Celtic Art in a Technical Drawing Class

By Dee, Clare | School Arts, December 1994 | Go to article overview

Celtic Art in a Technical Drawing Class


Dee, Clare, School Arts


The relationship of art to other disciplines has always fascinated me. Without sacrificing the integrity of art for art's sake, I imagine there must be a grand, cosmic force behind the close connection between art, science and mathematics.

As a high school art teacher who also teaches technical drawing, I enjoy discovering projects that introduce artistic concepts, have technical roots and are challenging. High school students enjoy working with drawing instruments and value those drawings that are intricate, finely detailed and show off technical drawing skill.

At about midterm, the students begin to tire of the state-mandated orthographic projection, or three-view drawings of machine parts. Crane hooks, edge protectors and ball bearings have little importance to teenagers. My solution to the integration of art concepts and technical drawing skills was a project based on Celtic art.

Inspiring illuminations

The Book of Kells is a beautifully illuminated manuscript written near the end of the eighth century. The intricately detailed page borders are artistically decorative but seemed to require great, technical skill and could inspire my students. Woven forms, or lace work, decorate the text and dazzle the eye. As I thought about projects inspired by the illuminations, I envisioned my class constructing designs with T-squares, triangles, French curves and compasses.

When I first saw The Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, I used a magnifying glass to look closely at the details. I was amazed by the patience and skill the artists must have had. The ancient Celtic artists, in their profession of religious devotion, created painstaking labyrinths of tiny forms to seem like "the work of angels. " The continuous ribbons that decorate the borders of the manuscript have no beginning or end, symbolizing the continuity of life.

Historical Background

I began the instruction of Celtic art with a slide presentation on Celtic history. The Celts were the most powerful and barbaric of the ancient European peoples and are known for their fine craftsmanship in bronze, iron and gold, decorated war and horse gear, and eating and drinking vessels, as well as for their monumental stone carvings. Celtic art dates back to thousands of years before Christ and covers a broad territory, not just Ireland. The Celtic art that inspired this project is based on ancient Irish art, specifically the nonobjective, curvilinear designs found in manuscripts.

I showed my students examples of curving, interwoven forms in jewelry, in chalices and in manuscripts. I gave each student a packet of examples of Celtic forms and constructions. The construction principles of Celtic art can be found in George Bain's Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction. The chapters include illustrations of knot work borders, knot work panels, spiral or key patterns, zoomorphic forms, humanistic forms and Celtic lettering. With enlarged renderings, my students were able to examine the knot work in detail. I encouraged them to be inspired by the illustrations but to create a unique work of art. …

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