The Art Of ... Biomorphic Design

Hand-painted watercolour biomorphic design ©2023 CharlotteDilley.
Hand-painted biomorphic design, inspired by Mughal Indian decoration ©2023 CharlotteDilley.

Finding my artistic identity and defining a style

Being an artist is not only about making art. Conveying the ethos behind your style so people can visualise and understand it is also an art – one, I must admit, I am still striving to master.

I don’t particularly like labels as they can be confining but they are necessary signposts for navigating your journey as an artist (in other words, when you build a website, write content about yourself and generally want to answer the question “what do you do?” without leaving your audience utterly perplexed!) The process to define the essence of your craft can also be an interesting and valuable odyssey of self-discovery.

 

Hands and artwork planning biomorphic drawings
Me, planning out biomorphic designs

What is biomorphic design?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the patterns and fractals of nature - her undulating, magnificent, timeless shapes and forms – and I gravitate towards the more feminine and elegant elements of design. The attributes of precision and accuracy align with my own attention to detail and inherent desire to develop an intuition or “muscle-memory” from a practice that requires deceleration and patience. So when I discovered the art of biomorphic design it felt like coming home.

Very broadly speaking, biomorphic design is an organic language derived from natural forms - an ornamental or decorative art comprising spiralling tendrils and abstracted foliage in combination with stylised flowers, seeds and fruit. Underpinning designs is a geometric structure which determines and upholds the overall symmetry.

 

Illuminated floral spiral design, gold and blue
Illuminated biomorphic design, Ottoman calligraphic insignia ca. 1555–60. (Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

Naturally occurring patterns or shapes, reminiscent of nature, are embodied in biomorphic designs, offering the viewer a sense that the forms, even though abstracted, are familiar and recognisable and almost alive with growth and energy. As such, biomorphic designs are distinguished by key features such as the spiral (from which growth radiates outwards in gentle, sweeping curves), symmetry (echoing nature's flawless balance) and the dynamic rhythm and energy of growth (manifested through tessellation or infinite repetition across surfaces).

What fascinates me about biomorphic design is its ability to seamlessly blend the freehand with the geometrical and create a true sense of harmony. In creating this work I’m challenged to strike a delicate balance between the hand-drawn line and a carefully constructed geometric sub-grid, the latter being veiled by the final design.

 

Iznik ceramic tiles with blue and red floral biomorphic patterns
Biomorphic design on ceramic tiles, Turkey, Iznik c.1573 (photographed in the Gulbenkian Museum in 2011)

The evolution of biomorphic design

Biomorphic design isn't just a passing trend. It is rooted in the rich and long-established traditions of decorative ornamentation found across cultures worldwide. Through the assimilation of motifs from ancient sources - such as the palm and lotus-adorned monuments of Ancient Egypt, early Buddhist art in India and the acanthus scrolls of Roman and Byzantine architecture - plant-based ornament manifested itself across artistic traditions around the world (Celtic illumination, Norse patterns and Aboriginal paintings to name a few.) However, it was within the Islamic Empire that biomorphic design (known also as arabesque and islimi) blossomed into full splendour. From the regal halls of the Alhambra, the intricately illuminated pages of Mamluk manuscripts to the kaleidoscopic tilework of Turkish artisans – each dynasty interpreted the style with its own regional flair, weaving tales of cultural heritage into every intricate swirl.

 

Historical illustrations of early biomorphic design
Ancient Egyptian, Roman and early Buddhist examples of biomorphic design (royalty-free, public domain images)

What is overwhelmingly apparent within all examples of biomorphic design is its homage to the inherent order and unity in nature. Through its flowing lines, scrolling leaves and intertwining floral motifs it whispers a language of familiarity and serves as a timeless expression of our connection to nature and our innate appreciation for aesthetic balance.

I like to think of my art as an invitation to slow down and deliberately pause to observe and experience a re-remembering of what is familiar to us all – the magic of nature. It’s not cognitively demanding, and you’re not obliged to take sides in an argument or process a radical concept. It’s simply beautiful to look and, I hope, brings you moments of calm and serenity.

 

Thanks for being here. Thank you for reading. I look forward to seeing you soon.

Charlotte x

More Posts