Author Archives: Patricia

Art and History of Calligraphy

IMG_2440The Art and History of Calligraphy, published May 2017 by the British Library, does pretty much what it says on the tin! It covers writing from what is thought to be the earliest known writing by a woman in Britain in the first century, to the present day (as much as a book published in 2017 can do that!). Here is a sneaky peak inside the book.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 8What I love about the design is that images of manuscripts are large and so it’s possible to get up close and personal to the letters. Here a page from the Luttrell Psalter has been spread over two pages at the beginning of the book. I chose this page for its wonderful trumpeter – his instrument long enough almost to extend right across the whole column of text!

 

FullSizeRender 7The first chapter is called, surprisingly enough, the Art and History of Calligraphy, and, after defining the way in which calligraphy is going to be regarded in the book, traces writing through the ages. A number of manuscripts will be familiar, but there are some new ones here, including this lettering by Bembo and a delight of chrysography on dyed black vellum.

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 6Then a chapter is devoted to how the manuscripts were actually made, including quills, vellum brushes, pigments and gold.

 

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 5This is followed by a section on Writing the Letters, based on Edward Johnston’s 7-point analysis.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 4And then there are full page double spreads of over 70 manuscripts from the second century AD to right up to the present day. In many cases, as here, there is an enlargement of a couple of lines to show the lettering really closely. The Bosworth Psalter is on the right.

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 3Here is the Lacock Cartulary with wonderfully flourished letters.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 2And this is one of the first times that Edward Johnston’s Scribe, given to Dorothy Mahoney, has been shown this size in full colour.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRenderAnd the book is brought as far up to the present day as a publishing schedule will allow. A stunning piece by Stephen Raw of a poem by Carol Ann Duffy is shown on the right.

 

 

 

I really enjoyed writing the book, sharing information that I have learned from others and researching the manuscripts, and I do hope that others will enjoy reading it. It’s available from the British Library Bookshop, and I am also selling it through my website. If you order a copy from me here then I shall happily write a name in the book calligraphically to make it really special.

 

 

 

 

Vellum and Acts of Parliament III

This is not one of my usual blog posts. There are no pictures as what has happened is, in my view, very serious and needs no illustration. A clear decision taken by MPs in the House of Commons has been overturned by 3 members of a committee. The result is that Acts of Parliament will no longer be printed on vellum, despite a clear and substantial majority of MPs, and, it seems, the view of almost all of those interviewed in the media. What a shocking state of affairs for the Mother of Parliaments and democracy! 

We were all so thrilled when on April 20th 2016 the debate in the House of Commons on vellum and Acts of Parliament resulted in a resounding majority vote of 117 to continue printing Acts of Parliament on vellum, with only 38 against (see the full debate here in Hansard). It seemed that the campaign we had been running since November 2015, whereby many people who had never had any advocating or lobbying experience and who had probably never before contacted their MPs, had succeeded. I remember going home in the train after that debate and phoning William Cowley (the company that produces the vellum used in parliament) to tell them the good news, and almost dancing a little jig in delight!

Obviously it was going to take a little time for the decision to be enacted, but we had won and we were patient. However, early this year we heard quietly that there had been a meeting of the Commons Administration Committee, chaired by Tory MP Paul Beresford. Apparently, despite various options researched by the Clerks of the Commons, Beresford allowed no debate of the issue and simply proposed a vote on whether to continue using vellum or not for printing Acts of Parliament. There were 7 people attending that committee, 5 voted to discontinue the use and 2 voted to continue. So by a majority of only 3 people, the clear wish of those MPs was overturned; many of those MPs had been contacted by their constituents with strong arguments as to why vellum should be used.

When we heard this, Adrian Visscher whose family owns William Cowley wrote this letter to Mark Lancaster, the company is in his constituency (I have permission to use the text of each of these letters):

Dear Mr Lancaster,

Supply of vellum for record copies of Acts
by William Cowley Parchment and Vellum of Newport Pagnell.

My two brothers and I are owners and partners of William Cowley Parchment and Vellum, who as you know have supplied vellum for record copies of Acts for a very long time. It is with a real sense of urgency that I now write to you on behalf of the Partners in support of the campaigning work on this issue by our excellent Manager Paul Wright. May I first take the opportunity to thank you for your assistance to date supporting the strong advocacy of James Gray within the media and parliament during the past year and not least in the Commons debate on 20 April 2016.

The William Cowley Partners ask for your immediate assistance in challenging the apparently undemocratic decision of the House of Commons Commission on 23 January 2017 when the minutes state “The Commission endorsed the provision to the Lords of front and back vellum covers for record copies of Acts”. Consequently, on 30 January, the Clerk of the House then wrote a letter to Paul Wright declaring the House’s intention to order “front and back covers” in due course.

Our dismay and concern at this turn of events is because hitherto we had always supplied two larger sheets of manuscript vellum on which the two copies of each Public Act were actually printed. The 117 – 38 Commons vote on 20 April 2016 supported a motion specifically stating the House’s wish to continue the traditional printing of public Acts on vellum and specifically not on archival paper. The subsequent Commons Commission’s decision disregards these wishes, choosing to use archival paper after all, with a token gesture of using vellum for front and back covers which we understand would also be of smaller size and lesser quality resulting in a serious loss of overall business for William Cowley. These facts were confirmed when Common’s representatives went to speak with Paul Wright following our receipt of David Natzler’s letter. This is of great concern to us, but may I say, so is the apparent failing of the democratic process in parliament which threatens to ride roughshod over proven practical considerations and centuries of British parliamentary tradition, as were well aired in the 20 April debate.

