I’m all done with the viscounty scrolls for Duncan and Violet. Now that it’s May, it should be warm enough to ship them to Alaska without anything horrible happening to them. I hope. They are based on an 8th c. astronomy book from Switzerland, which depicts constellations in this way and fills the bodies with text. Their charge devices, a sea goat and a wolf, lent themselves perfectly to the existing constellations. The book guided the positioning and calligraphy, but I took the liberty of using more complex and refined painting techniques, since the original was very plain and simple.
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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!
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.
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.
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:
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…
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:
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
The grotesque mask on the tip of the S is called a scold’s bridle or a mask of infamy. They 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.
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.
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.
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…
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:
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!
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!
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…)