New Scrolls

I’ve been getting comfortable with perg, which is a vegetable-based parchment substitute. It takes paint very differently than either animal skin parchment or paper, is very sensitive to moisture, and has a definite learning curve. But I like it! The learning curve has been about paint consistency and how it gets laid on the page. If you make a puddle and spread it around for nice, solid coverage, the perg buckles and cockles horribly. Thin, dry coats is the way to go – more like acrylic painting than watercolor.

This has been an opportunity to play and get comfortable again with fine detail work. Surgery seems to have left me only very slightly less coordinated, and then, only when I’ve probably been working for a little too long. My hand isn’t shaky or anything. Not bad! I’m terribly in love with the funky mermaids and their hand mirrors that turn up in the margins sometimes. I freehand drew this and knocked it out in a couple of evenings. Not sure what award it should be for yet, though obviously not something for children, because underboob.15541883_10209839163509558_2438745129623375024_n

Since the mermaid scroll and a quick Celtic one seem to have gone alright, I decided that it would be ok to start on a pair of viscounty scrolls for friends who moved to Oertha and promptly became their prince and princess. They have been awesome and understanding about my limitations. They have been patient. And my goal is to have these done so that they can take them home at Gulf. They asked for a paired set that would go together but be unique, came from early in period, be representative of them, and that whatever the final design was, it would be something I wanted to take on. After passing ideas back and forth for months, I stumbled onto a Swiss manuscript from 820-850 CE. The British Library has this wonderful book (Harley 647) that contains Hyginus’ Astronomica, complete with illustrated constellations where text and painting combine to form the figures that the constellations are based on. His device features wolves, which was an easy change from the dog in Canis Major. Her device features a sea goat, and I drew inspiration from Aires and Cetus (the sea monster) to create one that felt true to the original source material. I plan to do the calligraphy in the rustic Roman caps featured in the original. In Latin.
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The original, being about 1200 years old, is a little more rustic and funky than I wanted for a royal peerage. I opted to make them a little bit more illustrated than textual and spend more time on details and shading. I looked at a bunch of pictures of wolves in bestiaries and picked the fur style I liked best, then went from there. Fortunately, I have a dedicated team of friends who I can send progress pics to, so that they can tell me to stop before I overwork something. Overworking is my most flagrant painting sin and something I’m determinedly working at improving in 2017.

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Can we just talk about this sea goat for a minute, y’all? If you paint, you know that it’s really hard to get a green that has good coverage without it being that horrible pale pistachio green school walls used to be painted. I used to just make an ocean of paint and let it dry for true green color and good opacity. That does not work on perg. Oh no. There are many painstakingly thin, not very wet coats of green here. And then I thought I’d shade it with a little purple – because HE Violet LOVES her some purple. It wound up looking like a bad tie dye experiment because I used wet-into-wet watercolor techniques. There was despair. There may have been foot stomping. And then, Dr. Kate pointed out that the effect would be lovely with scales painted over it. SO I PAINTED SOME SCALES. I painted scales for hours and hours with the tiny magical model painting brushes my parents sent for Christmas. It looked good! Then, I realized that I should have done ALL of the shading first. I’ve added some since I took the picture below, and I think I’ll have to repaint some scales over the shading. I know that I am my biggest critic, but I swear to you that it looks like the neon people put underneath their tricked out cars. Only the tricked out car is a goat hoof and fin, and it’s underwater, where neon lighting is probably really dangerous because sharks might come eat you. (I may have been staring at this for too long…)

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Russian Rose – Complete!

This was completed, framed (temporarily for shipping and presentation), mailed off, and presented the first weekend of October. Whew! So glad that it made it to its final destination safely!

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There were some last minute problems… Even my smallest broad edge nib was too big for the text, plus I made a mistake, so I had to scrape off the first inch of work and redo it with a pointed pen nib. That whole text area is only 2×3″, and the scroll text was slightly longer than this. I had to shorten it a tiny bit.

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Some of the gilding that I’d done with a bronze powder (a later period thing) had painting over it, which didn’t adhere right and popped up in spots. I scraped that down and just did raised gilding with no designs. This looks significantly better to my eye. I need to not be scared of  putting all the gold on Russian things… As always, I learned a lot that will make my next time working on vellum smoother and the end product better.