In support of my request to you and my remarks above may I remind you of the following:

Re: The House of Commons debate “Record copies of Acts” on 20 April 2016

The motion that day began as follows:

“That this House disagrees with the conclusion of the House of Commons Administration Committee in its First Report of Session 2015-16, and regrets the decision by the House of Lords to discontinue the use of vellum for printing Acts of Parliament;

 The motion further noted that

“the Second Report of the Lords Select Committee on House of Lords Offices, published on 25 May 1999, clearly states that when the Parliament Rolls of Acts of Parliament were discontinued in 1849, it was resolved by both Houses that two copies of every Act should be printed on vellum and that resolutions of both Houses would be needed to give effect to a recommendation to discontinue the use of vellum;”

 …and called for…

“the House of Lords to reverse its decision to use archival paper rather than vellum for the printing of record copies of public Acts of Parliament”

 Furthermore, Hansard shows the Commons resolution following the debate:

“instructs the Clerk of the House to convey to the Clerk of the Parliaments that the House of Commons has withheld its consent to the use of archival paper rather than vellum for the printing of record copies of public Acts of Parliament.”

 I note that the Clerk of the House was present at the Commons Commission’s 23 January meeting.

Does his letter of intention to William Cowley not conflict with the above instruction to him by the House following the April debate. Is he not placed in a directly contradictory position with the Commission’s decision to now use archival paper for the printing!

The continuing actions of the House of Common’s Commission, (chaired by the leading opponent to continuing vellum Sir Paul Beresford), appear wholly undemocratic and we believe must be challenged. I further note that of the 11 Commission members attending the 23 January meeting, Hansard shows that only one, Valerie Vaz, had voted in favour of the motion on 20 April.

In strongly supporting this motion the House clearly advocated actually printing on vellum and specifically not on archival paper. The earlier Commons Commission’s report of 12 October 2015 had requested the assent of the Commons to a change to printing on archival paper rather than vellum. That request was overwhelmingly rejected by the Commons vote, so on what basis is the will of the Commons now being ignored we ask?

House of Lords reaction to the Commons debate vote:

The recently published Commons Library briefing paper ‘Vellum: printing record copies of public Acts’ reveals that the ‘House of Lords House Committee’ met on 3rd May 2016 to consider the implications of the Commons vote. As a result the Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords wrote to the Chair of the House of Commons Administration Committee on 4 May 2016 saying;

“As you know, this House agreed in 1999 to move to printing Acts of Parliament on archival paper instead of vellum. We are persuaded that printing on archival paper is a more appropriate use of public funds, and that the case for continuing to print on vellum is not made. If, in the light of the debate, the House of Commons wishes to arrange a contract for printing record copies of Acts on vellum then the House of Lords Administration will gladly share experience of managing the legacy contract to assist you in making such arrangements. I am sure you will appreciate that this House does not wish to contribute financially to any future printing on vellum. It is also important that we ensure the longevity of any public acts, as the Clerk of the Parliaments must certify a record copy of them.”

This statement shows that the House of Lords would not stand in the Commons way of continuing to print on vellum and indeed would actively assist them in the process. Nevertheless, I would still question whether the Lord’s actually have the right to relinquish their funding responsibility as confirmed by answers to parliamentary questions put late last year.

Funding

The source of ongoing funding of traditional vellum use is clearly another key factor affecting this whole issue. The William Cowley Partners would be grateful for your intervention to clarify the funding issue. During the 20 April debate, the then Paymaster General, Matthew Hancock, said;

“Should the House carry the motion today, I hope that we can work with the other place to find a path forward that both Houses find satisfactory. In that spirit of pragmatism, the Government have offered financial support from other savings, without further burdening taxpayers, to ensure that this tradition, which is of great symbolic and practical value, is not irrecoverably broken by a lack of funding on this small scale.”

We are encouraged that Matthew Hancock’s successor, Ben Gummer, also voted in favour of vellum retention. Can you ascertain that he will honour the Government’s commitment made by his predecessor?

Printing

The facts behind the actual printing on the vellum are factors that appear to have muddied this whole matter. We have heard many misconceptions and inaccuracies quoted. Rather than the actual cost of the vellum itself, we suspect that it was printing costs and the perceived availability of suitable printing were major influencing factors in the House of Lords Committee’s request to discontinue vellum usage. It has emerged that the TSO printers were tied to exorbitant traditional contracts negotiated by Sogat. A clarification of their position would be welcome. From a technical stand point William Cowley (Paul Wright) will be able to recommend suitable alternative printing firms if needs be.

We sincerely hope that you will not only be able to defend William Cowley’s interests but we also reiterate our belief that there is a democratic principle to be defended here. We further genuinely believe that the National public interest is at stake both in practical terms of long lasting protection of our laws and in a traditional and historical sense.

