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Food For the Soul 2018-2019

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Chapel Brochure
Celtic Knots:
Draw Surprising Insights from Playful Doodles

Imaginative pathways are a playful thoughtful and sometimes humorous reveal

Saturday and/or Sunday, March 16 & 17, 2019
Enjoy St Patrick’s Day weekend at the Convent and learn to draw Celtic knots!

SATURDAY: INTRODUCTION - No born-with-the-gift or art training needed: you already know what you'll need to get started: how to draw a dot, a line, and a square. How simple is that?

The next steps are straightforward methodical ways to organize and order the dots, lines, and squares so the combination turns into knots. In only a few steps and a few minutes you will amaze yourself with the colourful knots you have made! From there, onward and upward with group time, personal attention, and success for everyone virtually guaranteed.

Durham Cathedral MS A.II.10.f3vWe will add ways to vary the basic method. Step by step, you will gain an understanding of ways to build, add to, and take the basic pattern up a few notches. This approach will enable you to see how the endless varieties already available were put together. It's a method that releases itself to add variations suggested from your own curiosity and imagination - just as the manuscript scribes of antiquity did.

Examples we will examine come from across centuries of history and cultures – much of it (but not all) from the western monastic traditions - right up to the present day.

The drawings are a foundation, and will open doors to creating patterns that can translate to any size, space, shape, craft, or art form. We will look at altars, chalices, vestments, stone & wood carving, stained glass, baptismal fonts, gravestones, fibre arts & jewelery - knots even make popular tatoos.

As the "via knottia" becomes more familiar, we start to unravel reasons - there are many possibilities - why such an abundance of "interlace" (the academic word for knots) is found in religious art and architecture across the centuries. Irish Celts will get us off to a good start. Their knots are totally enjoyable as playful, thoughtful weave-doodles but also at other levels are sophisticated, skilled works of art. Some also carry interpretations and statements of meaning that can be teased out of the presentation in addition to the beauty of geometric ornamental patterns.

SUNDAY: NEXT STEPS - What you learn on Saturday will open your understanding to a vast amount of material - most of what people will encounter as knots. But is also possible to take the motif to levels of increasing complexity, challenge - sometimes to brain-teaser difficulty - Sunday will explore secrets knots hold to continuing discoveries and fascinations if you want to go that far!

Not to worry - you will learn more how-to tips and tricks to assist you. And the basic steps will continue to guide your themes and variations. On Sunday we explore these enhanced extras. We will spend time developing first-hand reflections on why knots intrigued the creative imagination - and in some cases theologies - of so many individuals and communities across so many centuries even to the present day.

Is that the voice of your inner teacher's curiosity calling you?

The 3-D knot (upper right) is Durham Cathedral Library MS A.II.10 folio 3v (13th c), one of the manuscripts that workshop participants will be studying and drawing. See the MS at Durham online here » (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Creative Commons licence noncommercial) Zoom in to incredible enlargement!

Led by Brian Dench, graphic designer, former president of the Calligraphic Arts Guild of Toronto, and author of The Knotty Book. Brian has been teaching knots since 1989 for craft guilds, schools, parishes, conferences, Jungian analysts, and several sold-out events at the Convent since 2012.

See hundreds of interlace/knot samples with links to online libraries at Brian's Twitter webpage: https://twitter.com/interlaceknots. Pictures from a previous workshop at SSJD here »


  • Each day begins at 9:30 am with gathering for coffee and ends at 4 pm. Register for either or both.
  • Fee $30 per day ($25 for Associates and Oblates) if you bring a bag lunch - A hot meal is an additional $15
  • Fee for staying overnight (including meals) and attending both sessions is $125
  • Registration deadline: March 9, 2019. Limit (each day): 20 participants.
  • Please note: Saturday registration and overnight now full. 9 spaces open for Sunday) - see here »

MATERIALS: Please bring plain white paper, pencils, fine tip marker pen or dark pencils, colour pencils or markers (no wet paints). For Sunday, please also bring compass, ruler, and tracing paper. There will be links to online manuscripts via the Convent's wifi if you bring a device.

  • All retreats and quiet days at St. John’s Convent take place in the milieu of a contemporary monastic community which has a daily rhythm of prayer. All guests are invited to take part in the daily Eucharist, and those staying overnight may like to join us in the Divine Office (Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline).
  • See the regular chapel and meal schedule here »

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