The Gilding Begins

I got sick with a fever for a few days, so I spent some time getting started with the gilding for the pieces. If you’ve never worked with gold leaf, you may not know that gilding has to be done before anything else. Gold leaf sticks to everything – fingerprints, pets, gouache, ink… So gold goes down first. It’s one of my favorite things to do in scribal land, and it always feels like a reward after having to spend the hours carefully drawing on the design. Gold is pure transformative magic.

I had planned to start with gesso, in case it went spectacularly well, so that I could just use it on both. However, I don’t have as much gesso as I thought I did. Supplies will have to be ordered. Much time with the mortar and pestle will have to be put in. I am impatient. Instacoll happened first.

IMG_3707.JPG
All the patterns haven’t been sketched in yet. Blame the fever.

Instacoll and Minautum are the two big modern gilding sizes that the big-time calligraphers use. They’re both great. When I ordered, they were out of Minautum, so I got Instacoll. The only thing I don’t love about it is that it transfers the texture of what’s beneath it to the surface once it’s dry. Thinning it out well and doing extra coats generally solves the problem (and makes for a prettier, domed gilding surface that reflects more light). I couldn’t do that on the arch border of |O| shapes because they’re too small to keep their definition and take multiple coats of size. So they’re slightly dimpled up close, since the texture of the vellum’s pores is transferred.

FullSizeRender

I keep looking at it, trying to decide if I should scrape it off or leave it. Leaving it is probably the best idea. It’s not THAT noticeable if you’re not looking for it, and colorful painting will make it less so. And it’s small. That whole central arch from the portrait out to the |O| border is about 1.5×2″. (You guys know I have a perfectionism problem, so don’t act surprised…)

IMG_3716

Here it is with the first layer of gold on it, and it’s definitely better. A second layer of gold will go on when I’m less tired, and it will look better still. If I had to learn that this style of gilding isn’t suited to such small details, I’m glad I learned it on a tiny arch at the very beginning. This will let me work through the rest of the piece finding ways to advantageously combine raised gilding and flat gilding (painted-on shell gold or gold bronze powder are both period options that look great, though shell gold is WAY more expensive).

A Pair of Russian Pieces

I’m doing two calligraphy and illumination pieces in tandem. Both on vellum with handmade period materials. Both with plenty of gold leaf. One piece is for me to use in A&S competitions and keep, and the other is the Rose scroll for HRM Joan of Ook, Queen of Gleann Abhann.

While I won’t show the Rose scroll in full until it has been given, I will show you details and be open with the work on its sister piece, which I’m keeping. It’s good to have a project like this, which has forced me to cut my whole goat skin that Himself bought me at Gulf a couple of years back. One goat makes quite a few authentically-sized scribal pieces.

It takes a lot of giant rulers to cut a rather small rectangle of vellum. Because science.
It takes a lot of giant rulers to cut a rather small rectangle of vellum. Because science.

The Rose scroll is due in October, but I’m trying to be good to my wrist and work in moderation. There’s a LOT of detail and pattern, which means lots of tiny brush painting. Plus, making a portrait that will need a bit of practice painting to make sure I get the look right. The next really big A&S thing is at the beginning of February, which totally gives me time to handle any gesso-themed catastrophes or order whatever the right pigment is for that particular shade of blue.

I love the sketching and portraiture I have planned for the Rose scroll so much that I’m thinking of doing the second with one of the prayers to the Blessed Theotokos. This is what the Orthodox call Mary, and it translates to “light bearer”, as in the one who has birthed the light of the world. I have had a long love for the Theotokos, and Orthodoxy has particularly beautiful prayers and hymns to her. This is the first Christian thing I’ve thought of to make that I truly want to have in my house because the subject is dear to my heart.

The basis for the pieces is Russian: a page from the Yuriev Gospel, ca. 1119-1128. It’s an unfinished page where the outline and patterns are drawn in, but nothing is painted. It’s very similar to pages from the Izbornik Sviatoslava, 1073. I plan to pull colors from there. Both pieces are the size of the original page: 20×24 cm, which is a little smaller than 8×10 in.

Yuriev Gospel
Yuriev Gospel
Izbornik Sviatoslava - 1073
Izbornik Sviatoslava – 1073

I traced the design and made edits for it to be better suited to having calligraphy in the center section. I’m pretty sure the three arches are meant to have patterns or maybe angels in them, with the central open area being for a larger painting of a complex scene. When I sat down with my light table to transfer the design to the vellum, I ran into a problem. The pores of the goat’s skin obscure the fine details and tiny, complex patterns in a significant way.

I traced the big shapes, flipped off the light, and spent an afternoon freehand drawing in complicated patterns with a very sharp pencil. It was a good thing for me to have to do this. I get so focused on trying to be perfect that I forget that I have the skills and experience to do this myself. I wound up altering some of the patterns to ones I prefer to draw, or ones based on Russian textile and jewelry finds that Joanie loves and sent to me for inspiration. The Russian aesthetic is heavily influenced by the Byzantines, particularly in treatment of religious imagery. This means that there’s an abundance of elegant patterns, a rich color palette, highly stylized treatment of humans and animals, and lots of gold on everything – my ideal scribal combination.