I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible and perhaps meeting with you and Paul in due course.

This letter was answered by James Gray, MP, who championed the use of vellum, and arranged for the motion to be put in the House of Commons:

20th March 2017

Dear Mr Visscher,

Thank you for copying your letter to Mark Lancaster on the subject of supply of vellum for recording copies of Acts of Parliament to me. Your letter is quite correct. In a Backbench Business Committee Debate on April 20th called by me, the House voted by a substantial majority to continue the use of vellum for recording Acts of Parliament. However that motion was not of itself binding, particularly since the instruction was simply to write a letter to the Clerk of the Parliaments informing him of our view. The House of Lords despite that declined to continue the use of vellum for recording Acts of Parliament and returned the matter to the House of Commons Administrations Committee that vellum should be discontinued. I personally resigned from the Administration Committee because of it, and because of what I view to be bad handling. Like you I took the view that the House of Commons had voted to maintain vellum and was disappointed that a combination of the House of Lords, the Clerks in both Houses and the Administration Committee and House of Commons Commission, had apparently reversed that decision.

In discussion with Dr David Natzler, the Clerk of the House of Commons, he then made plain that if we were to seek to reverse that decision it would be necessary to have a full and substantive vote in the House of Commons since we would be asking for money to be spent which the Clerk himself would not be able to do. He was of the view, and I suspect he was probably correct, that any such full and substantive motion might well have been defeated by the Whips and we would therefore have been in a worse position than we are today. He and I therefore cooked up this compromise which is that rather than the Act be recorded on vellum, there should simply be back and front covers in vellum. This preserves the tradition and use of vellum although of course it does not give William Cowley and Sons anything like the business which they previously had.

…I fear that, under the circumstances there was nothing else that we could do about it and that we have achieved the best we possibly could. I recognise that is very regrettable from the point of view of William Cowley’s business, and I am sorry that I was not able to achieve more.

Jon Elliott of the Archives and Records Association of UK and Ireland worked with me on the campaign and in fact we were both in the House of Commons listening to the debate with Adrian Visscher. John Chambers who is CEO of ARA sent this letter to John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons. He has not yet had a reply.

Dear Mr Speaker

VELLUM

I write on behalf of the ARA, the lead professional body representing archivists and archive conservators in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, to express the profound concerns of our members about the handling of what we understand to be a recent decision by the Administration Committees of the Lords and Commons to discontinue the use of vellum for recording Acts of Parliament. I say ‘understand’ because the only information we have is a series of brief reports in the media.

You will recall a debate in the House of Commons on 20 April last year and its clear majority in favour of urging the Lords to reconsider a 1999 decision it made to discontinue using vellum. You may recall that the Administration Committees had decided to try again in 2015 to implement a 1999 Lords decision, despite a Commons vote in the early 2000s not to recognise it. The fact that this latest, expressed view of the Commons appears to have been ignored and overridden, in manipulatory fashion behind closed doors, damages the credibility of Parliament and undermines its stated aims of openness and transparency. We have heard that the April 2016 Commons debate was ‘merely’ advisory so can be ignored. Its standing should be irrelevant. What is clear is that certain members of the administration committees in question have decided that their opinion is more important than the chamber’s. To members of the public, such behaviour looks like small-print, bureaucratic chicanery of the worst sort.

A number of speakers in the Commons debate last year debunked comprehensively arguments that had been advanced by the Chair of the Commons Administration Committee, Sir Paul Beresford, in pressing for ending the use of vellum, specifically that:

  • –  Switching from recording Acts on vellum to ‘archival paper’ would result in a saving to Parliament of £103,000. This was, and remains, nonsense. The sole remaining supplier of vellum in the UK, William Cowley (also Parliament’s supplier), revealed that it received an average of £47,000 a year to supply the vellum to print Parliamentary Acts. Presuming that the £103,000 for the overall costs is correct, this means that Parliament has in effect been paying £56,000 to have Acts printed, ie the same whether for vellum or any kind of high-quality paper. Sir Paul’s assertions about the likely ‘savings’ are evidently based on mis-reporting of financial data and/or a false understanding of economics.
  • –  Switching to ‘archival paper’ would represent a substantial saving to Parliament and the public purse. Despite being asked, Sir Paul did not reveal the basis for this calculation, including what specific ‘archival paper’ he was referring to. I also asked for evidence of any detailed cost-benefit analysis that the Committee did before reaching its conclusions; I received no response on that point either. Our own research suggests that the difference between using vellum and the higher-end qualities of archival paper is small, and not likely to result in any meaningful savings. Sir Paul’s failure (or worse, an express feeling that he did not need) to answer the above questions suggests to us that he had not actually bothered to research specific paper options (or their costs) independently. Further, unless he can be precise about what paper he has in mind, he cannot guarantee the longevity of any printing done on it. The only conclusion we can draw from this inability to provide basic information is that Sir Paul and his team did not do a proper due diligence or cost-benefit analysis and that their decision to dispense with vellum was prejudicial.

