Author Archives: Patricia

The Church of Saints Michael and Gaetano, Florence

IMG_1319It’s not often that you see a view or a vista that absolutely takes your breath away but this happened when we visited Florence and went into the church of Saints Michael and Gaetano in the Piazza Antinori. Hanging from the arches, stretched along horizontal borders, and placed over shaped inserts in the walls were exquisitely embroidered panels, each one tailored specifically to the spaces.

 

IMG_1322The effect was unbelievable as the flowered borders stretched high along the church and hung under the arches.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1325The sacristan was in the church and I managed to find out about the embroideries. They were apparently made in the early eighteenth century, and it is only recently that they were re-discovered folded up carefully in a store room. This is a close up of the hanging in front of the pulpit.

 

 

IMG_1324It took them quite a while to work out what went where as there were no instructions! However, everything was very carefully made so that it fitted exactly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1353This can be seen from the side view of the pulpit hanging here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1354Imagine trying to work out what went where with the set of embroidered hangings in this area of the church!

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1320The hangings around the altar are particularly fine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1334Here in close up it’s possible to see the exquisite craftsmanship that went into their construction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1332But also to note that they are in dire need of conservation. The weft threads are almost completely worn through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1331There are lots of examples of gold thread work as here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1343Every area seems to have a specially shaped and fitted embroidery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1342We were told that it takes three whole days for the hangings to be fixed around the church and three days again for them to be taken down.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1335Apparently they put the hangings up for the first week of July for special church celebrations and then take them down a week or so later. We were just so fortunate to have stumbled on the church and this most amazing spectacle, when we did.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1348If you’re in Florence at that time, do make sure that you call in and have your eyes delighted by this stunning work!

‘Magic in Medieval Manuscripts’ by Sophie Page

IMG_1284This delightful little pocket sized book by Sophie Page, published by the British Library, is lavishly illustrated by many mediæval manuscripts and explains the conundrum in the Middle Ages of angels and devils, magicians, magic spells and charms. The conundrum was that from the mid-thirteenth century there was a backlash against magic yet the church still wanted their followers to believe in the good and evil of angels and demons, but not of magicians and sorcerers.

 

 

IMG_1289Despite the book’s small size there is a huge amount of information, presented in a very readable way. The five chapters of The Medieval Magician, Natural Magic, The Power of the Image, The Magical Universe, and Necromancy and Sorcery cover the topic comprehensively. Magicians and saints possessed special powers but the latter were not always the victors. Here Saints Simon and Jude, who were murdered by the crowd after they drew forth demons from statues of pagan gods but refused to sacrifice to the sun, meet up with three magicians shown wearing exotic hats.

 

IMG_1290Alexander the Great’s father, the exiled Egyptian king Nectanebus, was a magician, and he used to sink ships by creating images of them and pushing them under the surface of water in a basin, as shown here. And he appeared to influence the English court in 1376, when Edward III’s mistress, Alice Perrers was said to have acquired her powers over the king due to a Dominican friar who used spells from ‘the Egyptian necromancer’ Nectanebus.

 

 

 

IMG_1291Animals and plants were also believed to have magical powers, or at least powers that couldn’t be easily explained. A mandrake plant killed the person who pulled it up, but a dog pulling out the plant would take the curse. The mandrake was valued because it was believed to cure epilepsy, snake bites, gout, baldness and afflictions of the eyes and ears. The blood, feathers and heart of the exotic hoopoe, shown here, was used in necromantic rituals, and the heart, marinated in honey and put under the tongue would then ensure that that person could understand the language of birds.

 

IMG_1292Sorcery was often personified by an old woman. Here she has a severed hand and uses her stick to poke at a pilgrim. In her baskets she has ‘Many knyves and hoodys ek,/ Dyvers wrytes and ymages, / Oynementys and herbages’. The cut off hand indicates that she can tell fortunes from palms.

 

 

 

 

This is an interesting and informative book and is ideal for those who loved images from mediæval manuscripts, learning more about what they represent and finding out about the fascinating spells, potions, magic and beliefs of the period. This is highly recommended.

 

 

Illuminating a miniature

© Patricia Lovett 2018

© Patricia Lovett 2018

Another group of lovely people started the day early at the end of May 2018 to spend three days learning the traditional skills and techniques of the mediæval illuminator. Usually the group is limited to eight, but someone was coming from the Middle East and so the group was actually nine – it still allowed for intensive personal tuition.

 

 

 

 

© Patricia Lovett 2018

© Patricia Lovett 2018

Everything is supplied and work stations are set up for each individual.

