Although I’m not getting much time to work on my own art these days, it doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped thinking about it. In fact, I’ve been thinking about my illumination work a lot recently. Emails from past and potential students, plus my recent trip to Istanbul has reminded me of just how much I miss it all! I am longing to update my website gallery with new, completed illumination works, but I doubt I’ll be able to even contemplate working on them for at least the next few months. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some pictures of works in progress. Wish me luck in completing them and enjoy the images!
The illumination at the top of this post is a piece that I am gifting to my parents in thanks for all of their love and support over the years. There is a little story behind how it came about, which I’ve related in this blog post. The calligraphy is one of their favourite verses of the Qur’an, and I think that it encapsulates how they live their lives, and the values that they have tried to install within us, their children.
A few close ups:
The picture above shows a detail of where I’ve started painting islimi (floral patterns). The silhouette design is called “negatif”, while the coloured flowers are called “classic”. The designs for all of these illuminations were composed by me, with the help of my teacher. We created compositions that are bespoke, reflecting the character, style and scale of the calligraphy. I spent many hours designing each section of pattern on tracing paper, before transferring my compositions into each area with 0.3 pencil.
I’ve used 23 and 18 carat gold in the borders of this illumination. I’ve rubbed an agate burnisher over the 23 carat gold to make it shine, while the 18 carat gold (yellowish in colour) has been left matte – it tarnishes when burnished directly, so needs only a light, indirect burnish through greaseproof paper. You can also see where I’ve started painting the woven border. I use black calligraphy ink and a 10×0 round sable brush to do this (as far as I know, it is the smallest sable brush you can get!) I love how Nassar, the calligrapher of this piece chose to use a sepia coloured calligraphy ink. I think that it gives the work a very “warm” feel, which is in character with the nature of the verse. A translation of this calligraphy can be found on my initial blog post about the piece.
The next two works are a pair. The calligraphy is from the first and second chapters of the Qur’an. The first is Surah Al Fatiha, while the second is the start of Surah Al Baqarah. I chose a soft, subtle and delicate style of illumination for these two pieces. The method consists of subtle shading by mixing shell gold (hand-ground gold paint) with water infused with gelatine – halal gelatine of course! This technique is called halkar in Turkish.
The large gold circles are decorative “full stops”, which will be adorned with tiny, coloured geometric patterns once complete. I have hardly made a start on the piece below, except for transferring my design around the calligraphy with pencil.
Below is a detail of ‘Al Fatiha’. As you can see, the flowers used in halkar are much larger than those used in classic and negatif. However, this doesn’t make them easier to paint! The idea with this style of illumination is to concentrate the colour on the tips of the petals, then gently fade the colour towards the centre of the flower. This creates the illusion that the flower is illuminated from within. The subtlety of such delicate shading with the gold is very difficult to master. When gold is painted on a light background, such as the handmade papers used below, it needs to be held underneath a light source at an angle to see the gold shining. For me, part of the beauty of this technique is that it draws you in to take a second look: due to its subtlety, you may only catch a glimpse of the gold at first. A closer inspection reveals the richness and beauty of a piece. In the photo below, you can see where I’ve applied halkar shading to the flowers, then added a thin, maroon outline to each shape.
This illumination is also an example of halkar, but on a darker background:
Here is the complete version of the illumination above:
The next image shows my progress with another illumination painted in the classic style:
If you look into the large gold areas below, you’ll see that one area has the beginnings of a tiny, maroon-coloured design painted on the surface of the gold. To finish this piece, I need to apply those tiny maroon patterns to all each little gold section. I also need to paint a woven border into the work (as seen on the work at the top of this post), and add the fine “needlepoint” designs, which can be seen a the bottom of this picture. Tiny coloured details in each of the flowers also need to be completed.
I’ve got my work cut out for me!
A finished illumination in the classic style looks something like this:
Another technique used by illuminators is called tarama. This involves shading with shell gold to create an effect almost like an etching:
In a way, this technique is similar to halkar in that the flowers are larger, and colour is concentrated on the tips of the petals, then faded towards the centre. However, instead of shading by diluting gold with water, the illuminator creates the impression of light and shadow by drawing lines with tiny brushstrokes – closer together at the tips and further apart towards the centre of each flower. Here is my finished illumination:
I hope that you have enjoyed this whistle stop tour of my works in progress! There is so much to do, but complete it I will, insh’Allah. Wish me luck, and please keep me in your prayers.
With love and light!