Turn it one way, and it looks like it’s covered in gold…


… turn it another way, and suddenly the white areas pop out as if it’s a completely different painting. I purposely ‘hid’ the white areas – like hiding in plain sight – to achieve this ‘popping’ effect so that you can only see them clearly from certain angles.


The gold centre shines brightly as it’s gilt. The carpet page area is finished at last!


This is a really rich piece that I enjoyed doing and ‘hiding’ things in, and placing things in certain areas so that they ‘grow’ out of each other like a kind of code. I enjoy these visual ‘jokes’. For example, the trelliswork around the smallest horizontal black bars is just dots, then around the second smallest vertical peach bar the dots have grown into 2 lines, and finally around the 3rd main central box they have morphed into Y shapes, with 3 lines.

The Tao begot one.
One begot two.
Two begot three.
And three begot the ten thousand things.
(Tao Te Ching)

There is the malachite colouring in the main box which gives it a vertical direction, like a spine.

The gilt centre is matched by the right-hand gilding triangular shape which sticks out. The orange vertical triangular shape is of course mirrored beneath, and also is complemented by the orange smallest horizontal bars.

The peach (actually Naples yellow) scattered in the main carpet box is matched by its vertical side bar.

The Mayan blue horizontal triangular shape is matched by the sharafeh/merlons surrounding the edge of the piece, and finally, inside those merlons are tiny lavender dots which echo the vertical bar next to the main box – so it’s not the only lavender in the whole painting. Everything has its partner. Everything has a role or a rhyme or a reason to be there.


And this is the whole surface area – my painting trials on the left hand side while I carefully load up my brush with the correct amount of paint. The main black outlining was done after the colour infill of the flowers and other elements but before the background. However it’s not exact science because it also happens after the background, in the islimi parts and also shell gold was the final touch – the little leaf-like lines growing out of the countless spirals and also as the final dots on the sharafeh/merlons. It’s fitting that the first colour to go on is gold and the last colour is also gold.

It’s always worth having a bit of extra paper – the same paper as your final piece – to do brush exercises or tests so it’s on the same surface, so you see how it will react on your real thing (that’s just good science).

And now it just needs its frame… with a twist! It will become apparent in the show: CARPET PAGES I ~










At last, the best bit, for me – the addition of colour. This is where the real ‘painting’ starts. Using my Rocks brush for the infill of the myriad colours; these are not randomly scattered but instead mirror each other symmetrically throughout the piece. I do not really do ‘colour tests’, I just go with the flow and the colours come automatically. In the central box there is a malachite ‘band’ running vertically to highlight the vertical axis; in this way colour can be used strategically to emphasize certain aspects.

I use a mixture of handmade paints from pigments, both natural and synthetic, and shop-bought ready-made colours – I don’t like to restrict myself to one format, instead using the best of both worlds (all are artist’s quality of course). The mussel shells containing the paints lend themselves to the name ‘shell’ colours, eg ‘shell’ gold, simply because they were kept in these convenient shells.

I’ve also done the ruling at this stage of the process since ruling is one of the hardest elements for me and I like to get it out of the way early – again not the traditional way of doing it but perhaps the pragmatic way. My ruling pen is an antique ivory instrument my husband gifted me from Portobello market years ago (back when it was good and there were warren-like cubbyholes of antique sellers). These older models often have a sharper point than the newer ones, though ruling itself is an art (one to which, in the past, there would have been specialists dedicated).

It’s starting to take shape and really look like a carpet now.

Note – there are several cast shadows in my photos because I do the majority of my work at night! ~






Gold, after red. In terms of gold, gilding always comes first. Since shell gold is actually gold paint (it is real gold – crushed and made into a pigment then a paint – literally liquid gold – more on that later) it can be done at any stage of a painting as it’s more flexible and can be used like you would use paint.  Here it’s done straight after the gilding, since there is a lot of it and it anyway makes sense to do it first since all other elements are based around this.

Loose leaf gold is fine, flyaway stuff, like a kind of fairy foil, so it’s a separate skill involving hand-eye coordination and fine motor control. It needs specialist tools. Here I’m using water gilding (there is also oil gilding for things like picture frames and statues). Water gilding can be raised, as in European manuscripts, and done on a 3D gesso surface to catch the light; I’ve never seen it in Islamic manuscripts, which were always flat. This could possibly be because the vast majority of Islamic manuscripts were done on paper, which is very flexible and gesso would crack. European manuscripts were also done on vellum or parchment which is thicker and can stand the gesso. Different climes, different techniques. Both are beautiful. I’ve layered my gold up to get a slight raised effect as I do like it; you can double- or triple- gild in this way too.

The gold is cut with a very sharp gilder’s knife on a suede leather gilding mat (luckily because my husband works in this field I have a bespoke fine leather one) and then the area to be gilt is painted with gold size (gum ammoniac, water gold size, garlic, honey… various ways!). There is a window period of tackiness which you have to watch out for (you can just about see the shine in the top left photo), and this is the time to gild – not too wet, not too dry. When it’s tacky the gold is lifted gently with a gilder’s tip (squirrel hair) and ‘dropped’ onto the surface, where it sticks almost like magnetism (this is most apparent in glass gilding). I always leave it and wait until it’s fully dry before tamping it or indeed tampering with it. It’s worth waiting for as gold picks up any contours both underneath it or on top of it, like a fine gold carpet of snow dust across a bumpy landscape.  You want it to look like a manicured golden lawn.

Once it’s fully dry – and depending on the season this can be hours or even overnight – you can gently brush or tap off the excess gold with a gilder’s mop (squirrel hair again) and then see if the gold has taken to all areas and whether you need to re-gild or not. The excess gold that is brushed off is kept in a jar, ready to make shell gold at a later date. If the gold has covered the area well then you can burnish with an agate burnisher. A dog’s tooth burnisher (so-called because of the resemblace to an actual dog’s tooth) is a good all-round shape. All gold tools are always kept separately to other tools as any impurities or surface scratches will show up on the gold.

I’m using my Clouds Brush – Fine Detail to paint the shell gold. It’s dreamy ~



And now for something at the opposite end of the scale: macro carpet page illumination for my upcoming Carpet Pages I show in October, which I’m curating.
As usual I’m working completely freehand, large-scale, in our new studio
Work in progess.  I took one section from the photocopy (seen on the wall, bottom left) and just drew it freehand, using my eye to guide the proportions, then repeated it to fit the large paper stretched onto MDF ~