The Elements, Celtic Style

Yesterday I promised to post some more Celtic art, so today I have two sets of paintings that I did back around the turn of the century on the theme of the four alchemical elements, Earth, Wind, Fire, Water. (I know I seem to be posting a bunch of older art here, but the things I’m working on right now aren’t ready to show — comics take a looooong time!)

I like working to themes, and actually got so obsessed with this one that I did a whole solo show called Elementals. I even wrote a song to go with it, of which I don’t have a recording, but I’ll post the words at the bottom of this post.

Neither of the two sets is very traditional; instead I use the freeform knotwork and spiral shapes to emphasize and ornament the forms of the creatures. This is a lot of fun to do, and very freeing after you’ve been doing a lot of demanding pattern-heavy work. It’s good to have a solid understanding of the traditional shapes and proportions beforehand, though, and for that you’ve got to do the knots, spirals, and key patterns.

The first of the two sets is called Elemental Manifestations. I tried to imagine a fantasy creature for each of the elements, and the colours that would be most symbolic of each element. I was trying for an almost heraldic look, playing up the symbolism rather than the realism, and adding the Celtic motifs helped with that, I think.

This group was made as pen & ink and watercolour on paper, with the images of the creatures and their respective perches cut out and collaged onto a watercolour background. This let me contrast the sharp deliniation of the figures with a dreamy, out-of-focus background without going to a whole lot of trouble masking the figure.





The second series was called Elemental Steeds. I suppose I could have made them all kinds of different animals, but decided to stick to horses because, well, I really like drawing horses!

These were done as acrylic paintings on canvas. I had done a very small set of them in watercolour, which served as the general template for these, and which I issued as notecards.

Elemental steed air smElemental steed earth Elemental steed fire Elemental steed water

Oh, and the song? A funny story about that — my band, Virgo Rising, did it with the Gettin’Higher Choir (a backup chorus of hundreds — definitely a high point of my musical career!). Later I found out that one of the children present at the concert had been asked by one of the choir members which was his favourite song. He said “Gather the Elephants”! I’m going to have to write a parody of my own song one of these days… or maybe make a comic!

I think of it as sort of a teaching song for young alchemists, maybe at a school of wizardry, to learn the attributes of each element.

Anyway, if you kind of chant this and imagine Loreena McKennitt’s band behind it, you’ll get an idea of how it’s supposed to go. Dancing around a fire while doing it, barefoot on the earth, singing with the wind of your lungs, and taking a sip of pure water every now and then should help get you in the proper mood!

Gather the Elements


Earth Wind Fire Water
Son of stone and river’s daughter
Breath of life and heart’s desire
Earth and water, wind and fire

Earth my mother holds me strong
Gather the elements, one by one
Bones of stone through ages long
Feed’s her children life’s own song
Gather the elements, one by one

Wind will wander where she wills
Gather the elements, one by one
Soul of music, emptiness fills
Whispers secrets to the hills
Gather the elements, one by one

Fire so quick so hot so bright
Gather the elements, one by one
Lovers’ passion, dawn’s first light
Hearth for home and stars for night
Gather the elements, one by one

Water does her gifts bestow
Gather the elements, one by one
Nourishing rain to river’s flow
Summer sea and glitt’ring snow
Gather the elements, one by one

Now our count is well and done
Gather the elements, one by one
The world is whole and time does run
From the void existence won
Gather the elements, one by one

(song ©Karen Gillmore 2001)

7 responses to “The Elements, Celtic Style

  1. wow those are really amazing, Karen, the colours and forms are fantastic, and I like how versatile you are, so many interesting projects you are involved in that somehow relate to and feed each other, that´s really how it should be (I am working on that as well 😉 ) … and never a dull moment, eh? 😉


    • Thanks, Cris! I think you are well on your way to that! For me, it’s finally all starting to come together after many, many years of making art (and music). I think that when you have a lot of interests, they amplify each other, and can’t help but become intertwined.


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