Evolution of a Design — Celtic Seahorses

Celtic art has always fascinated me since I first saw it, as has Celtic music. Maybe it’s in the blood; I have a lot of ancestors from Ireland and Scotland. Or maybe it’s just the joy of solving the puzzle in a tricky piece of knotwork or spiral pattern. I usually add my own original spin when I use Celtic styles; I feel the evolution is appropriate and keeps it a living tradition. I sometimes use an existing piece of old art as a springboard; I particularly like adapting eroded old stonework designs into something fresh but in keeping with the tradition.

Here’s a series of pieces based on the same design that I did over several years. I really liked this design that I found in the book “Celtic Design; a Sourcebook of Patterns and Motifs” by Iain Zaczek. It’s part of a rendering of an ancient outdoor stone cross monument. Here’s what it looks like in the book:

Celtic seahorses source illo

The design in the lower left corner is what inspired me to create a more detailed version. I could see that they were intertwined “seahorses”, though not of the fishy kind. In Greek this type of creature is called hippocampus, or horse-sea-monster, but I have no idea what the Celts called them! Anyway, I liked the basic design, and thought it would be fun to imagine it a little more realistically.

At the time I was doing a lot of printmaking, particularly linocuts, and had a series of Celtic images going, so this seemed a natural addition. Also, the linocut technique has a sort of stone-carving-like quality. Here’s what that looks like. This one is printed on banana paper (I know, totally not Celtic!)

Celtic seahorses inocut

I was very pleased with this, and printed it on a number of different types of paper. Some time later I had the urge to make it even more detailed, so I decided to translate it into pen and ink and make it larger. Here’s the result of that:

Celtic seahorses pen and ink

As you can see it is all basically the same design, but with a lot of added “realistic” detail; the scales, some shading, and I made them symmetrical instead of the yin-yang effect. Hey look, I even dated it — 1999! My, my, it seems like yesterday! I issued these as a series of prints, and they sold very well, but I still had a hankering for something more.

With colour printing becoming more and more affordable, I decided to do a colour version. But I wanted it to have more to it than just added colour, so I re-drew it with a complete border with knotwork and Celtic-style zoomorphic sea critters. I really do remember doing this one as if it were yesterday — I was sitting out on the back deck painting the ink drawing with watercolours and coloured pencil (we were having a heat wave and it was too hot to work inside), and as I raised my eyes to rest them from the work, the neighbourhood raccoon with the gimpy leg (we called him Tripod) ambled across the lawn just a few feet in front of me, totally unconcerned by my presence. I guess I had gotten so meditative doing the knotwork, that he didn’t even notice me. I think a little bit of magic ended up in this one, the final (so far) itteration of this design.

Celtic seahorses colour

I’ll be posting some more Celtic imagery in days to come, so stay tuned!

11 responses to “Evolution of a Design — Celtic Seahorses

    • Thank you! Yes, sometimes simpler is better, and the black and white can be quite striking. From reading your blog, I think you have plenty of patience, just using it in a different direction!

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  1. This is my most favoured design by you, I have it beside my bed and look at it often. I love it’s flow, the knotting, colours, expression and emotion. The yin and yang of the seahorses, entwined in love, yet challenging each other. The repetition of heart shapes. It’s perfect!

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