, touching on circular labyrinths, medallions with labyrinths, crosses, carpet pages, lozenge-shaped labyrinths, diagonal labyrinths, and carpet-page elements.
Next, we’re into the bestiary elements of Celtic art – these are animal designs that include interlacing, spirals, triskels, and labyrinths as elements in the overall design. Symbolism is also discussed a little bit, which is helpful for the aspiring designer. It’s nice to know what certain images are equated with in art!
The final section of the book shows us how to draw the motifs that dominate Celtic art.
The reader is taken step-by-step through drawing different types of Celtic designs that include the various features illustrated throughout the book. The drawings are somewhat basic, but they give a starting point for learning how everything works together in this highly-recognizable style of art.
Even the dogs from the Lindisfarne Gospels make an appearance!
Speaking of Lindisfarne, if you haven’t seen Ruth O’Leary’s interpretation of the Lindisfarne dogs in embroidery, you really should! They’re a wonderful example of how Celtic art just works as embroidery.
The book closes with an excellent glossary of technical terms, as well as some summary information about the development of Celtic art, including a timeline, maps, and a chronology.
Designing Celtic Ornament is a fun, intriguing, and useful book on design, and if you have any interest at all in Celtic art and imitating it in your own artistic endeavors – whether embroidery or otherwise – you’ll find it an invaluable resource for your design library!
Where to Find It
Designing Celtic Ornament is available through the following book affiliates:
In the US, Designing Celtic Ornament is available here, through Amazon.
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