– Printing on vellum requires some kind of special printing machinery that needs to be maintained and/or replaced at great expense. This is nonsense. Yet we saw the argument being advanced by an unnamed ‘Westminster source’ in an article in The Telegraph last week. There are a number of specialist presses in the UK, including the Westerham Press (which printed the Magna Carta facsimiles in 2015) and the Gregynog Press which also prints high quality books on both vellum and paper, using the same presses. I and others made this point to Sir Paul in correspondence last year and it was also raised in the parliamentary debate, so he and his colleagues cannot claim to be unaware of it.

It is certainly true that some printers would rather not use vellum and would prefer to use paper in all their operations. They can make more money that way. But that does not necessarily make it good value for Parliament or the public purse. I asked Sir Paul to tell me when the contract for printing Parliamentary Acts was last put out to public tender, ie to see who could do the job – with vellum – at a more competitive price than the current providers. Needless to say, I got no response on that point either.

Separately, we understand that the current printers of Acts, Williams Lea, won a huge central government contract in 2011 (for four years) to do all official printing. What is the current status of that contract with regard to Parliament? Is it the case that Parliament is obliged to use Williams Lea because of this central contract, even if it represents bad value for money? Is the real reason that the Committees want vellum thrown out because Williams Lea would rather not have to deal with the material and the Administration Committee would rather not argue with Williams Lea and/or Whitehall departments? We remain having to reach our own conclusions on this until Parliament provides meaningful information.

The several thousand mere members of the public (and taxpayers) in our ranks find the way this matter has been handled both underhand and damaging to Parliament’s reputation. Parliament and its various committees should – by default – strive to be open in their decisions with the public and transparent and respectful of the will of our representatives in how it reaches them. In addition, I should not have to write to you because Sir Paul Beresford will not answer straight questions fully and properly. We should not have to initiate a formal Freedom of Information request to find out how the Administration Committees in both Houses conduct themselves on such matters.

All the above explains why I urge you to initiate a thorough, impartial investigation into the handling of this matter and to set aside the Commons Administration Committee’s recent decision to agree to dispense with vellum until it is completed.

Our position remains unchanged. Vellum remains both the best material for recording the most important decisions made in the name of the British people and also the best long-term value for money. Its storage flexibility, risk- mitigation, low-maintenance and research benefits – along with its easy accessibility – far outweigh its modest cost, compared to even the highest-grade of archival paper.

I will happily supply copies of previous correspondence if that would help. I am copying this letter to David Natzler, Clerk of the House (since we understand that he had a role in this matter) and a side copy to Sir Paul Beresford, for his information.

Many thanks in anticipation of your agreement to look into this matter and your reply.

So we shall see if Beresford, through the Speaker, answers the questions that challenge the due diligence that should be applied in all decisions, particularly where the public purse is concerned.

A single shivering fleck of sunset-light

Layout 1How fortunate we are as calligraphers not only to be moved by the words of authors and poets, but also to be able to interpret that text visually. I had the task of creating a number of pieces of the same artwork for a special occasion – what to choose, and how to interpret the text? As it’s what I do, I homed in on vellum and quills, and had some lovely classic-finish skin which hadn’t been bleached too much so still had many of the characteristics of the animal such as darker areas, veining and specks of hair follicles.

 

 

 

IMG_2163I wanted something that would be a bit of challenge as I had to write it out over a dozen times and I do tend to get bored rather easily (!), but I hadn’t quite appreciated the extent of that challenge when I started! As it was a special occasion I chose my favourite verse of my favourite poem, Gift, by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. In this poem he writes about what he could give to show that he cares. Tagore considers a flower – it will fade, a jewel – it could get lost, a candle in the darkness – it will get blown out. So he chooses a moment – that point when, wandering in a garden, a hidden flower’s scent ‘startles you into sudden wondering’. Or when, at dusk, a ‘single shivering fleck of sunset-light turns your daydreams to gold’ (I get a shiver up the spine whenever I read that). I tried the verse in various formats, portrait, landscape, in Italic, in Foundational hand, and in the end decided to go for Compressed Italic Majuscles (Capitals) with the words and phrases that meant to most to me in wider Roman Capitals. Rather than using the same colour, I chose three – bright yellow, a bright green and an olive green as I felt these reflected the colours in the verse, and fed these into the pen as I wrote. This is technically quite challenging to do as you can see here and here. So the first thing to do was to see how the lines would fall, as on the right above.

IMG_2162Having determined the line endings and seen how big the piece was, I realised that I needed to go down a nib size, as on the right, but even this was too big, so I then went for the smallest nib size – a size 6 – this was turning into quite a challenge! I did have the basic layout of the poem though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2155I don’t usually use lines for these pieces, relying on eye and the balance of the text, but to do this number, I appreciated that I did need some sort of guide. The great thing about vellum is that usually you can just about see through it. So I worked out the line spacing, length of lines, beginnings and endings and the balance of the artwork and ruled up a piece of paper to use as my guide on which I placed the prepared cut pieces of vellum ready to write.

 

 

 

IMG_2152Pieces that are completely evenly centred often cause a problem as the eye is taken by the shape the edges of the lines make, so in my view it’s better to have the lines based on a central line. For this, to ensure that there is a balance, use a plastic ruler and place the narrow edge down the vertical central line of the piece. Half close your eyes and there should be the same amount of text on the right-hand side of the line as there is on the left. It can take some adjusting of individual lines  to achieve this. What is important is that some part of all the lines must go through this central line; if they are flying off to the right or left without this the piece has no cohesion, no spine.

