Bryn Edmonston is a self-taught artist specializing in colorful geometric layered paper cutouts, putting a contemporary twist on an ancestral art form. Her work is inspired by the tiling and plaster carvings of Southern Spain, which has been her home for over 10 years. The discipline and satisfaction involved in Islamic art has always been appealing to this American-born artist.
We talk to Bryn about her journey as an artist, creative process and future aspirations.
When did you first start practicing as an artist?
I was spending a month in London in the summer of 2016, and I found myself with some free time. I’ve always been interested in crafting and creating with my hands, especially 3D things--furniture, geometric decorations, etc, and always been slightly obsessed with symmetry. I had tried previously to draw an Islamic design using graph paper, having no idea how to do it really, acutely aware that it didn’t have the correct proportions. Inspired by the amazing examples of Islamic architecture and tiling in southern Spain, where I had been living since 2010, I started looking on the internet for a design tutorial. Of course, I started with a complicated 12-fold rosette pattern without really knowing what I was getting into, and I got hooked! I loved it so much that the next day I went to the art supplies store and bought some paper, a proper ruler and compass and drawing pens. Around 2018, I started trying to cut out some of my designs and after lots of trial and error, my current style has evolved into what it is today.
Your works are inspired by Islamic geometry. What made you develop an interest in these artistic traditions?
I was lucky enough to move to Spain in 2010, and I was just fascinated by what I saw at the amazing historic monuments here, such as the Alhambra or the Great Mosque of Córdoba. Anywhere you look in Spain, there is just this understated beauty, and I grew up not having that around me. The history of Muslim Spain is fascinating and eye-opening, as the contribution of Muslim mathematicians and scientists had a significant influence on Spain’s history. I have some background in drawing and fine arts, as I once was an art major, but not for long (I didn’t have the patience for it at age 20!) but besides art classes, my formal training is minimal. I have always been drawn to technical drafting and architecture blueprints, even though I’ve never learned how to make them myself. My family used to remark that I should have studied architecture, and sometimes I wish I had. My mom was an artist for many years, and my dad an engineer, so I think this art form combines those two influences very well. Figuring out an Islamic pattern is truly like solving a puzzle, and when you finally get it, the feeling is so rewarding.
How did you train to become an artist specializing in these traditional artforms?
My training included a variety of different avenues, but it all started with some tutorials on YouTube, Samira Mian’s Udemy course, and some books. With the current availability of tutorials on Instagram and other social media, Islamic designs have become a very accessible art form for many. I’ve also attended several courses throughout Europe and Morocco, both in person and online, put on by masters in this field, whose knowledge is incredibly profound and enlightening. Plus, getting like-minded artists together in one place creates a “beehive” of learning, and the insights from other students is also very helpful.
What is your creative process like and what tools do you use?
The process starts with a handmade drawing, created with just a compass, ruler and a pencil. On principle, I don’t cut out designs that I have not previously drawn “from scratch.” Once the design is made, usually I will transfer it to a new piece of paper that is more suitable for cutting, such as a lower-weight card stock. From there, I start cutting out the design using an Xacto handle and Excel Blades #11 blades, then affix other colored paper layers onto the back. I continue to cut them out, usually using smaller and smaller cuts, until I’ve achieved all the layers I want. I then paste the layers in order if they are not already glued, either using scrapbooking glue or acid-free double-sided adhesive dots. For me, the hardest decision to make along the way is what colors to use. I am still learning about color theory and am always testing out new color palettes.
Your work has a contemporary aesthetic, how did you create this style?
Since tiled Islamic art is so traditional and “maximalistic,” I try to make it more contemporary by using surprising or unusual colors, and making a design more lively through playful colors or “hidden” layers. I like to use metallic or 3D papers too and sometimes interweave the paper. However, sometimes leaving the cutout as simple as can be is a way to make a statement in itself. If it’s a bespoke/commission piece, it depends on the client and/or the context in which the piece will be placed, as sometimes commission pieces use colors per the clients’ request. My favorite reactions to my cutouts are, “How did you do that?”
Your paper cutouts are incredibly detailed and delicate, how long does it take for you to create a piece?
I work as a teacher full-time, so I create in my free time. The amount of time it takes from the drawing stage is probably between 24 to 48 hours total. However, if I have all the decisions made beforehand and I know what colors I’m going to use, it can take less time. Keep in mind though that this is 24 hours in increments of approximately one to two hours a day, so it usually takes me about two weeks to finish a piece.
Can you share your favourite work of art you have created so far with us and why is it your favourite?
This is really hard to say! All of my pieces have a special little piece of my heart and soul that go into them, and each one is so different. Some that I love I have not had as positive of a reaction from the public, and some have had an unexpectedly overwhelming reaction from the public. One of my favorite ones is essentially my first large paper cut out, which uses bubblegum pink as the base color. It’s affectionately called “Nasrid Barbie” as it’s a pattern that is found in the Sala de las dos Hermanas (Hall of the Two Sisters) at the Alhambra, and reminded me of my sister and I growing up playing with Barbies.
Growing up, which artists inspired you?
In elementary school, my mother, who had studied art history, would come give presentations on artists in my classes, and we would visit the St. Louis Art Museum regularly. I’ve always preferred abstract minimalist contemporary art styles to traditional ones, especially with clean lines, such as the work of Piet Mondrian or Ellsworth Kelly.
To me, Islamic designs are so appealing because they perfectly combine the contemporary and traditional. There are so many artists today that inspire my work, some of whom I’ve been lucky enough to meet in person- Adam Williamson, Richard Henry, Alan Adams, Daud Sutton, Ameet Hindocha, Rajen Astho, Samira Mian, Sandy Kurt, among many others.
What are your aspirations as an artist?
For the time being, I create art as a hobby. I could never imagine my life without art, DIY, or making something with my hands. It keeps my head on straight and helps me focus. It gives me something to do when there is nothing to do. It keeps me company in the slower times of life! Of course, the media or its appeal may change, but if you have that creative spark, I think that never leaves you. As for the next few years, I would like to continue sharing my art, experimenting with different media, creating an online store, and possibly imparting some online courses! The latter has been my dream for a while and there seems to be more demand now that online classes have really taken off.
What do you think the future of Islamic art looks like and how do you think we can continue to keep the tradition alive?
I think we are seeing a huge influx nowadays in the interest in Islamic patterns as an art form. The accessibility of patterns and designs as well as classes and training, many of which are now online, are helping to spread its popularity around the globe. The onset of social media has made this possible for many people. Into the future, I believe we will help keep these traditions alive by being able to share knowledge more easily and quickly, and coming together as a community with a common goal of learning and enjoying a peaceful, meditative practice together.
For more information follow Bryn on Instagram @thegeometrista
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