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).

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.

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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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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.

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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?

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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…)

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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!