I wanted to share with you some of my new and recent Celtic knotwork learning for my own art practice…
This year, I’ve decided to spend more time concentrating on drawing Celtic knotwork and including it in my artwork – as well as learning Calligraphy.
These are both art forms that I explored in my childhood and loved!
My mum trained as an art teacher in the 1960s and did her dissertation on Celtic art in Ireland – specifically the Book of Kells. So I was lucky enough to be allowed to play with her dissertation, and she gave me the postcards she’d collected of the Book of Kells to play with and to inspire me.
My mum also taught me how to draw simple Celtic spirals – so that’s what I doodled as a child…
This is also known as the triskele or triskelion and has been found in Malta dating from as early as 4400 BCE and is carved into rock at Newgrange burial ground in Ireland dating from 3200 BCE where it is thought to have formed part of an astronomical calendar!
Beyond that date it's been found in many other cultures and became a popular Celtic symbol seen often in Celtic art.
Growing up in Wales, I was surrounded by Celtic culture, crafts, and design – and I loved it. I think I must have absorbed the swirling patterns into my psyche by osmosis!
My dad loved the Celts and Celtic history too. When I was born, my dad was all for calling me Boudicea (Boudicca in the Celtic tongue or Buddug in Welsh) after the legendary Celtic warrior queen of the Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the Romans…
Thankfully, my mum intervened, and I became a Charlotte instead – or else I may have gone onto a very different life!
My dad loved King Arthur too – and our family day-trips were to sites associated with King Arthur all around South Wales, where we lived.
Some claim King Arthur as a Cornish king, but there is plenty of evidence to place him in 5th century Wales, too...
In effect, at that time, there were the native British-Romano-Celts who defended their land against the Anglo-Saxon invaders. England and Wales as concepts had not come into being at this early time - and it is likely that places, events and battles associated with the historic King Arthur crossed our modern-day boundaries of England, Wales and Scotland too....
So we would visit places like:
I’ve always been keen on history and studied history at university, where I was delighted to be able to explore Arthurian and other Celtic legends further in the medieval literary texts we studied.
In recent years, I’ve become more interested again in the old Celtic tales and in reviving my Celtic knotwork doodlings of my childhood…
I’ve dabbled in a very small way for a few years, but I decided to explore the topic in a more committed way this year – and I hope that I’ll also be able to bring you some more Celtic folklore and tales that inspire my art.
It’s so interesting to see how many of the original Celtic beliefs and customs have formed the basis for some of our own modern customs and cultures, including festivals such as Easter, Halloween, and Christmas – an ancient belief system which evolved with us, as people originally living of and with the land.
I love that the Celtic culture is so connected to nature and the turning of the year – using these natural principles and forces of nature to inform lifestyle.
My art has always focused on a very personal connection to nature and the feelings of energy and calm which I gain by spending time in nature and focusing my attention on the natural world as I include it in my artworks.
Now, I want to take these explorations further and see how this connection to nature forms part of our shared culture and heritage.
Modern-day Celtic culture often focuses on Scotland, Wales, and Ireland – but these are simply what remains in the most westerly and northerly outposts as successive invasions of Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and Normans evolved the culture of the more easterly areas of the British Isles in a slightly different direction.
In fact, what could be “the most important British Celtic art object of the millennium” according to Dr. Melanie Giles of the University of Manchester – a 2000-year-old Iron Age Celtic shield with a beautiful, spiral La Tene design and unique scalloped edge was found in 2018 in Pocklington, not 10 miles from my home in East Yorkshire - in a warrior-burial with a chariot and horses that were positioned “… placed with their hooves on the ground and their rear legs looking as though they would leap out of the grave” according to archaeologist Paula Ware – a previously unknown phenomenon.
Just 10 miles in the other direction, is the centre of the Celtic Iron Age Arras culture associated with the Parisi tribe, named for the large 2000-year-old Celtic cemetery unearthed at Arras Farm near Market Weighton where Celtic warriors of the La Tene period were buried with chariots (but no horses have been found).
Originally, the Celtic culture evolved from mid and eastern Europe (and a similar Celtic Iron Age chariot burial with horses was discovered in Svestari, Bulgaria) and the Celtic culture developed and evolved westwards from there, into western Europe, Great Britain, and Ireland.
After Roman times in Britain, Celtic Christian sites like the abbeys of Lindisfarne and Whitby in the North of England were beacons of Celtic culture which have gifted us such treasures as the Lindisfarne Gospels.
Celtic culture permeated even into such typically Anglo-Saxon literature as the epic Beowulf, with similarities noted to the Irish saga Tain Bo Fraich.
King Alfrid of Northumbria, who had a Celtic education in Ireland, may have been the author. The book of Beowulf, it is believed, certainly spent time at the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.
The famous Anglo-Saxon king, Alfred the Great, in the later 9th century, looked towards Celtic influence in his own learnings and took Asser of St David’s in Wales to be his personal teacher and adviser and many of Alfred’s codified laws may have been strongly influenced by Celtic law systems.
As a more westerly outpost of the Celtic culture, Ireland in particular, as well as the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and the Isle of Man, remained more strongly Celtic in their Christian tradition and Irish Christian missionaries worked to spread this throughout much of Europe, reaching Russia and Iceland and possibly even North America with their influence.
Interestingly, there is also evidence in myths, legends, artwork styles, and linguistically how our Celtic origins are in some way linked to Indian Hindu culture and a shared Indo-European culture of origin!
I love how these threads of Celtic knotwork and culture interweave and knot us all together – across Europe and across the world – in shared aspects of culture and a shared humanity.
So I’ve been practising drawing my Celtic knotwork – and I’ve even started including some knotwork designs into recent artworks, basing my designs on ancient knotwork from Celtic stones and Celtic manuscripts...
And also having a go at designing some of my own – you can see one of my own knotwork designs in my Celtic Barn Owl artwork right below.
I like to draw my Celtic knots freehand, using squared paper to keep some semblance of order!
Drawing my Celtic knotwork freehand seems to keep the knot designs looking real – almost alive, somehow – with a sense of movement, in contrast to the very straight or computer-generated Celtic knotwork that you sometimes see these days.
I know that my Celtic knots will sometimes have mistakes. They certainly won't always be straight and perfect!
But I think that the imperfections make them feel more authentic, interesting and real – full of life! – and it will make sure that the knotwork fits seamlessly with my drawing style, too, which is looser with a distinctive, hand-drawn look.
This feels like just the start of a new chapter in my art journey – I can’t wait to share more with you about Celtic folklore, stories and the tasty titbits I’ve been finding out.
I especially want to use my art to nurture our connection with nature and also feel it in context with our human story, too – through art, history, story/legend and nature.
I hope you’ll stick around and join me on the journey – and I hope you'll enjoy the ride-along with me! I'm looking forward to learning, exploring, creating art and sharing that art, learning, and stories with you...
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Author: Lotti Brown
Artist, designer, and online drawing teacher.
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