Namely, I learned from asking questions on one of the bigger SCA scribal FB groups how to prep the Pergamena vellum more thoroughly to manuscript grade. It’s quite a bit of extra sanding and hand work at the outset, but I am told that it is a far better surface for writing and scraping mistakes from.

Russian Rose Progress

My rose scroll is getting close to completion! I haven’t shown a bunch of pictures, because progress has been slooooooow. I’m in major wrist pain again, and ten minutes of work a day does not make for exciting blog updates.

Here’s where it was last week:

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I took this right before my rapidograph technical pen started leaking  as I drew in the eyes, nose, and mouth, and ruined the face. My beloved rapidographs have itsy bitsy needle tips perfect for outlining. They don’t bite into gouache. The alcohol ink dries nice and dark and clean wherever I put it.The only problem has ever been with them clogging from dried ink, which is a little fussy to fix but not a big deal – and totally worth it since I usually sit down to do all of the outlining in one day, which isn’t enough time to clog. I had no idea they might start dripping, so it took me a second to realize what was happening.

I’ve been working on fixing the face and adding shading and filling in those empty circles this week. To give you an idea of scale, each of those rose roundels around the portrait, including the gold ring, is smaller than a thumb tack. I’ve never painted miniatures, so learning to adjust in these small areas has been an interesting challenge. Less is definitely more…

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The face is mostly fixed. I need to find my bag of cat whiskers and add a little detail on the lips and on the gold temple rings and on the veil band. Yes, cat whiskers. They’re shed naturally, and a couple of friends give me theirs. After that, it’s just calligraphy and framing.

Russian calligraphy is hard for me. Not only are the letterforms foreign to my eye, they’re a bit blocky, so I struggle with feeling like my lettering is graceful. I don’t speak Russian, so I’ll be doing a faux-Cyrillic calligraphy where the alphabet is juggled around to use the characters that look most like our Roman alphabet. Here’s the original from the Yuriev Gospel:

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I took a picture of my screen with my phone and have been looking at it a lot to try to get my eye acclimated to what I want the lettering to look like. This part is going to be an adventure… I have a scroll text that’s mandatory and only 2×3 inches (5cm x 7.5cm) to do it in. When I played around with a faux Russian font to get an idea of how big the letters can be and still fit on the page, it had to be at a 7pt font. SO. TINY.

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.

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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.

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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…)

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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).

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.

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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.

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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.

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Peerage scroll completed

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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.

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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:

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

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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!

Shhhhhh…. it’s a secret peerage scroll!

20131215-180036.jpgI’m working on a super secret peerage scroll right now for someone who has never gotten theirs. It’s my first, and I’m trying not to be too daunted by it. The biggest obstacle is me psyching myself out. That’s got to stop since I already have three more queued behind it! For now, nothing I can show you will have the calligraphy showing, since that would make it pretty darn obvious who it’s being done up for…

If this looks big, it is. In Ansteorra, these are supposed to be 16×20 inches, which sounds great until you get in there and figure out how many little decisions go into filling up so much space. This one has ornate foliage, the recipient’s arms, the figure of a knight, animals, and gilding. I’m doing it with gouache on an archival paper for mixed media, Best Bottle sumi ink because I loves it with all my heart, and plenty of 23K gold leaf.

This is the design that gets traced onto the final paper. It took me about eight hours to draw all the fancy spinach out and another couple to do the B with the knight and wolf. I still have more animals to work into the foliage, which should be exciting. I can re-size sketches in Photoshop and tweak them to fit, but drawing them in the foliage makes for awkward positioning, which makes my modern eye all twitchy. Animals are not my artistic thing, and I’m pretty sure I need to think of an appropriate sacrifice to the art gods. Or maybe I could, you know, practice painting fur so they don’t look dumb…

There’s a lot of gilding on this bad boy. All those dots with spider legs up there? Gold. That big old B? Gold. The foofy bits on the white belt and the bar and the frame and the everything? Gold. I desperately love gilded things. They’re amazing and show stopping, and if I am going to be horribly honest about this, I trust in the power of gold leaf to elevate what I feel I lack in subtle illumination skills. I can’t cram five more years of practice into one piece that’s due in January, but I sure can make it extra super shiny.

