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A Hard-Bound Master Class by Iliya Iliev: Review of “Ornament” by Allan Punton

OrnamentCoverntmp International award-winning mosaic artist and Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Sofia, Bulgaria Ilya Iliev knows what Rembrandt, Escher, Klee and VanGogh knew about the use of geometry in composing great works of art.  (see ‘The Nature, The Geometry & The Materials: Iliya Iliev“) In his latest book, Ornament, Iliev offers a master class on the topic illustrated with meticulous drawings and photographic examples of how he has designed works based on geometric principles.

Iliya Iliev  "Sesif"  2010  70x120cm diptych.  Stones, glass

Iliya Iliev “Sesif” 2010 70x120cm diptych. Stones, glass

When we learned that British mosaic artist (and fellow mosaic traveler) Allan Punton had completed a work based on what he learned from studying Ornament we asked him to write a review of the book for MAN.  Punton calls the book “a masterpiece.”  We agree. Ordering information is at the end of the article.  Enjoy – Nancie

Iliya Iliev "Visantia"

Iliya Iliev “Visantia”

Why did I buy this book?  Because it was like going to see Bruce Springsteen live at Wembley and then deciding to buy all his albums; you become smitten by the man and his music. Well, it was the same for me with mosaic artist Iliya Iliev.

Iliya Iliev "Agression of the Circles"  Triptych, 3 60x60cm panels.  Stones, marble, colored plasters

Iliya Iliev “Agression of the Circles” Triptych, 3 60x60cm panels. Stones, marble, colored plasters

I was lucky enough to be included in a private view of Iliya’s retrospective exhibit at RavennaMosaico in October of 2013.  Iliev was gracious in taking the time to explain each of his works to our group and I could see the sparkle in his eyes when he talked about his art. He is a master of the mosaic art form. So, when I found out about this new book, I had to get a copy.

This is more than a book; it is a cornucopia. This is not a mosaic projects book (hallelujah), nor a “how to cut stuff” tome (again, hallelujah).  It is, instead, a masterpiece in explaining compositional form. In that regard it is unique – gloriously unique.

It is written in the first person in such a way that you have a real sense of the personal knowledge and research that Iliya has put into this discourse. It is also clear that his experience as a gifted professor has benefited the clarity of the text and illustrations.


It is a textbook that informs and enables the reader to study the approaches covered as developmental exercises. The more you study the content, the more you learn from the examples shown and the book is crammed full of tessellation studies.

The book’s scope is wide and progresses through the following topics:  The Ornamental Motif and its Combinations, Linear Ornament, Surface Ornament, Rhythm Geometric Figures, Polygons and Polygon Grouping.

The introductory section is entitled “Let’s Start With Proportions” and Iliev shows an example of his work where he exploits the Golden Mean to demonstrate its impact on form (figure 8). Purely by coincidence, I had made a piece many years ago effecting the Golden Mean in its design, so I quickly felt that this book was going to be highly relevant to my personal approach to mosaic.


Geometric figures are explored in great detail within the book and Iliya explains their compositional variations very succinctly with examples of his own work – as he does with Snail of snails–Clam of clams (figure 133).


In the section on Polygon grouping, lliya discusses transformation and deformation of tesselation and refers to the work of MC Escher. To illustrate the text on this topic, Iliya includes several examples from Escher’s work such as how Escher turns the equilateral triangle into a tiling bird (figure 268).


I also had done some research on Escher’s approach to composition and created a composition drawn from an Escher sketch by casting glass elements in sand.

Allan Punton (After Escher)

Allan Punton Colour Puzzle after Escher (2011) 12″ x 12″

The final section of the book includes fourteen pages of Iliev’s own artwork and he has added personal notes on each one.


I am a slow reader and an even slower learner so it took me several weeks for my first journey in absorbing the contents of this book.  Inspired to apply some of the book’s concepts, I began to give some thought to a suitable place to start.

A while ago, I had set aside three tree trunk off-cuts that I thought would make for an interesting project. My initial thought had been to create a compositional form sympathetic to the shape of these wooden “shells.” But, I had yet to begin doing anything with them.

Wood shapes

As I was reading the book, these off-cuts came to my mind. Why? Because of a key sentence in the book’s Introduction; “If we assume that a square is a blank space – a symbol of unity, inserting another square within it would lead to some diversity while respecting and even underlining the basic motif.”