 

IMG_2153So I was ready to go, and hope that the recipients are pleased with their original artworks, each one different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lindisfarne Gospels

6a00d8341c464853ef01a73dbed759970d-580wiThe Lindisfarne Gospels are, in the opinion of many (including me!) the greatest treasure we have. This manuscript had, of course, to be featured in my book The Art and History of Calligraphy, published by the British Library in May 2017. The Lindisfarne Gospels were written before 720 and the scribe and artist was Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, according to Aldred who added a colophon (scribe’s note) at the back of the book in the tenth century. You can see Aldred’s dancing Insular Minuscule gloss between the lines on the right; he added this lettering during the 100 years or so when the monks were at Chester-le-Street. However, what is far more eye-catching are the wonderful colourful and decorated letters. The patterns range from interlace, to geometric red dots, to birds with necks and legs intertwined in the first and last strokes of the enlarged letter N at the start. And it is the invention of letter-forms and their placement that is so delighted. Look at the letter U sitting comfortably within what actually is a V but looks like a U on the top line – NOVUM. Note, too, the four birds’ heads hanging off the top serifs and springing up from the bottom ones on the squared-off letter O on the next line.

pod85Opposite this page is one of the famous cross-carpet pages, called this because they are densely decorated and patterned like a Persian carpet, but are also in the shape of a cross. On the right is the cross carpet page opposite the incipit, the beginning, of Mark.

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 12.39.56What is intriguing with this cross-carpet is the central part of the design in that the lines are not completely straight; so this circular design looks almost as if it is slightly raised in the centre, a bit like the ‘boss’ on a shield perhaps. Look at the red geometric patterns top and bottom and right and left; notice the way in which the black outlines aren’t exactly perpendicular emphasising this effect.

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 12.39.37Now these patterns didn’t come about by chance when Eadfrith was doodling away one wet afternoon. They were very carefully planned and constructed. This is the back of that page. These are the guidelines made by lead point, the earliest example of it according to the great Michelle Brown. However there are also pin prick marks where a set of dividers has been used to ensure that the distances between the lines on that central ‘boss’ shape are even. Michelle suggests that some sort of back lighting was likely so that Eadfrith could follow his planned design. Read more here about Michelle’s work on the Lindisfarne Gospels.

images-2The intricacy of Eadfrith’s designs are quite amazing when magnified. The is the chi-rho page – the first two letters of the name Christ in Greek (not x and p as some believe!).

 

 

 

 

imagesAnd this is a close up of part of that page. The swirls are very similar to patterns on jewellery and metalwork around this time.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 21.29.18Red dots feature heavily in this manuscript, in patterns around and between the letters as here.

 

 

 

6a00d8341c464853ef01a73dbed769970d-580wiWhen the patterns are really enlarged the dots each have a dimple. This means that there would have been a dome. So, were these dots done with a pen/quill or a brush? I’ve experimented and am sure that they were done with a quill. There is a fascinating blogpost from the great British Library Typepad where they have enlarged various parts the page at the top of the blogpost, click here for more details.

 

images-3The lettering is in a particularly clear Half-Uncial, and even if you don’t read Latin, you will be able to make out the letters once you have realised that the letter A is a ‘two c’ letter and the rather strange squiggle is a letter G.

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 22.13.21This shows the clear letter-forms. Note the two c letter A at the end of the first line (TERRA), and the Half-Uncial letter G is the third letter from the end of the last line.

 

 

 

 

images-1There are also four author portraits of the Evangelists. This one shows St Matthew writing his Gospel in a book, with his symbol of a winged man blowing a trumpet behind him.

 

 

But you can see all this yourself as the Lindisfarne Gospels have been digitised by the British Library and you can look at page after page of wonderful lettering and glorious patterns, and enlarge them to your heart’s content! Click here for a couple of hours of pure joy!

 

The Vespasian Psalter

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.56.19The Vespasian Psalter is an Anglo-Saxon book written, it is thought, in the second quarter of the eighth century. The style suggests the south-east of England, possibly St Augustine’s or Christ Church, both in Canterbury, or Minster-in-Thanet.
The large full-page illustration on the right shows an intriguing mix of Insular interlace, La Tène spirals, and Roman motifs. David is painted as the psalmist with scribes recording his words on a scroll (which could represent the Old testament) and a codex (the New Testament). Musicians play musical instruments and a couple of young men look almost as if they are break dancing!

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.53.12The prefatory material contains pages written in small elegant Rustic letter-forms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.54.53The main text is written in delightful Flat Pen Uncials, held with the pen almost horizontal. The fine serifs at the top and bottom of many of the letters give the impression of the script being written between tramlines.

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.55.37The huge advantage of viewing this manuscript on the British Library’s website (view here) is that the pages can be enlarged so that the formation of each letter can be seen. The large triangular ends to the downstrokes on the letters N and T are clearly shown here, and it is possible to enlarge the pages even more. And the change in nib angle from the flat pen used for the fine hairline serifs and the diagonal stroke to about 45° for the bowl of the letter A is also obvious. The very fine curved stroke leading off to the left from the bowl of the letter A is made by the left-hand corner of the pen. How this is done is shown in writing the letter t in this Calligraphy Clip for Gothic Black Letter here, about 2.30 minutes in. The dancing Insular Minuscule Gloss (word-by-word translation) was written about a hundred years after the main text and is the earliest extant translation of biblical text into English.

