Nagihan Seymour's beautiful Ottoman-inspired paintings are currently exhibiting in the Art Fund Prize Gallery, and have been drawing gasps of awe and admiration from staff and visitors alike. We wanted to know a bit more about how these intricate artworks are made, so for this week's blog we asked Nagihan a few questions about her process, techniques, and inspiration.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and the type of art you specialise in?

I am a Turkish artist and have been based in the UK since 2015. Although I am a materials engineer, I have been interested in art since my university years. I began to study traditional arts privately in 2008 in Istanbul, Turkey, learning the tradition and techniques involved in the discipline from Hanifi Dursun. After my initial training in Tezhip, I moved to Germany to further my studies in engineering.

Manuscript illumination was one the major part of my artistic studies. As my style developed I started to combine sacred geometry with classic illumination, bringing an old style, new breath.


How did your interest in Islamic art originate?

Tezhip-illumination is part of Turkish culture; it is something I feel is in my blood. The period and style from where I draw my inspiration is 16th and 17th century Ottoman Illumination.

Growing up in Istanbul and being immersed in all the beautiful works in old palaces, museums and mosques was great and left me wanting to learn more about Islamic art.

The order and symmetry of the art form and its roots in mathematics appealed to my scientific engineering mind.

I liked how they were using gold in very intricate unique designs and found it fascinating. That’s where my journey into Tezhip began.


Did you complete any training to be able to create such intricate designs?

When my interest in illumination started, I tried to find the right place to learn the traditional methods. Hanifi Dursun who is a renowned Tezhip artist and calligrapher from Turkey spent time to teach me the techniques involved. I spent a year in his studio and had chance to see his beautiful works and train with him. Working under Hanifi opened my eyes and gave me a different perspective to the world around me.

After I left Turkey, I continued to research, learn and practice.


What’s the process you go through to create a painting, and how long does a piece typically take you to complete?

Tezhip is a long process which requires great patience. Before starting to paint, you have to prepare the materials you will use.

A special mixture is used for treating paper, to allow adhesion with the shell gold. “Shell” gold is prepared using gold leaf bound by Arabic gum. I use from 12 to 23 carat genuine gold in different colours.

When the initial preparations are finished, the pattern is designed and transferred to the paper. After all that, the painting process starts.

There is a painting order in illumination. Firstly, gold should be applied, secondly the pattern is coloured using gouache or watercolour paints and finally the base of the pattern filled in using acrylic paint.

Finally the gold will be polished or “burnished” to bring out the shine.

The whole process from start to finish is variable and really depends on the size of painting and the patterns complexity. A fairly small piece can take up to 3-4 days. Some of my bigger pieces in the exhibition take up to 1 month to finish.


What can visitors expect from your exhibition at The Lightbox?

The art of illumination is traditionally used for the decoration of calligraphy, although in my paintings they can also find it used as a standalone art form. 

The paintings will show symmetrical designs consisting of naturalistic floral ornamentation or patterns with simple expression. Blue is a widely used base colour in Tezhip-illumination. They can also find colours such as orange, green, cherry, pink, yellow, purple, black are used to provide a contrast to the gold and darker shades of blue.

Nagihan will be present in the gallery on Saturday 25 March for all who would like to meet the artist and ask any questions. All pieces in the exhibition are for sale.

Reflection & Illumination is on display in the Art Fund Prize Gallery until 9 April 2017
Free entry | Donations welcome 

Find out more about Nagihan and her work on her website: