Irish Monks Go Digital

There was a time when the the brilliant illuminated manuscripts of Irish Monasteries represented the passionate collection of the works of the solitary monk/artisan/craftsman. The intricate knot patterns are a study in a real pattern language. Years ago, when my Picture 3.png creative juices were sought a middle ground between a clear systematic approach and yearning to find break out of these same systems, I discovered the work of George and Iain Bain. – father and son. The elder Bain made a lifetime study of finding the patterns in the knotwork and devising techniques to allow others to appreciate these and to replicate these celtic masterworks for themselves. His son built on these techniques to devise a an even simpler way of creating the elabourate designs. I was hooked and produced some large scale knot patterns. I also discovered the wonder of doodling in square and triangular knot patterns. At one point I even delved into zoomorphical celtic artwork and dicsovered and even larger challenge.

As of late I have not spent the time to keep up with my knots. You’ll note that the logo on the top left corner of this blog is actually a very simple celtic knot. A decade ago I started using Abobe Illustrator to assemble these knots and developed a certain technique to accomplish what I needed. When I did the Randomosity logo I aimed for simplicity, not just for aestehtics, but admittedly because I had lost my familiarity with the technique. This morning, I wanted to throw a quick knot on an icon for the iPhone/ITouch dashboard and felt I needed a knot. To my dismay I couldn’t find my original artwork for the logo and was about to turn to Illustrator to craft something quickly. I happened to do a quick search and stumbled on The Celtic Knot Font. While I may have toyed with the idea of putting little knots into a font (in my font design days) I don’t think I thought of taking the Bain system and assembling a font that could be used to create patterns using individual letters as the building blocks. The creator (knotworker) Daniel Isdell has crafted a brilliant system! I immediately had to purchase one of these fonts to play with. The craftsmanship is superb and the wealth of tutorials and examples at the site get you up and running immediately. They have fonts in a variety of formats (outline, inverse, obverse and now 3D) available. The most simple pattern uses the nine keys to the immediate left of the keyboard and produces one of the most familiar patterns. You simply choose a font size and ensure that your leading is set to 0. Instant knot pattern. This is very, very impressive and cool.

However (and there’s always a but) when reflecting on the nature of celtic ‘knoticisme’, part of the knot journey is the journey itself. So in that sense I am cheating and I feel like I am. The reality is that I must again find and take the time to play with the knots, imagining them in my own mind and then making the transformation myself from imagined through my fingers into fruition. The creative journey is a very meditative and restful pastime. The tool is wonderful and for many uses this is the appropriate tool. If I were creating a website, or constructing a needlework pattern for further crafting, then this is part of a bigger process. When part of the joy of the process is in the imagining, this tool may eliminate that and this is where I feel I am cutting corners. This is not a criticism of the tool itself (I think it is brilliant and applaud the systematic devising of pattern that went into it), merely a reflection on the nature of the process and of when the tool subtracts from the end result. But that is very contextual and I am simply reminded of the tremendous gratification and satisfaction derived from the hours spent crafting knots with ink and paper.

What would the pre-medieval Irish monks think?

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