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.54.11But it is the decorated letters which are so inventive. Here is a little gold bird in the letter D with rather unusually-shaped lumpy companions either side. The gold is flat, but it does look like leaf gold rather than shell gold here.

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.58.07And on this page, there is a line of decorated letters with a huge initial S. This letter is an intriguing mix again of patterns and decorations from different cultures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.58.36And when enlarged, the sad little bird, who looks most perplexed, can be seen clearly. Note, too the many red dots indicating the line markings and surrounding the letters; these are typically insular. There is more about this page in my book ‘The Art and History of Calligraphy’, published May 2017 by the British Library.

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.56.38The book has another first and that is that it contains the earliest known historiated initials, and the one shown here is of David and Jonathan. An historiated initial is one that tells a story as opposed to a decorated initial.

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 16.53.36The book was owned by Sir Robert Cotton, and his was one of the three major collections which made the British Library. Here is his signature in the book.

 

 

 

Making pigments at Guédelon

Guedelon paint (1)The building of a mediæval castle at Guédelon in France involves much more than simply the construction of the building. They are also looking into how the rooms would have been decorated and how the pigments were made. Jill Robertson, from Australia, who subscribes to my free online monthly newsletter (join here), has visited the site and supplied these photographs of pigments being made and used. I am very grateful indeed to her for doing this and allowing me to share them. PLEASE NOTE: All photographs on this page are © Jill Robertson.


Guedelon paint (10)
Pigments may be made from ground stone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (3)Or vegetation and flowers can be mix with water and heated until the colour is released, or pigments, such as cinnabar, can be made ‘by alchemy’.

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (2)The water in some pigments is then allowed to evaporate leaving the pigment to dry to a powder, which is much easier to carry around than wet paint. It is then reconstituted with an adhesive, and finally mixed with water to a suitable consistency.

 

 

Guedelon paint (5)This one has dried so that it looks a little like milk chocolate curls – better not taste it though!

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (9)Then the pigments are mixed again…

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (8)… and are ready to be used.

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (6)Walls in many mediæval buildings, particularly ones like castles which may have housed a noble family with money, could be quite colourful.

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (11)Patterns and floral decoration were painted freehand.

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (13)The walls would certainly brighten up what could have been a rather dull life!

Work, my workroom and ‘Landlove’ magazine, December 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I was very pleasantly surprised and delighted when brilliant journalist Kerry Fowler contacted me about being featured in the popular lifestyle magazine Landlove. This was not the first time that I’ve been in a magazine, but that was usually just half a page or a page. This time it was 6 pages, a whole 3 double spreads. I had bought the magazine before and was most impressed by their focus on crafts and makers – not at all ‘token’ treatment as in some other publications. However, the other makers they had featured usually had large workshops, and often more than one person making the craft. Here, it’s just me and my workshop is not much wider than a large cupboard! (when we had this part of the house built, I wanted the width of the room to be where I could sit at my sloping board and simply swivel round to wash my pens out in the sink behind without getting up – it all just fits, but it’s a squash for more than one person at a time!)

Layout 1Kerry said that the editor had particularly requested ‘a festive piece’ as the feature was due to be in the December issue. This was September, and Christmas wasn’t exactly front of mind. However, a walk in the woods gave me inspiration, and you can read more about the piece I produced shown on the right here.

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_021

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

And here is the photograph Sussie Bell, the wonderful photographer, took of me putting the finishing touches to this piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

My workroom is a bit of a squeeze and so everything is crammed in. I didn’t have anywhere to remove all the stuff to, but before Kerry and Sussie came, I did have a bit of a tidy round and blew the dust off the tools and surfaces (and just for clarification, I make a lot of dust because I sand vellum skins!). I have an artist’s trolley (now well over 30 years old!) on my left-hand side which has paints, pen rests, the pens in current use, ink and sharpening stones on the top, and then other tools and materials in the drawers below. I’ve looked online for something similar, as I know that some of you may contact me and ask where I got it from, but it seems that ones exactly like this aren’t now available. There are others, though, so put ‘artist’s trolley’ into a search engine for the range. This trolley really has been invaluable for me and the way in which I work. Feathers for quills and then cut quills are also to hand in pots, and for those of you who are interested, the very first Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache set is on the window sill. There is a special offer for subscribers to my newsletter on this, so if you want a set for £60 instead of the usual £96, subscribe to my newsletter (home page of this website) and then look here.

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

This is the part of the trolley top closest to where I work with pens ready to use; Arkansas stones are piled up to sharpen nibs (never done this? The difference it makes to the sharpness of your letters will probably amaze you. Look here at the free Calligraphy Clip on sharpening nibs). I use small crucibles a lot for paints as these are perfect for the amount of paint needed by calligraphers. Again for the free Calligraphy Clip on inks and paints for calligraphers, click here. Find crucibles by putting ‘small white porcelain science crucibles’ into a search engine. Look around because some are very much more expensive than others!