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This is about where I am with the painting. Base colors are down, shading is starting to go in, and I’m trying to take breaks to avoid over-working it and to give myself pep talks that it’s ok that it’s colorful. The colors are slightly darker in person, but it’s rather boisterous. Illumination is an area where I feel insecure, and it doesn’t help that my fellow Ninja Scribal ladies are both super good at painting. One of them has a degree in watercolor. I try not to feel like I make everything out of macaroni and glitter, but I have my days…

But let’s talk more about gilding, shall we? Gesso and I do not get along very well at this time. Maybe it’s Texas weather, maybe it’s missing some secret knowledge of the ancients, maybe it’s simple lack of patience. But if I need to KNOW that something will work, it’s not what I’m turning to. This isn’t an A&S project. Kolner makes two popular gilding sizes: Instacoll and Minatum. Minatum is great and comes in an ink consistency as well as a thicker one, but it has a short window for working with it.

On the other hand, Instacoll can be one step (put it down, let it dry until it’s juuuuust dry, breathe on it, gild), or you can let it sit indefinitely and activate it later. This indefinite thing is fun because it lets me get used to building up layers gesso-style for very pillowy surfaces. You can buy the activator, or you can do what I do and just apply another thinned down coat. I’ve used it to great success on vellum as well as paper, and I like it. It works well for big areas, too. As you can see, I’ve already laid the gold dots on the first round of Instacoll. They’re softly domed now, and will get one more coat when I’m ready to gild so that they’re rounded but not to the point where it will be hard to burnish them.

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Making Medieval Paints

I went to the Known World Heraldry and Scribal Symposium last weekend, which is the international conference on heraldry and scribal arts for the SCA, a medieval recreation group I’m heavily involved in. It just so happened to be in San Antonio, so how could I pass up the opportunity? I was one of the people selected to teach and gave a lecture on working with quills – factors that affect performance, how to start using them, how to troubleshoot your work with them. There were some wonderful classes for all levels of expertise, and one of the most exciting for me was one on making your own paints. This has been on my list for a while, and then my mom cleaned out her studio and gave me a big container of dried and ground pigments. Clearly, it’s a sign.

The process is pretty easy. Pigment + egg + a little water = paint. You can make two kinds of paint with eggs: a shiny, permanent tempra paint with the yolk, and a watercolor style paint with glair (something you make from the clear part of the egg white). The glair watercolor can be reconstituted with a wet brush and/or a little more glair, much like the cakes of paint children use. The basics really are that simple. However… we’re going off of instructions that are a few hundred years old and sort of in shorthand. There’s room for some clarification and definitely room for some experimentation to see what gives the best result. Take eggs – unrefrigerated fresh yard eggs vs. free roaming happy chicken but refrigerated eggs vs. cheap watery store eggs all perform and taste very different in cooking, so I’m guessing they make a different paint product. The yolks go from thick and almost orange to thin and watery in that order, so the paint would be very different, I would think. Starting with the best ingredients always makes getting good results easier, so I’m on a mission to find out what works and why. Since I’m trying to learn to work with exclusively medieval materials and would really like to take this in to do a visual comparison on manuscripts at the HRC, I’m working on calfskin vellum that has been prepped for manuscript use.

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Take the glair, for instance. You are instructed to “foam” the eggs well, until no liquid remains, then let the stuff sit for at least 24 hours. Scrape off and discard the remaining foamy scummy bits, then save the liquid egg weep that has come out of it. This is your glair and will keep for a very, very long time, particularly if you didn’t get any of the milky bits or membranes into it. Kinda gross, really cool. Unlike plain old egg whites, it is not a slippery, slimy mess that doesn’t want to mix nicely. It makes a slick, lovely paint in seconds. It’s a revelation in comparison to my experiment making ink, which just said to mix soot and honey with egg white and water (think about trying to write with scrambled eggs. ew).

Anyway, foaming the egg is vague. Is it just kinda foamy? Approaching a soft meringue? Hard peaks? Logic says this is doing something to the proteins, so surely the amount of mixing matters. Maybe foaming an egg was a medieval shorthand anyone would understand, the way we can say “soft peaks” and know when to stop the mixer. I understand the imprecision because I cook. Ingredients vary in flavor, juiciness, sweetness, size seasonally, and it takes experience to know the subtleties and how to work around them to get consistent results.

My dad might have pulled my husband aside and told him marrying an artist was expensive, but something tells me he forgot to mention the part about tiny jars of weird, gross, and very possibly dangerous stuff everywhere…