Artistic Techniques

By using an “artistic technique” the surface of a foundation medium can be creatively transformed to convey a message – straightforward, obscure, requiring interpretation, real, fantastic, thought provoking, reassuring…..anything.

This author has decoded the Symbols on the Pictish Symbol Stones in the context of a belief based on Mithraism as practiced in the time of the Roman Empire.

 By reviewing the meaning or message put over by the Symbols in terms of Pictish-Mithraic belief – as described in Mithraic Symbols – Identified & Decoded – it has been possible to identify the artistic techniques used in structuring and positioning them. Taking the V-Rod & Crescent, for example, the upward arrow representing the travel of the soul towards heaven and the Pictish Beast as Capricornus as the marker to the Capricorn constellation are complementary and part of a narrative – the journey of the soul from and to heaven.

This Section of the website explores and aims to explain several very specific “artistic techniques” used in creating and placing the most numerous objects carved on the Pictish Symbol Stones:-

  1. Design & Construction of individual objects where techniques such as illusion, perspective and panorama are apparent plus 2D “plan” recording.
  2. Associated Meanings involving two or more objects prospectively leading towards a narrative.
  3. Relative Positioning of objects on a surface to reinforce a message.

Often listed under the broad title of “art technique” are the permutations of mediums, types of materials, tools and methods used in producing visual art. Examples include oil paint on canvas using a brush; gouache for water colours on paper using a brush; oil paint on board applied with a spatula; pointillism effect with acrylic paint; wood gouged with a chisel etc. For Pictish Symbols the medium, or substrate, is Stone and the method used for modifying the surface is carving – there is no apparent colour addition.

Strathmartine castleTime wise earlier Stones (often referred to as Class 1) are incise carved with the objects cut into the surface such as Strathmartine Castle (left) which has a V-Rod & Crescent and Pictish Beast.

Rodneys stone reverse

Later Stones (Class 2) are relief carved with the objects raised against the plain background. Rodney Stone, Brodie (right) has an array of Pictish Symbol, decorative and Christian carvings – there is a large Cross on the other side.


Names of Stones shown in italics (or embedded with a diagram) in this Section are those used in “The Pictish Symbol Stones of Scotland” edited by Iain Fraser.

There are 12 Pictish Symbols with Pictish-Mithraic decodes; identifiable “artistic techniques” have been used in creating the following 10 individual objects :-

V-Rod & Crescent   Mirror   Z-Rod & Double Disc   Comb   Mirror Case

Double Disc Alone  Horseshoe / Arch   Triple Disc   Tuning Fork   Notched Rectangle

No specifically creative “artistic technique” seems to have been used in portraying the Serpent/Snake and the Pictish Beast as individual objects – there is straightforward two dimensional representation. However, an “artistic technique” is apparent when they are grouped together with other Symbols with Associated Meanings.

Three types of artistic techniques that are pertinent to Pictish Symbol Stones are explored here:-

Design & Construction of Individual Objects where techniques such as illusion, perspective and panorama are apparent plus clear 2D “plan” recording. How artistic construction was achieved for two key Symbols is detailed for the V-Rod & Crescent construction and the Z-Rod & Double Disc construction.

Associated Meanings of Symbols involving two or more objects prospectively leading towards a narrative.

Relative Positioning of Symbols on a surface to reinforce a message.

Using examples of the three artistic techniques above, a Hypothetical Symbol Stone has been drawn that has sufficient objects to encompass the tenets of Pictish-Mithraic belief.

Here are the author’s personal Highlights of Artistic Techniques apparent on Pictish Symbol Stones.

Arguably the most significant artistic technique used on the Stones is the carved connection between the circles in the Z-Rod & Double Disc symbol with back-to-back convex lines giving a “waisted” effect transforming the object into a three dimensional ring to represent the contained universe. Could this be the earliest example of this artistic technique?

A PDF version of this Section is at Artistic Techniques used in Creating Pictish Symbols.

Here are Drawn Designs for discernible carvings on this website.