Student’s Work from the PSTA Summer School 2010 Course in Islamic Manuscript Illumination

Dear blog readers,

I would like to share some of my student’s fantastic work from the course that I taught last week: a one-week summer school workshop in Islamic manuscript illumination held at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London.

The week started with a session on geometry, where students learnt how to construct 6, 8 and 12-fold patterns that are commonly used designing illuminated manuscript pages. We then looked at traditional floral motifs and painting techniques.

Each student got to practice their brushwork skills by outlining leaves and flowers using size 0 and 2 sable brushes. The objective of this exercise was to practice brush control, creating a line that went from thick to thin and vice versa.
The next stage was to learn about composition. Many people seem to think that Islamic designs happened spontaneously, with no planning or thought behind them. Another common misconception is that there exists some kind of pattern book, where designs are simply copied from an older source. The truth is that each illuminated composition is bespoke to the calligraphy that it is intended to ornament. Every design goes through a rigorous process to ensure that both the geometric and floral elements compliment each other and harmonise into one unified piece. This can easily take between one and several days of work, depending on the scale of the project.

Arabesque designs begin as hand-drawn spirals to imitate the growth patterns of nature. Flowers and leaves are then added to these spirals so that the space is filled in equal proportions. An illuminator will then re-work and re-develop the composition over and over again until they are happy that every aspect of the design is in harmony with the rest. Most importantly, if calligraphy forms a part of the piece, the illumination needs to compliment the calligraphy but not overshadow it.
To the right is an example of one of my student’s paintings in progress. If you look very closely, you can see pencil lines from her original composition. Once this was finalised, I taught a session on the use of gold leaf and shell gold paint. Traditionally, the gold is the first colour to be applied, with flower shades painted afterwards. The technique used here involves subtle shading with gouache or watercolour, followed by a more defined outline. The Turkish name for this technique is halkar.
And here is the completed work! As a first piece, I think this is an excellent start. The student is well on her way to understanding the principles of traditional Islamic floral design. Had there been more time, we could have refined this design further, but considering the time that we had, I’m very happy. The gold has been applied with accuracy and the halkar technique is working well. Outlines are also very good. A great start!
This next student wanted to try several different illumination techniques all on one page. This meant that she could easily compare styles. The photo below is just a small section of a much larger sheet.
Below is a detail from another student’s work. She’s tried a technique called tarama, where very fine lines are used to shade each flower. A very brave decision! I think that tarama is one of the most difficult techniques to master.
Bold colours and a striking design using a layering of flat colours. This technique is called kadameli, or klassik in Turkish.
The following two images are from students who chose to compose their designs within shamsa shapes. A shamsa literally means “little sun” in Arabic.
Such joyous colours! You can feel the warmth and enthusiasm in this painting.

Detail from another shamsa design. Simple, elegant and refined – just like the artist! I love how she has kept the palette very restrained – just three shades of purple, which have been lightened with white. The simple leaf embellishments are also a lovely addition to the border.

Two experimentations combining flowers with geometric design. The piece on the left uses halkar, the gentle shading technique, while the painting on the right demonstrates bold silhouettes, known as negatif.

And finally…

One ambitious student set herself the challenge of painting an entire illuminated border. She has yet to decide on what to go in the middle – perhaps either a miniature painting or some calligraphy. I think that this is absolutely beautiful and cannot wait to see the completed design! Take a look at the details below:

Well done everyone, and thank you for such an inspiring week! Keep up the great work! I’m looking forward to receiving emails of your completed designs.

My next course will be held at Morley College in Waterloo. For details, take a look at my previous post.

Future courses at the PSTA will be held over four weekends in October / November. Details to follow soon.
This entry was posted in Gilding, Islamic Art Courses, Islamic Manuscript Illumination, Pattern in Islamic art, Student's Work. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Student’s Work from the PSTA Summer School 2010 Course in Islamic Manuscript Illumination

  1. RR says:

    The Islamic Illumination course was excellent. It was taught by Ayesha over a 5 day period and was extremely well organised & delivered, so much so that I decided to book another subsequent course with her immediately.

    Ayesha is a teacher and practising artist herself. She has trained formally in Turkey from a Master Illuminator which is where this traditional art originates. Just having completed her Masters and now about to embark on a PhD, I felt I was in expert hands!

    The class was taught via demonstration and by Ayesha showing us her own work. It was a very interesting and absorbing 5 days where I learnt a huge amount.

    The teaching was inspiring and we were taught in a samll group of about 10 students which was nice as we got to know one another.

    Ayesha is very good in delivering her teaching by differentiation which means she will develop you according to your ability level. I thought this was excellent as not all of us had to to the same thing at the same pace….

    In addition we all developed our own compositions for our illumination piece and Ayesha really gave us the support we needed to do this.

    We were taught painting techniques and how to use a vast array of sepcialised materials and Ayesha showed us her own work which was unbelievably skilled and very beautiful.

    I learnt a great deal on the course and would recommend it to anyone wishing to learn more about this specialised area of the Islamic Arts, we are so lucky in the UK that we have people to teach us these traditional skills that have all but died out.

    I produced a floral border and composed it from scratch and then composed a colour scheme. I was then shown which style to paint it in, this was amongst 4-5 differnet painting techniques shown to us in a demonstration.

    My piece in the last on on this page with the rectangle floral border, I was truly inspired am looking forward to learning more of this specialised art in the future.

  2. Ayesha Gamiet says:

    Dear RR,

    Thank you so much for your kind feedback! I'm so glad that you benefited from the course and feel inspired to continue! Looking forward to seeing you on the next course in October/ November.

    Best wishes,


  3. arub says:

    You know what? It really has a female touch to the whole thing; those feminists will go crazy on woman's hour when they hear about this- its so different to the stuff you usually see…cuz its not just another accomplished male designer…
    Its not just the colours, less clutter, simpler, very carefully balanced and highly organised…everything looks like it has a connection with something else; though this might just be your personality and I've marred it by my sweeping 'feminist' generalisations :)

  4. Ayesha Gamiet says:

    Hi Arub!

    Thanks for your comments. Each piece reflects something of the artist who created it, and I had an all-female class this time around, so perhaps that's why everything looks feminine!

    "those feminists will go crazy on woman's hour when they hear about this- its so different to the stuff you usually see"

    - "crazy" in a good way, I hope?! lol!

    Best wishes,

    A xxx

  5. Pingback: Student’s Work from the PSTA Autumn 2010 Course in Islamic Manuscript Illumination | Ayesha Gamiet - Art, Illustration and Design

  6. Rula says:

    Love this. What a wonderful output of art from your class.
    Rula from
    Corcoran College of Art + Design, Washington DC

  7. Noorjahan khanom says:

    I’m interested in the above course ‘islamic manuscript illumination’, please let me know when the next course is running..Thankyou x

Leave a Reply to RR Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>