Russian Court Barony Scroll

The upcoming reign in Meridies is themed around all things Kiev Rus, and scrolls in this style have been requested. It’s been about a year since I got to do a whole scroll with painting and everything, so I thought I’d knock out one or two while I’m waiting on the Latin translation for my next Peerage scroll.

Russia has a lot of Byzantine aesthetic influence through the spread of Orthodoxy. That’s evident even today. Lots of gold, beautiful geometric patterns, lots of circles and roundels. I looked at a ton of manuscripts, found a resource that had converted some of the knot work and geometric designs into line drawings, and got to work.

11021251_10204953707136202_7165405779275635357_n

It’s turned out to be a great chance to try out my new Finetec gold palette! This stuff is fantastic – like Schminke good. Except for $5 more than a tube of gouache, you get four golds, a rose gold, and silver. Replacement pans run about $5. You should get one next time you put in an order at John Neal or Paper & Ink.

I chose a limited color palette based on the colors I saw repeatedly through manuscripts. There were some cool light verdigris greens and a wonderful purple burgundy and some dark grays, too. I didn’t use them because some pigments shift over time, so I’m not sure about what they were supposed to be originally without having to do a bunch of research. The gray looks fantastic to my modern eye, but I suspect it was vermilion that went to black. I’m in the outline and cleanup phase of this (still on the fence about white-work noodly bits on the blue…). Naturally, I forgot where I’d just outlined and smudged bits of black everywhere. I should have been patient and gone to refill my Rapidograph ink that dried up.

11018583_10205197641074398_666473724410020206_n

 

I made up a faux Cyrillic alphabet for this. I know a nice one probably exists somewhere, but I didn’t find it. I’ll share it once I’m done and have had a chance to tweak it a little. It’s penciled in on the scroll for now. If you’re going to do a faux script like this, be kind to the herald and kingdom scribe – write out the text on the back of the thing for the herald and write out the a=? equivalent for each letter on the back so that the person who has to do the name and date can match it. If you’re extra kind, put what size nib you used.

FullSizeRender

German Court Barony: Completed

My very German court barony got finished and delivered at the beginning of March, so now I can share it! This was a really fun project for me, and I’m glad that the recipient loves it. It feels SO GOOD to be doing scribal work again.

11042938_10205046980427976_4309794921839721413_n (1)

 

Naturally, I managed to smudge wet ink with the edge of my hand in a couple of spots. Those cleaned up easily with a scalpel. Other than that, this wasn’t a tough project once I nailed down the design. HE Don Pieter also does A&S research into torture methods and the Inquisition. I worked a couple of little torture devices into the S. Can you spot them?

10646987_10205046980067967_455602980346809529_n (1)

 

The grotesque mask on the tip of the S is called a scold’s bridle or a mask of infamyThey were used to publicly humiliate and correct people who did things like spread malicious lies and gossip. At the top left of the S, hanging from the flourishing, there is a pear.

16th Century German Manuscript Research

I’m working on the custom award scroll for a court barony that was given in November 2013. I’ve had the commission for about a year, but it had to wait on my wrist to heal. I’ve spent a lot of time doing research to pick the right hand, design elements, and really get a feel for late 16th century German manuscripts.  The recipient is Very German, and he is a clever man who enjoys deep research, so I wanted to be certain that whatever I did was correct.

What’s happening in the 1590’s? The printing press had been around for about 150 years, and much of the hand-painted illustration that makes manuscripts so beautiful had been set aside for more economical woodcut prints. Sometimes these are painted with a wash of watercolor, but the quality is nothing like what you see in previous centuries. The good illustrations have taken full advantage of the Renaissance’s advancements in painting more realistic figures, textures, and perspectives. I’m not a good enough painter to pull that off, let alone in miniature. Seriously, go check out the Mira Calligraphiae.

Dig through a bunch of German manuscripts, and you’re going to see a focus on elaborate knot-work initials done in pen and ink, called cadels. This is from the French cadeaux, meaning “gift”. They’re much larger than the text, and there are tons of examples where the page orientation is landscape to give room for the initial to be in line with the text. The calligraphy has also gotten more elaborate and decorative. I think with printed books being readily available, pressure was off for scribes to make their writing ultra legible. There’s more freedom to put beauty before readability, which is fun for modern calligraphers.

Nuremberg, 1550-1599 New York, Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Plimpton MS 300
Nuremberg, 1550-1599 New York, Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Plimpton MS 300

These sometimes have fine pen and ink figures in them, and in a couple of royal cases, have illuminated gouache portraits of the king inside the letter. Here’s one from one of Henry VIII’s legal documents, 1529.

2db9395dc5aa81352a57454b0b11302e

I prefer calligraphy over painting, so I’m already excited about working with pens over brushes. The cadels are stunning and offer a chance to draw in little scenes or items of personal significance to the recipient, and I have one with some diverse and passionate interests. Done. I spent months trying to draw my own, but they’re really hard to do at first. I decided to modify an existing one so that I wasn’t fighting knotwork and proportions and trying to fit little people in there.

I came up with this as my draft. It’s already changed some to replace the grotesque at the top of the S with a mask and add in little extras. The little rapier guys will definitely need some practice sketches and a more specific wardrobe. The one on the left needs more aggression! He’s a bit nonchalant about his life being at stake…

FullSizeRender

I sized it down a couple of times on my copier so that I could see which one works best with the amount of text I have and the overall size of the finished piece (11x14in). There will be more knotwork across the top, plus vinework between the rows of text, like this:

Calligraphy Letterform Album 'Kalligraphische Schriftvorlagen' (calligraphic writing styles) was produced in the 1620s in Germany by the scribe, Johann Hering.
Calligraphy Letterform Album ‘Kalligraphische Schriftvorlagen’ (calligraphic writing styles) was produced in the 1620s in Germany by the scribe, Johann Hering.

 

 

Back in the saddle

I’ve been working on calligraphy a little bit almost every day for the last couple of weeks. I’m a little bit rusty after 9 months of letting my wrist heal. But it feels so good to have a pen in my hand again!

IMG_3159.JPG

IMG_3189.JPG

I’m gearing up to start back into commissions. I have three that have been waiting patiently for about a year. The first up is a late 16th century court barony for a very German gentleman. Someone translated the text into proper German for me, which is a real treat to practice and research!

IMG_3200.JPG

Naturally, it should have glorious cadels. Someone gave me a book that has a section in crafting them, and it’s starting to click freehand drawing them. My pointed pen flourishing lessons have definitely helped me understand placement and weight better. And they’ve taught me that I’m allowed to move the paper around a lot since you can’t get the right pen angles in the right places otherwise.
(And yes, I practice weird words…)

IMG_3191.JPG

Seal Matrix Making

The reign is over, all the calligraphy stuff has been handed off to the new Sable Scroll (my apprentice sister!), and it’s time to get back to work projects that had to take a back seat to my duties. The research and learning I’ve been doing on documents with the big pendant seals has been some of the most fascinating fun stuff I’ve done in a while scribally. There are three Pelican scrolls awaiting one from me, and it’s time to get to making the matrices so I can make the seals. It seemed like a relatively easy idea a few months ago when I spoke with some Laurels about it, asked a friend in art school some questions about modern methods of making molds and casting in pewter, and took myself to Harbor Freight after a paycheck day to pick up some tools.

Many hours of research, drafting in Photoshop, and experimenting with trial materials later, I have my doubts about my ability to do this well. I think an experienced stone carver or jewelry maker would be better suited to doing this, but here we are. I’ve been wanting to learn to carve and sculpt, and this is a good opportunity. Here’s the seal face for our kingdom’s soon to be royal pendant seal matrix – their majesties enthroned. The opposite side will be their majesties armed and on horseback. The original royal seals all follow this model – king by divine and legal right and by right of arms. I’ve copied existing seals and modified them slightly to get the figures and arrangement right, then simplified them a fair bit.
10264876_10202693219825432_2099575816937670924_n

Wood works well with making silicone molds, so I’m going to try it first, especially since I found carving rounds in just the right size! Worst case, I get some practice that I can transfer to a harder or finer material, like sculpting putty. My husband’s grandfather is an incredible carver of animals in wood and recently gave us his set of fine carving chisels and small hand tools. I’m ready to put them to use on this and see what I can do with good tools… my lone carving experiment before was with a set of 10 tools for $6 on bad wood, and the results were less than ideal. My experiments sculpting this instead of carving it using Sculpey were also a challenge, but worth revisiting if I actually am horrible at carving with both hand tools and Dremel.

When this is done, It will be placed in a form, silicone will be poured around it, and a mold will be made in that fashion. You can buy silicone that stands up to temperatures well above the melting point of pewter relatively inexpensively, and it’s a very simple process. If I can figure it out, then I can also use it to do things like make myself a plaque belt, largesse, etc.

Peerage scroll completed

20140127-161400.jpg

My first peerage scroll is done and was given in court at Ansteorra’s crown tournament, so now I can show it to you! I made a knight cry, so I’m calling it a success.

The wolves turned out ok after I calmed down about them and spent a little bit of time with a teeny detail brush outlining in a furry kind of way. It was a good experience to do something so large and understand how long it takes me to do the work, what I wish to improve upon and should practice (shading and highlighting for the leaves and flowers), and what little things make a vast difference in the end, like laying down the gold, outlining, and putting in all the fine squiggles and details that help fill the space and unite the illumination.

20140127-161410.jpg20140127-161422.jpg

Wolf problems

The super secret peerage scroll has to have wolves on it. I’ve never painted animals before, and wolves aren’t the easiest since it’s remarkably simple to nudge them into looking like a fox or dog. This wolf looks like his face has the wrong taxidermy form inside:

20131231-010208.jpg

The other one is better. He’s chasing a rabbit!

20131231-010313.jpg

Painting fur texture is a challenge, but it’s incredibly hard when the subject is so tiny. Those wolves are about an inch high and an inch and a half wide. I’ve been doing them with a 6/0 and a 10/0 liner. I can’t even imagine how people do true miniature painting!