Testing a Pattern


Testing a Pattern by Redrawing

A brief look at how I try to decipher patterns from a Roman mosaic

When you look at some patterns in a Roman mosaic, particularly strand types, and try to follow the strands to decipher the pattern it can seem difficult to get a clear picture. In cases like this the best thing is to draw out the pattern so you can follow it more easily. Of course you must remember that some of those patterns will not follow a logical sequence! If you click on the phots they should enlarge so you can get a better look.

I cannot show the original photo for copyright reasons but this is a strand border that was around some figures. At the top and bottom, across the centre part, it had a triple strand guilloche border pattern but on either end there were blocks of interwoven strands. 

This is just brief overview, if you want to learn the way I wotk then there is a download manual available, just click on the button below the title or here for more details.

The First Stage.

I start with the outer line of single white centre tesserae (CT) as these are your reference points for any of the strand pattern, borders or motifs. The staff is marked for a mosaic using 5mm tesserae, I can obviously mark it to whatever size I want. This staff is my most used one for any strand pattern, this is the third version of this staff so don't expect to get it right first time if you are marking it from, slightly irregular, hand cut material.

The square is fairly straight forward to use, you can even use the corner of a sheet of paper if that is all you have. Notice I have marked that up with a CT at the point and then tesserae distances on either side. 

I use wallpaper lining paper as it is cheap and comes in long rolls so you don't have to get large sheets of paper. The tools are an ordinary compass, pencils, marker pens (both broad and fine point), a staff and square.

I have used the markings on my staff to set out where the CT go and then set them out on a grid pattern having counted them along each side of the orginal. The distances between the CT on the vertical, horizontal and diagonal axis are the same for all the interwoven strand patterns with the exception of those based on the vertical strand double guilloche (a variation of the double guilloche where the CT are set closer together. 

Once I have the CT drawn in for the top bottom and right side sections I start to draw in the strands. At this point there is one very important concept you need to grasp;

'The CT do not exist, the strands must be drawn in as strands, not just lines connecting the CT'.

It is about viewing these patterns in a certain way to help you visualise them as three-dimensional objects. 

These strands are drawn in, in a way that is the same for any pattern like this, the sequence of strands going under and over each other makes it easy to know where the next ones go. You need to draw in the pattern as much as you can looking for the point where it may go out of sequence. This will be apparent in the other photos. 

'Draw in the lines you can be sure of, not those you are unsure of'.

When you get to an area that you are not sure of then leave it for later. Draw in all the lines you can be sure of until you have done as much as possible. Then look at what you have left. This does mean that you will not be following a sequence but that is ok. You need to make things as easy as possible for yourself. Once you have done all you can be sure of then you will only be left with those that require more thought. 

The drawing in is complete and you can see how this pattern has to compress itself in to go along the top and bottom. The only strand though that is left without a logical connection is at the bottom of the wider section, on the inside corner. One strand only, the rest follow in look to follow in sequence. 

You can see where I have made notes for myself at the bottom, it is important that you do this  so you can create your own text book to help you understand what works for you. 

I have used different colour pencils and you can see that the strands do go out of sequence but notice the ways in which some are connected. Look at the light blue one and how it cuts right across the others. 


If you would like to learn more about this process then there is a manual available, the details are below;

This is a download of Volume II (part 1) of the series of manuals from Roman Mosaic Workshops. 

Volume II covers how to understand motifs and borders and then how to draw them out on paper and from there onto your baseboard or floor.

The Romans created many complex and stunning mosaic patterns ranging from very simple motifs all the way through to hugely complex full floors. Certain patterns seem to have been structured in such a way that they were able to increase in size and complexity. Yet when you know what to look for in these patterns you can see how they break down into quite simple forms.

This manual is not just about how to draw these patterns out but also how to be able set a mosaic from them. There is a huge difference in being able to draw a nice pattern and having it drawn in such a way that it can be used for a mosaic.

The manual contains 32 pages with both colour images and B&W drawings.

Also included are step by step guides to some of the patterns to show you to use what you can learn from the manual. 

There are seven motifs and seven borders in the pack.

Click here to go to the shop page