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Insular Designing

Treasures such as the Tara Brooch and the Lindisfarne Gospels, the earliest 'Celtic' crosses, and Anglo-Saxon poems belong to the 'Insular' tradition of art, evolved in ireland and England, seventh through tenth centuries.

What unites these superb creations is a shared method of designing: their forms are all generated as a coherent 'accumulated geometry.' With the simple tools of compass and straight-edge, and with profound understanding or proportion, the craftsmen created forms having perfect coherence and seamless resolution.

This site offers a practical guide to the designing of Insular art, in a combination of description of its tools and techniques and selected demonstrations of the creation of specific designs.

~ Robert D. Stevick



Only two tools are required, the compass and the straight-edge. They work on a flat surface (a plane).

Compass, also called a pair of compasses: Mechanically, this is nothing more than two members, usually called 'legs,' joined by a pivot, or hinge. The legs may be straight or curved or otherwise, so long as they are rigid. The joining may be at the ends of the legs, or at some point midway along their lengths. If midway, the compasses may be 'proportional,' the extensions at one end proportional to the extensions at the others.

Functionally, the compass is used for drawing circles or parts of circles ('arc'), and to 'take' measures. In drawing circles or portions of them, the end of one leg (its 'foot') is fixed in place, and the other end (the other 'foot') moves along a plane surface, marking its path. In taking measures, the feet of the compass are placed at the points to be measured.

Straight-edge: Mechanically, this is nothing more than a piece of flat material having one edge that is straight, that is to say, extending uniformly in a single direction.

Functionally, a straight-edge guides the path for a moving point for making the direct (shortest) path between two points.


Tara Brooch (QuickTime)

Dunadd Motif-piece (QuickTime)

Design Method Demonstration for Lunula (QuickTime)

Guthlac A, Commodular Relations Among the Parts (QuickTime)

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