JENNIFER HOM ADMITS that when she first approached drawing today’s holiday Doodle, she was fairly green about Irish culture. What the gifted Google artist did know, though, was this: Creatively, she wanted to go deeper than cliched shamrocks and leprechauns and wee pots o’ gold.
Her quest for the authentic led her to the “Book of Kells,” arguably the world’s greatest collection of illuminated manuscripts. Created by early medieval Celtic monks, the book now sits in Dublin, beheld and upheld as a national treasure.
Hom’s visual result is today’s dazzling Doodle to mark St. Patrick’s Day — a holiday that has come to symbolize so many things spiritually and spirits-ually around the globe, from the patron saint of Ireland hailing and converting Christians in the fifth century, to the patrons of brewpubs hoisting green ale more than 15 centuries later.
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The “Book of Kells” — which sheds light on the Gospels — is a lush and beguiling wonder of Latin calligraphy and Christian iconography, of intricate ornamentation and multicultural symbolism that even nods to a pagan past. Tapping that mix of Christian faith and native folk beliefs is apt for St. Patrick’s Day, since the saint himself incorporated existing ritual into his religious lessons — such as adding the sun to the Latin cross to form the Celtic cross (notable since fire played a crucial rule in some of Ireland’s traditional worship).
“The stories from that time are fascinating — a sort of blend of old pagan beliefs with Christianity, and so saints are often given the powers and legends of figures from mythology that preceded them,” Tomm Moore, the Oscar-nominated Irish director of the animated “Secret of Kells,” tells Comic Riffs.
Moore also casts “Kells” in a contemporary context, illuminating its cultural resilience and resonance. “The ‘Book of Kells’ is a sort of visual-culture backdrop here in Ireland,” the filmmaker tells ‘Riffs. “Before the euro, we handled coins and notes every day with designs from its pages, its patterns have found their way into every strata of culture here, from tattoos to high-quality jewelry, signs on pubs to official government buildings and fixtures.”
The “Book of Kells” resides at Trinity College, where Dublin’s St. Patty’s Day Parade is streaming past today, attracting an estimated half-million revelers chanting “Erin go bragh!” From the green-lighted Sydney Opera House to tomorrow’s holiday parade in Boston, millions the world over not only honor the patron saint, but also celebrate Irish culture and heritage.
(Not an Irishman by birth, St. Patrick was taken by Irish pirates, historians say, learning Celtic along the way — a fluency that was of service when he felt called to return to Ireland, using his trademark shamrock as he helped sow the island’s seeds of Christianity. One myth debunked: He didn’t rid the Emerald Isle of snakes, unless perhaps several of the human kind.)
So for today’s Doodle, just how did Hom mine “Kells” for inspiration? For Comic Riffs, here’s the Google illustrator’s step-by-step breakdown:
1. “Focusing on the silhouette of the letters, I draw inspiration from the style of Celtic knots and the Chi Rho [monogram] from the “Book of Kells,” Hom, 24, tells Comic Riffs.
2. “I begin to refine the linework and fill the large shapes with intricate motifs,” the Bay Area-based artist tells ‘Riffs.
3. “Color comes into the play while exploring the general palette,” says Hom, who studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design.
4. “Making sure I colored inside the lines — and adjust some values,” says Hom, a Long Island native.
5. “I apply some final adjustments to the color, textures — and edit some forms,” says Hom, who creates a Doodle at least every several weeks.
Comparing the “Kells” manuscripts and today’s Doodle, distinct similarities can be spotted. “There are some things in the Doodle that actually appear” in the book, Hom tells us, noting that she wanted to reflect that historical accuracy.
Given the complexity of the Doodle, as well as her tight deadline, Hom knew she’d need to create the logo digitally. Working 40 hours over four days, she would sometimes zoom in by 300 percent to render those precise Celtic knots — closer than the Doodle artists typically work, she says, given their limited canvas of “300 to 400 pixels wide” and about “100 pixels tall.”
For Hom — who previously created a popular animated music-video Doodle to honor the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury — the “Kells” Doodle reflects the Google team’s creative aims to be adaptive, to be organic — to “marry our technique and approach.”
To that we say: cheers to Lá Fhéile Pádraig!