I’m studying this image for the upcoming autumn show that I’m organising called Carpet Pages:

Mulla Ala Bik Tabrizi, Iran, second half of the 16th century, 15 x 10 18 in. (38.1 x 25.7 cm)

It’s by Mulla Ala Bik Tabrizi, Iran, second half of the 16th century, 15 x 10 18 in. (38.1 x 25.7 cm). I flicked through tons of images of Carpet Pages (which it itself an ongoing pleasure-task!) and this manuscript just stuck out at me, calling me somehow… to say it is beautiful is an understatement, so it goes beyond that – it is very even in tone, motifs in the margin flowing in and out of each other in a regular way (unlike other carpet pages which I will feature in future posts, which have motifs sometimes superimposed seemingly without rhyme or reason on top of one another, which is a different kind of beauty) and the geometry inside the carpet box is again regular, ordered, steady.  There is nothing ‘fast’ about this manuscript. It is calm and collected and has a personality that I aspire to for myself. So in a way this piece chose me, too. It’s what I need right now and it found me. What you seek is seeking you.

I’ll go through the process as I make my own Carpet Page inspired by this manuscript, as it is an extremely complex work that requires detailed analysis and breakdown. It will require several posts in the interests of keeping each one readable.

The only ‘flaws’ I would say – and this is entirely down to personal taste and doesn’t in any way undermine the finished manuscript – are a) the fact that for me there are one too many trellised borders and b) the sharafeh, the merlons, the finials that poke out of the margins, are a tad too flimsy and the choice to do extremely simple ones seems like a bit of a hasty afterthought.  Then again, one could argue that the extreme simplicity offsets the extreme complexity of the rest of the piece… but, as a practitioner, I’ve been there. Finishing a piece is hard.  When you’ve done 98% of the work, the remaining 2% can be the toughest to complete, and sometimes, one just sighs and says ‘oh well, let’s chuck it all in, do whatever to finish it, I’m done with it, I just want to finish this and go and have a cup of tea.’ And that attitude – which I have (and which needs changing) – causes one to sabotage one’s work right at the very end. There’s simple, and simple. I have taken the liberty, then, of streamlining the trelliswork a bit in my own piece that follows; additionally I have chosen, after careful consideration, another simple sharafeh/merlon design to finish off the piece, one that I feel suits it more.

Since this is not an exact recreation, but my own contemporary piece heavily inspired by this traditional work, done in the traditional manner, I allow myself poetic license, and to take whatever steps necessary to create beauty in my own piece, in and of itself. Please note that what follows is not the exact traditional way of doing a carpet page (which is to design the whole thing in a segment and then fold and refold etc and then trace down steadily in sequence) – I am recreating – re-creating – a carpet page from scratch, from the initial designing process right through the drawing stage, plus analysing it critically using my ‘layer’ technique which I developed during this process. I am using this layer technique in order to more deeply understand the underlying geometry and how each section of pattern flows into the next. This will take a bit longer but is worth it to get into the soul of things. It’s the hard way, yes, but ultimately more rewarding as my understanding will be more complete.

Here it is.


I’m a great believer in not slavish copying, but recreating through drawing.

Do the hard thing.

Don’t trace it immediately, redraw it first. You will learn more that way.

I sketched out the rough proportions – I am also a great believer in doing things by eye, at least at first. The ruler comes later. Do it by eye first, and it will feel right. You can fuss later. I got the rough dimensions of the major sections by eye. Half-close your eyes, and you can see at first glance that the original manuscript has certain obvious traits: it’s based on a geometry of 4 (and can therefore be quartered), has 3 protruding marginal motifs and has a white cloudlike band that integrates the whole margin and protruding areas (both flipped and upright). Lay the groundwork; do what’s important first. Prioritise!


Based on this information, and because at second glance (a slightly more detailed look, but not the long lingering looks which come later) the white cloud band is really important as it ties together the whole margin, I decided to tackle that first. I drew my own cloud band then traced it. The traditional way to do this, which I follow and which I did here, is to draw half of it and then mirror it with tracing paper, so you get a symmetrical image. That’s your motif. You can then trace the whole thing upside down and do whatever you like with it as now it’s ‘something’.

I modified the cloudband for the diagonal corner. Now I have 2 elements to work with. Based on these 2 simple elements, I can create the entire margin. Isn’t that amazing? And the whole will be more than the sum of its parts… and we start with such small, simple elements.


This is what I mean by my ‘layer’ technique – I break each part of the pattern down into its constituent elements (think of them like building blocks for the pattern) and analyse them one by one, and then can superimpose them later. In a way it’s the opposite of the traditional way, since I don’t start at the top with the complete pattern segment and continue tracing the same segment until I’ve finished – I do only one layer of pattern elements over the whole piece at once. Then I superimpose another layer of pattern over the whole piece. Then a next, and a next… using different tracing paper for different elements. It is definitely the scenic route!

More later!


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