So, creating a design that would sit within a wood chassis and embrace/echo the form of the chassis was a creative challenge that I set for myself.  I chose transparenti dalle de verre as my material for several reasons. First, because I felt that it worked well with the theme of  “Inner Light”. In addition, faceting the glass would echo the texture of the thick bark of the wood chassis. And finally, with these materials I knew I could create tesserae of a size that would work well within the tessellated pattern I had in mind. I chose to use the same tonal range for the cuts within the primary pattern so that the light generated would highlight the form without distracting from the richness of colour.

Allan Punton "Inner Light" (2014) 38 cm x 42 cm

Allan Punton “Inner Light” (2014) 38 cm x 42 cm

Overall, I am quite happy with the outcome of this “geometric experiment” born from studying Iliev’s Ornament. It is a long way to Sofia, Bulgaria so I am very appreciative of this hard-bound “master class” that I can refer to any time I want.

Allan Punton, Arto Punto – October 2014

About the Book:

Title: Ornament
Author: Iliya Iliev
Language: English
Publisher: Arhimed, 2014
ISBN 978-954-799-182-4
Contents:  183 pages, 289 illustrative figures
Price: 25 EUR Hardcover; 20 EUR Paperback plus shipping
To order:  In the US order at Wit’s End here  (if out of stock, leave a message on their Contact page) or email the author at:

Also on MAN: “The Nature, The Geometry and The Materials: Why Mosaic by Professor Iliya Iliev”

Also by Allan Punton

Allan Punton "The Three Doges" 2014 Inspired by a ghost story by Alberto Toso Fei

Allan Punton “The Three Doges” 2014 Inspired by a ghost story by Alberto Toso Fei

Allan Punton "The Shrieking Skull of the Swindled Servent" (2014) Inspired by a ghost story by Alberto Toso Fei.

Allan Punton “The Shrieking Skull of the Swindled Servant” (2014) Inspired by a ghost story by Alberto Toso Fei.

Allan Punton "Post Tenbras Lux" 2011. Created for an exhibition celebrating the 500th anniversary of the King James Bible

Allan Punton “Post Tenebras Lux” 2011. Created for an exhibition celebrating the 500th anniversary of the King James Bible

Allan Punton (untitled) 2013  A commissioned outdoor panel.

Allan Punton (untitled) 2013 A commissioned outdoor panel.


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  1. Dianne Sonnenberg

    I am very excited to add this book to my reading list. I just acquired a copy via Wits End Mosaics. I too have some time this year to explore my personal art, and cannot wait to delve into the contents of this book. I expect my Sacred Geometry/Mandala Design course will evolve as well. Thank you Allan and Nancie for bringing this book to our attention!

    • Looking forward to seeing your work, Dianne.

  2. Lynn Adamo

    I’m so glad I finally read Allan’s review! After I write this comment, I’m going to request to order this book. I too was privileged to be on the private tour Professor Iliev gave our group in Ravenna. Prior to the tour, I had not known Iliev’s work. Like Jolino, I also get to spend some time studying and exploring personal work this coming year and am looking forward to adding this book to my study program!

  3. Jolino Beserra

    Congratulations to all: first for creating this beautiful book and also for bringing it to us. I am so inspired by Ilia’s thoughts and concepts to creating mosaics. Next year will be the first time in a while that I am going to be able to balance public works commissions with time for personal mosaic exploration and though my work is very different in materials from yours the concepts resonate very strongly with me. My prior background was in graphic design and illustration and eventually advertising art direction for CBS TV before I discovered mosaics and was able to utilize the concepts of design I learned with my love of color in a way that I never did before. With each new piece I create I learn a little more about what makes me tick as an artist. I can’t wait to add this to my library.

    • Thank you for the comment, Jolino – and it was wonderful to learn more about your background! (my apologies for the late approval – a little technical trouble)

  4. Lillian

    Fantastic article Allan, thanks Nancie and Thanks Ilia! Allan, your work just keeps getting better. I am absorbing the genius of Prof. Iliev’s book as well – boggled and inspired by his expressive work with underlying tessellations and geometry. He donated a copy to my college. Bravo to all. xo Lillian

  5. Marcelo de Melo

    Allan, congratulations! It is great to see your work here alongside Iliya’s. I will add the book to my PhD reading list. Thanks, Marcelo


    Dear Nancie,Thatks a lot for your generosity and goodness…
    I couldn’t finde the way to represent my gratitud for you
    and Allan.Thanks again and again !!!


      Who wich to have my book.must give to me his home address.
      The price is 25 euro + SH.EXP.
      My paypal account is;
      I prefer to send my book in parcels containing 4 copies.

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