 

 

Calligrapher_016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Other tubes of Schmincke paint are in the drawer in the trolley. There is no system here, so I rummage round to find particular colours if I’m being lazy about mixing them! If you are interested in how to mix the paints of the Schmincke Calligraphy set to create no end of colours, again I have a free Calligraphy Clip here.

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_011

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Tools are all in jars on the right hand side. In my tidying up, I hadn’t noticed that I was cramming pens into the pen pot and one was sticking up rather a lot! I use pen holders that are quite small as my hands aren’t large; they are also a bit like using quills. I found these old wooden pen holders being chucked out by a school many years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_010

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

The rest of the tools I use most often are also in pots – erasers and sets of dividers, odd pens and a heavy duty knife nearest, brushes, ‘weird’ pens, brushes, quill knives etc further back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_020

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I was photographed finishing off polishing some shell gold on a vellum piece I had written using an agate dog tooth burnisher. Shell gold is in the crucible and in the little glass jar, and the green felt burnisher’s sleeve is at the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Kerry and Sussie seemed to love the copies of animals I had done from the Ashmolean Bestiary – using the traditional tools, materials and processes of mediæval manuscript miniatures. We shall be creating these and similar ones on the three-day intensive course I’m teaching in Kent, UK, on Saturday 27th May, Sunday 28th May and Monday 29th May 2017. Contact me through my website for more details. There is more about the previous course I ran here.

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_022

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

This is the little miniature that I took with me when I went to teach and talk at Harvard in October 2016 to show the various stages in creating a mediæval miniature. Here I’m about to apply a piece of loose gold to the pink raised gesso. More on how I did this here.

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_019

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I use quills a lot, and also demonstrate how they are cut to conferences and at talks, so I have quite a few! There are goose and swans’ feathers here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_008I also have rolls of vellum in store ready to be used. For the difference between parchment and vellum and lots more information, and another special offer on vellum and parchment for subscribers to my newsletter, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_018

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Although I don’t teach egg tempera painting in classes any more, I do still demonstrate how to change the powdered pigment as here into usable paints with egg as the adhesive. Cornelissen in London stock traditional powdered pigments in cute little jars. The colours are amazingly strong! If you want to know how to make egg tempera paint from pigments then it is shown and written about in my DVD on Illumination and also in my book Illumination – Gold and Colour. More details here. The one at the front right is orpiment. For more on a pigment that glisters but isn’t gold, see this blogpost.

 

 

 

Calligrapher_029

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I was about to teach a course at the Fitzwilliam Museum when Kerry and Sussie visited, and always aim to take with me the names of the people on the course written out calligraphically so they have a memento to take home with them from the day as well as the work they’ve done. As I was writing out the names for the course, I included one for Kerry and Sussie too as a thank you to Sussie for making what I do look so wonderful, and to Kerry for writing such a fantastic piece on me. And Hurray for Landlove and their inspired editor!

 

 

Rustics – not that rustic!

6316096470_0cb8df28e2_bRustics are very elegant letter-forms that have a distinctive diagonal feel to them, with the thickest strokes going from top left to bottom right. The fifth-century Vergilius Romanus, a manuscript now in the Vatican Library, shows one of the best examples of Rustics in book form. This is one of the manuscripts featured in my British Library book The Art and History of Calligraphy (published April 2017) where a whole double spread is devoted to over 75 different manuscripts from the third century CE to the present day – each showing a full page image of the manuscript and the opposite text focuses in detail on the history, art and the script. These are in addition to chapters which give an overview on the art and history, explain how mediæval manuscripts were made and show how the letters were written.

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 18.42.11The word ‘Rustics’ does somehow suggest a more rural and less well executed style of writing, yet they are hardly that. Perhaps they are less formal than Roman Square Capitals, but the many pen changes to create the letter-forms show nothing easy and casual. They are called ‘Canonised Capitals’ by some palæographers. Rustics occur also in the prefatory pages of the Vespasian Psalter, which can be viewed on the British Library website in its entirety here.

 

 

 

pompeya_2_reducidoIt is thought that the writing style originated from Roman Square Capitals. Rustics can be seen written with a brush on walls by the ancient Romans, and there is evidence of this in Pompeii in Italy as on the right. Here the shop looks as if it’s selling olive oil, and the lettering is magnificent for an advertising slogan!

 

Roman-graffiti-on-building-2This one is about election slogans.

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 19.52.28But the best manuscript example of Rustics is the Vergilius Romanus and this is available for viewing online here. You might be able to enlarge it as much as I have on the right. If so, you will be able to see the effects of the ink on the vellum. Note to the right in the middle line where the ink, which contains acid, has eaten through the skin to create holes. This is a problem with this manuscript as in some places the letters, or the spaces between letters have fallen out of the manuscript. This is not an isolated instance with oak gall ink.

Making little boxes

fullsizerender-2There are occasions when you need a suitable container for a gift and there is nothing available. If the gift is small, why not make your own ‘wrapping’? These little boxes are really easy to make involving simple folding. They are so easy that children can make them if they are shown how.

