The History

”A long time ago, before the internet, I read a book about a book. A problem with historical fantasies is that you don’t know the history, it’s hard to tell where the fantasy begins. So it didn’t occur to me that the book within the book was real.

A decade passed. Bill moved from watercolours to ink. A friend loaned us a book. And in that book, pictures from the book. From the book inside the story. The library taught me more about the book. The Book of Kells.

No trip from the Coast to a city was complete without trawling a few second-hand book shops, and the summer of 1996 marked the end of the beginning. An illustrated introduction to the book. Full page photos, high resolution photos showing tiny sections in detail.

Finally, in Bernard Meehan’s book, I understood why the book in R A MacAvoy’s story was worth going to such effort to protect. Why Owen Jones spent untold hours tracing a few selections for his Grammar of Ornament. Even simplified down to what I could sketch, celtic illumination captivates me. The curves. The interlacing. Symmetry, asymmetry, balance… The non-artist of the family, I just had to learn to draw. The first piece that I inked is dated 6th March 1986. It’s a capital F made for our daughter Fran.

Trinity College, Dublin, has shared the Book of Kells and other early Irish manuscripts with the world. The British Library has images of the Lindisfarne Gospels and other 8th-9th century works. I’m just starting to discover other manuscripts form museums around the world. I still lose hours looking at a single page.” Chris


Chris and I are digital experts working with Apple computers. It was a natural progression to move our art into the digital space. We honed our skills with pencil, ink, and brush but we found digital tools which enable us to achieve the quality of production we strive for. Our current workflow is as difficult or more demanding in many areas, but enables us to focus on the creative and design aspects rather than repetitive technical discipline.
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The Workflow

We start by inking in Graphic. Turning each line into a vector curve means we can scale it up or down with no pixelization or jaggies.

After Importing the newly made copy of the old source file we set to work. Graphic uses bezier curves this requires placing a selection of points along each line, then I revisit each point and modify its 2 handles bringing the line into place above the template. This is not a quick job and takes many hours. We have developed a number of technics to improve accuracy of the lines we are placing, but the task of placing and setting each point takes time.

Each project is now made up of many elements, we have developed and continue to add to our library of knots, fills and major letters. These are combined into a Graphic file. We mix hand made letters and traditional fonts for the inscriptions..
Next export the cartoon as a nice crisp black and transparent file. Now we need to create the colour masks. I use Clip Studio Paint for this. It has excellent masking tools. Selecting all the internal sections of each segment then flood fill the colour. This colour has nothing to do with the final colour as it is to help identify the sections. Once all the colour masks are created I’m ready for the final working.

Now to the fun part, colouring, for this I use ArtRage. I create the file and set the canvas, with the black cartoon on the top layer. I had been scouring the net for colour materials that dated back to the illuminated manuscripts and found the excellent site Pigments through the Ages. I grabbed the colour swatches and created palettes for the ArtRage document. Using these colours I paint the base colours with the nice brush texture and lighting, then finished the job by laying in the highlight colour.

Bill explains how…

The History of Making Manuscripts