Book Review: Islamic Geometric Patterns
Tuesday, January 12th, 2016
I have always loved Islamic art for its restfulness and beauty. From the breathtaking majesty of the elaborately decorated Blue Mosque in Istanbul and the intricate detail of Al-Azhar in Cairo, to the elegant splendour of the Taj Mahal, Islamic art simultaneously impresses the mind, inspires the heart, and soothes the soul.
At the core of Islamic art are geometric patterns, and thanks to the excellent book Islamic Geometric Patterns by the expert Eric Broug, anyone can create their own designs with little more than a compass and ruler. I have had my battered copy for several years now and have found making the patterns it describes relaxing and satisfying.
All geometric patterns are based on a perfect circle and traditional craftsmen had little more than a rope by way of equipment. “A compass and a ruler are sophisticated versions of the rope; nothing more was needed then,” Broug explains in the introduction. One of his aims is to help readers witness patterns taking shape as craftsmen did for centuries.
The book begins with clear instructions about creating basic shapes (a square, a hexagon, and a pentagon), which can be combined to make complicated and effective designs. Broug gives some examples of his own work and traditional patterns to demonstrate what can be achieved.
However, the majority of Islamic Geometric Patterns is devoted to step-by-step instructions for the making of various designs. There are nineteen patterns in total, divided into three levels of complexity; easy, intermediate and hard. My children have done some of the easier ones with little or no help, while I found the harder ones challenging. Best of all we have managed to make some pictures which look okay! Trying to draw a scene or object would soon bring us face-to-face with our artistic limitations, but the results we’ve achieved with geometric patterns have been encouraging and kept us drawing and painting.
Broug has collected patterns from around the Muslim world and gives a concise history for each before showing exactly how it can be made. Amongst the designs is one from the royal chapel in Sicily, commissioned by the King who was interested in Islamic culture. I love the fact that art can be a bridge between cultures and people. This is evident when seeing how cathedrals and temples have been influenced by Islamic art and vice versa. Other designs in the book hale from Europe, Africa, Asia and Arabia, with Broug showing no bias towards any country or era.
But if the idea of creating a geometric pattern from scratch doesn’t appeal, then a CD is provided with wallpapers, sample patterns, and basic templates. There is also a gallery of photos and illustrations to inspire. The sample patterns are especially useful for young children who want to join in, but can’t use a compass (or even a ruler).
While I have found this book sufficient for my hobby, there is another much more detailed book by the same author which would provide the enthusiast with more material and techniques. It is filled with stunning photographs and better explains the history of Islamic art and architecture. And, of course, Eric Broug has his own YouTube channel which is well worth checking out.
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