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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