Welcome to The Helpful Art Teacher, an interdisciplinary website linking visual arts to math, social studies, science and language arts.

Learning how to draw means learning to see. A good art lesson teaches us not only to create but to look at, think about and understand our world through art.

Please click on my page to see my personal artwork and artist statement: http://thehelpfulartteacher.blogspot.com/p/the-art-of-rachel-wintembe.html

Please contact me at thehelpfulartteacher@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The elements of art and principles of design: Overlapping

Portrait of John from the Book of Kells, 8th century
Ink on calf skin,
Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

What do banyan trees, biomorphic design,graph theory,knot theory,medieval manuscript illumination,Celtic knot work, The Book of Kells, art history and the disciplines of visual art, social studies and mathematics have in common?

To learn more about the design principle of overlapping click here and scroll down.
Click here and scroll down for a definition of overlapping and examples of how overlapping can be used in art.

Create an abstract design made of overlapping biomorphic lines. Use these photographs of banyan trees to inspire you.

All of these photographs have an asymmetrical composition. To learn more about asymmetrical balance, click here.

For directions on how to create an original, symmetrically balanced, knotwork design, print out the worksheets below.

Use this printable colorwheel worksheet
to help you mix the contrasting warm and cool colors

What do overlapping line designs have to do with mathematics? Watch this video to find out:

Celtic knot work is a form of art that uses the 'over and under' weaving pattern. Here is an example of a Celtic knot work design. Print it out and follow the directions to create your own design.

The most famous masterpieces of Medieval Celtic knot work can be found in the Book of Kells.
If you are lucky enough to ever visit Dublin Ireland, take the opportunity to visit the actual Book of Kells at Trinity College.

The Book of Kells is a Medieval illuminated manuscriprt. To learn more about illuminated manuscripts and to see examples of illuminated manuscripts, click here.
Click here to visit a website that has a few images from the Book of Kells. Most images from the book are not in the public domain because Trinity College is very protective of this valuable book. If you visit Dublin to view the book, you will not be permitted to take photographs. However you can view many other beautiful examples of illuminated manuscripts by  clicking here to visit Columbia University's online Digital Scriptorium.

Below you will find the few photographs from the Book of Kells that are available in the public domain. That means you may legally download and re-post them. These manuscript illuminations are famous in part for their interlacing knot work designs.

The Book of Kells is a famous 8th century Insular Gospel Book, now in the Trinity College Library in Dublin
If you would like to view or download more pages from the Book of Kells click here to visit the 'Book of Kells' page on Wikimedia Commons.

Designs, like the one above, that incorporate abstract animal shapes are known as zoomorphic designs

The three pages above have symmetrically balanced Celtic knot work borders 

Illuminated Manuscript
A page from the Book of Kells with interlacing knot work and zoomorphic designs

What happens when an artist is inspired by intertwining trees and the knot work in medieval illuminated manuscripts? The helpful art teacher does not ask students to do any projects she would not do herself. Here are some pieces from my own portfolio:

Contemporary sculptor Todd Runfeldt carves intricate knotwork designs inspired by the art of the Middle Ages.

These beautiful ornaments and pendants were hand carved from stone, bone and antler. Posted with permission. Please contact the artist by clicking here before downloading or copying.

To see more European art from the Middle Ages, visit the Cloisters in New York City by clicking here.

To browse or search the Cloisters collection of Medieval art, click here.

The Cloisters is part of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum's website has a very useful art history timeline that lets students and scholars compare art from different countries and periods in history.

To see what art looked like in Europe in the middle ages, and to read what was happening between 500 and 1000 AD, click here (for Great Britain), here (for Central Europe), here (for Italy) and here (for France).

Open all four links in different windows and compare the artwork from different countries. 

How do you think historical events influenced medieval artwork?

How was the art in different countries the same? 
How was it different?

What do those differences tell us about what life may have been like for people who lived throughout Europe during the Middle Ages?

Printable Worksheets 
by the helpful art teacher
Print out the worksheets below and use them as a reference for drawing and craft projects:


  1. This is really helpful. Thank you!

  2. Any student work samples? Thank you!

  3. This web site truly has all the information and facts I wanted about this subject and didn't know who to ask.

  4. Very nice article, jujst what I needed.

  5. Some really interesting information, well written and generally user