Beauty without baggage – Eric Broug and Islamic geometric design
Several years ago I found Eric Broug’s Islamic Geometric Patterns, and it opened a window of understanding in my mind. I saw how Muslim artists used geometry to develop beautiful, intricate designs – and learned how I could create similar patterns.
My study had begun as a way to gain appreciation for my Muslim neighbors, and books like the ones Eric writes taught me a process which became a calming meditation. Although these are undeniably Islamic patterns, through learning their construction I entered a place of meditative reflection appropriate to the higher aspirations of any faith.
Eric has always been interested in art history and really started focusing into geometric design about 25 years ago. In 2008 he released that book I found, Islamic Geometric Patterns, and followed up with 2013’s Islamic Geometric Design and 2016’s Islamic Design Workbook (particularly handy). For the last 5 or 6 years he has also been teaching workshops to share these processes, and help people discover they can make these beautiful patterns as well.
And about a year and a half ago, somewhat to his own surprise, Mr. Broug discovered so many people enjoy learning these processes that he was able to pursue workshop teaching as a fulltime career – a career crossing continents and language barriers alike.
He was kind enough to take a few moments out of his busy schedule to share some of his adventures with me.
My first questions were about his background and what brought him to devote his energy to teaching Islamic geometric design.
An author, educator, and designer, “I didn’t really decide to do it,” he recalls. In his fascination with books and art history, Islamic design presented itself and his heart responded. “I didn’t choose Islamic design, it found me.” It called to his heart, he said, and wouldn’t let go.
Is this a religious thing? I asked.
“It’s funny – only TV interviewers ever ask that question,” he laughs. Islamic design, despite connotations with the name, is universally appealing, and everyone who takes part in the workshops – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – find joy and a sense of accomplishment learning the patterns.
“The funniest thing is the kids,” he remarks. “The parents will ask if their child is ‘old enough’ to do the workshop, and quite often the kids catch on – and do a better job! – than the parents!”
His workshops have been done for schools, museums, community groups, and even prisons. “This is something universally appealing – and universally calming” he says. “And it’s fascinating; it doesn’t matter the background of people attending, everyone gets excited when they see the patterns emerge from what they did themselves.”
Geometrical patterns are as old, it seems, as our human fascination with making marks. The oldest petroglyphs and cave paintings in the world display elements of geometrical patterning. There is something calming about carefully constructed and rhythmic design, and whether we can pinpoint precisely why there is something particularly jarring when that visual rhythm is ruptured or poorly made.
The decision to go fulltime, I though, must have been frightening. “A friend said if I was interested in doing workshops he could make it happen, and I was and he did.” And he’s remained steadily busy. A museum in Abu Dabi has him come for workshops one week a month, and just recently (outside of his local gigs) he’s completed workshops in Dubai and Cairo.
In Western media there is a lot of negative spin on many countries in the MENA region, and I asked if he had ever felt threatened or anxious. “Media has to exaggerate, don’t they?” he scoffed. “People all around the world are exactly the same – we all want our kids to be happy, security for our family, and to be allowed to live a normal life. With so much in common, there is no country which I wouldn’t visit.” And sometimes it’s extra fun when his family gets to come with him.
While I was in Iran, I was particularly taken with the incredibly intricate and fascinating designs in the mosques and buildings we visited, and I asked Eric his thoughts on historical Islamic art.
“For 1400 years, Islamic design throughout the Muslim world really held to the highest standards of best practices.” Sadly though, he has observed a significant decline in the mathematical precision of Islamic pattern in the twentieth century – “with a few significant exceptions. The Ismaili Jamatkhanas are some of the most beautifully designed and executed structures I have experienced.” One of his favorites is the Belle Rive Jamatkhana in Alberta.
Why is this important for today?
“I feel it is very important to learn about this kind of thing, in particular Islamic geometric pattern construction, and there are several reasons.” First, as our world is continually shrinking it is increasingly important for people to learn about each other, “and this kind of art has absolutely no baggage attached – it is accessible and fascinating to most everyone.”
Geometry is one of the things which unites all of humanity. “The process and math of geometry is universal. “Every culture uses these same principles in everything from art to architecture, from farming to building the tools to farm.
Developing patterns and geometric constructions becomes meditative and calming, which is increasingly important in our fast paced and anxiety-ridden world.
And it promotes dexterity, develops problem-solving skills, and rewards those who are careful and follow instructions, something much needed in classrooms filled with gadget-using young people.
His books are available on Amazon: Islamic Geometric Patterns (and with CD Rom here), Islamic Geometric Design, Islamic Design Workbook, and his book for Kindle Draw Islamic Geometric Star Patterns. In addition to live workshops he has a number of online courses: his Udemy course Introduction to Islamic Geometric Design, a more intensive course at School of Islamic Geometric Design, and his Best Practices course specifically designed for architects – all which can be found on his courses webpage https://courses.sigd.org/. I am currently taking his Udemy course, and I plan to begin his next more intensive course very soon.
With so many workshops and projects in so many areas, what is his most exciting and challenging gig?
“I’m currently working on what will be the largest Islamic geometric pattern tiled aperture in Europe, measuring 4 meters by 9 meters, styled after a Madrasa, built for a school here in the UK. It is a traditional design, updated with contemporary brilliant colors.” The scope is an amazing challenge, but Eric has it covered.
Another exciting project is his North America tour, timed to coincide with the incredible Fatimid exhibit in Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum. “We are planning on doing multiple workshops all through Canada and the US in 2018 and 2019.” To learn more about the growing calendar of workshops and to schedule one for your own community, please contact Eric directly though his website, http://www.broug.com/.
Andrew Kosorok is a traditionally trained stained glass artist, who has also studied traditional bookbinding techniques. In addition to commissioned studio work, designing, building, and restoring stained glass windows, Andrew work with sculptural stained glass. He enjoys looking for opportunities to explore dialogs of pluralism and shared community. —> View all posts