 

You will need:

img_1932i. Suitable paper: photocopying paper is good – the boxes above were made with red and green 100 gsm photocopying paper on which I had printed the ‘Happy Christmas’ that I’d written out in Gothic Black Letter in a repeated pattern. Stiffish gift wrapping paper is good too.

 

 

img_1933ii. Paper should be cut into two squares, one with sides 11 cm long (the lid) and one with sides 10·5 cm (the base).

 

 

 

 

iii. A pencil and ruler. Scissors for scoring.

iv. Errm – that’s it!

How to make the boxes:

img_1934i. Use the pencil and ruler to draw lines marking the diagonals from point to point on the reverse of the patterned side, creating a cross.

 

 

 

img_1935ii. Fold in each corner so that the tip touches the point where the lines cross.

 

 

 

 

img_1936iii. Then fold over again, making sure that you hold the tip at the point of the cross and don’t let it slip. Repeat this for all four sides. Open out the folds so the paper is flat. The large middle square is the top (or bottom) of your box so make sure that it doesn’t get creased.

 

 

img_1938iv. In the middle of each side of the square is a small diamond.

 

 

 

 

img_1939v. Turn over to the other side and use the tip of the scissors to score a short line from tip to tip as shown.

 

 

 

 

img_1942vi. Fold in one side ensuring that the tip goes to the centre, and then fold the paper up again to make the side.

Now repeat this for the opposite side.

On the third side, push in two diamonds that you have scored as shown here.

 

img_1943vii. Then bend this side over to secure the other two adjacent sides. Use your fingernail to ensure that the top folds are sharp and smooth.

 

 

 

 

img_1944viii. Now repeat this for the last side and the box is secure. If necessary, you can use a dab of glue to secure the base.

 

 

 

 

img_1945ix. Repeat this for the other square making a base (or a lid).

 

 

 

 

img_1946You can do this again and again with smaller squares, making boxes that fit inside one another – a great idea for a very special surprise (perhaps something really really expensive!!). Reduce the sides by 5 mm each time.

Cut squares out using a sharp knife and straight edge, then children can easily make these boxes with a small amount of help.

 

A festive piece

Layout 1Occasionally, just very occasionally, a project somehow seems to work without a great deal of effort, and this is what happened with this piece. I was asked by Landlove, a UK lifestyle magazine, to have ‘a festive piece’ ready to be photographed for their Christmas 2016 issue, when they were running a six-page piece about me. This was at the end of September, and thoughts were not turning to Jingle Bells!

 

 

 

cimg2831On a walk in the woods I saw some ivy trailing over a tree, and pulled a strand off, and a few steps away was a holly tree. This reminded me of the Christmas carol ‘The holly and the ivy’, and I thought that I could perhaps do something with this. I cut a few twigs of holly and took them and the ivy back to my workroom so that I could paint them.

 

 

img_1913I had the idea of a circular design, with the words going round in a circle and the greenery in the middle. I wrote out the words using a small nib (Mitchell size 5) and checked on the guidelines in one of my books – The British Library Companion to Calligraphy, Illumination and Heraldry (available from my website here) – on how to measure a circle to fit the text. I knew what to do but couldn’t find any compasses! So I found a stencil for ovals, and decided to change my design (such trivial reasons can change designs in this way!).

img_1914Not knowing how the words would fit I chose a size of oval that somehow looked about right, and started to write. The easiest way of dealing with the words would be to start at the top centre point of the oval, but I wanted the words in the first line to be obvious and sort of ‘straddle’ the top curve. Without really knowing where to place my pen, I started where I thought it was about right, and wrote around the line of the oval. Amazingly, the words fitted! I really couldn’t believe it, but there were some adjustments needed, with gaps where there shouldn’t be and a bit of bunching elsewhere. Also, the first line of the Christmas carol wasn’t placed evenly along the top curve and required a bit of tweaking. Using the holly and ivy that I’d brought home, I used a pencil to draw holly and ivy inside the oval, trying to create a balanced design.

img_1915I wrote it out again, starting a little further to the right for a better balance of the first line, but this time I ran out of space. I should have written it again, but didn’t have the time, so I knew that it was a deep breath and hope situation!

 

 

 

 

 

img_1918Usually the calligraphy should be completed first, as it’s easier to correct painting than it is lettering, but I had been doing a lot of calligraphy, and I wanted to do some painting for a change. I prepared the vellum skin and transferred the design using Armenian bole paper as carbon paper (see my Illumination book and DVD). I then reinforced the design with very dilute red gouache, and finally started painting. Once the design was in full colour, I realised that there was a bit of a gap on the bottom left, so I added in some more holly leaves to remedy this.

 
Layout 1Then it came to the writing. Really I should have written this out again to ensure that the words would fit, but I was really pushed for time. I placed the vellum over the first effort, adjusting the starting point so that the first line would be balanced, and lightly traced through, tightening up the spacing where I thought it was a little loose. It seemed to fit, and I decided to just trust to luck and a following wind! I cut a quill to approximately the same nib size, mixed up Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache to make a dark green, and, with a deep breath, just went for it. I really couldn’t believe it when the words seemed to fit and looked even all the way round. I tidied up the lettering and the painting and then the piece was ready to be photographed by the magazine. I also had some cards printed to use for our Christmas greetings card this year – spoiler alert!