Nagihan Seymour is a Turkish Illumination (Tezhip) artist based in the U.K. Drawing inspiration from nature and classical Ottoman illumination, Seymour’s work highlights the beauty the traditional Turkish art.
Tezhip is a decorative art form, which means “ornamenting with gold.” It can be used to adorn books, calligraphy, manuscripts, religious texts or also can be a standalone art form — an art that requires years of practice and dedication. Seymour, herself, whose background is in Materials Engineering, has spent 11 years studying and perfecting this art. She exhibits and teaches in the U.K and internationally, and has won accolades for her work.
I recently reached out to Seymour to learn more about her work and experience as an Illumination artist. This is what she shared with us.
1. What inspired you to study tezhip?
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 from 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. Also, I was very interested in the form and use of gold in tezhip. I am still finding the process of preparing the gold fascinating. It really amazes me how our ancestors worked and made use of the gold.
2. What is the greatest challenge you faced while studying this art?
To be honest, I cannot really say anything I particularly found difficult per se. It was more a case of practice, practice, practice. From day one, I really enjoyed doing tezhip. I had a passion for the art and that pushed me to improve myself. Even in the beginning when my drawing style was still immature I was very happy.
I always say to my students, that learning about and doing tezhip, is a long journey. If you are thinking you will do learning a couple months, don’t start. It involves so much time and practice.
Moving away from Turkey and Istanbul was challenging for me, as I am away from the source of the art and I cannot discuss about new designs with my masters as easily. It is more fun when you can share new ideas in a community of likeminded artists.
3. How do you come up with your compositions?
Anything in nature can be inspiration. I am just observing and trying to apply what I observed.
Obviously there are lots of traditional rules I have to apply during the design process. I am always trying to stick to these rules when I am drawing, whilst trying to put my own style in the work I create.
For example one of my artworks is called Dustbowl. When I was a child, I was watching American cowboy movies and somehow the rolling dustbowls got lodged in my memory. I created a painting taking inspiration from them but using traditional Rumi design and rules.
4. Most important thing(s) you learned from your teachers.
Master-student relationship is very important in these type of traditional arts. It is not only the art you learn from your Master, but also the attitude that is needed for the art.
You learn respect to the Master and how to leave your ego behind and practice for hours. You work hard, and sometimes you fail, but it is imperative you keep working hard.
My tezhip teacher is Hanifi Dursun from Istanbul. He is one of the most modest people I have ever met. He is a very good Tezhip artist as well as a calligrapher who has Ijazet (diploma) from the calligraphy Master Hasan Çelebi. I was so lucky to be trained by him.
5. Your advice for students who are getting started in tezhip
Tezhip is a long process which requires great patience, but at the same time is incredibly rewarding.
My students do not usually start to learn to paint immediately. Firstly you need to draw before painting, which means you have to learn the anatomy of each of the little individual motifs. After that the rules of the composition and design and how to put together the motifs.
To become a good Muzehhib/Muzehhibe you have to be able to create new original designs. The rest comes down to practicing your pencil and brush skills.
Also, I recommend for them to check old works as inspirations. The tezhip works from the 16th and 17th centuries are always the best guide for us. The last and the most important thing is practice a lot.