 

 

 

 

 

© Patricia Lovett 2018

© Patricia Lovett 2018

We focused on gesso first, gilding gesso which had already been laid for practice of the techniques, then making gesso and considering the role of each constituent ingredient. Gesso had already been made for the each person to use straightaway, so at the end of the course participants had a good amount of gesso to take home with them to do more miniatures.

 

 

 

 

 

© Patricia Lovett 2018

© Patricia Lovett 2018

Gesso is best laid with a quill, so next, the group cut their own quills from swan feathers. Everyone did very well with sharp quill knives cutting good quills which they took home with them after laying their gesso.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Patricia Lovett 2018

© Patricia Lovett 2018

Then it was on to laying gesso on vellum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Patricia Lovett 2018

© Patricia Lovett 2018

The next morning, gold leaf was laid on the carefully prepared gesso.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Patricia Lovett 2018

© Patricia Lovett 2018

This is highly skilled and takes some time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Patricia Lovett 2018

© Patricia Lovett 2018

Before painting the ‘best’ piece, another miniature was gilded and painted as a practice piece. This meant that the final miniature was as good as it could be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Patricia Lovett 2018

© Patricia Lovett 2018

Adding colour to the gold really brings the image alive.

Everyone went home with two miniatures on vellum, the practice one and the carefully gilded and painted best piece.

Comments from the group:

It has been the best course I have been on so far, not only for the quality of the course but for your immense kindness and generosity.

You are a very generous teacher. I feel that I have learnt a lot. Everything was very clear and to the point, and you were very kind to answer all the questions with more detail than I expected.

IMG_0991I am very pleased that I could come on this course and would love to follow it up with another!

Excellent! Would do it all over again without a second thought! Natural talent in teaching! Thank you so much.

An amazing experience – moments to cherish. Left feeling very motivated and very relaxed after 3 days of total absorption in another world.

Detailed, clear and very supportive teaching. Fantastic to hear so much of the background without it being a lecture.

SUPERB! The best possible introduction to these arts – miniatures and gilding – and the practical support makes this course EXCEPTIONAL!

IMG_0992I loved how any question, even ones with minimal relation to the course content, were welcome and thorough explanations or commentary were given. Support, even if the results were less than what we’d envisioned, was enthusiastic and honest, but left us with hope for future efforts.

FABULOUS COURSE – will highly recommend this to my students.

It has been fantastic to learn so much about the skills needed and how to create illuminated artworks. Would highly recommend courses with Patricia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Graily Hewitt manuscript book

IMG_2632This delightful little book was written by calligrapher and illuminator Graily Hewitt (1864–1952). It’s the text of the Holy Communion written out for Clairice Gabbatt who lived in Petersfield. The book is in Graily Hewitt’s typical lettering style and it’s likely to be on his usual preferred writing surface of parchment, as the leaves are quite thin.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2631The book is bound in a dark leather with a gilded cross, and vine leaves and bunches of grapes in each corner (from ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’, John 15:5) and this image also gives an indication of size.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2633Graily Hewitt’s lettering is always very strong, it was said that he was the best calligrapher in the UK after Edward Johnston. Interestingly he almost always chose to write on parchment which is not the most pleasant surface to write on and results in letters that are not as crisp as they can be on well-prepared vellum.The enlarged and gilded letter ‘O’ is delightful and that, and the enlarged ‘A’, are surrounded by fine line decoration similar to that in the De Brailes Hours.

 

 

 

IMG_2634Calligraphers working at the turn of the last century were less concerned about word breaks. Nowadays most scribes wouldn’t break the word ‘Father’ in the first line to ‘Fa’ and ‘ther’ on the second, and again the word ‘Because’ split not just between two lines, but ‘Be’ on one page’ and then ’cause’ on the next.

If you want to see more of Graily Hewitt’s work, then a previous web post is here.

 

 

 

downloadGraily Hewiit was the tutor to a number of students, including Dr R A Holmes (shown on the right) and featured in another post on Graily Hewitt here. This is the background to the book from Jenny who owns it:

My great aunt Clairice Gabbatt and her husband lived in an Arts and Crafts house in Petersfield. They had no children and Clairice was worth a considerable fortune as she was a member of the Hartley’s Jam family. They were religious (and a bit stuffy) and became lavish benefactors of their church, St. Mary’s Liss. Clairice and her friend Lady Maufe (a director of Heals) wife of Sir Edward Maufe the architect who designed Guildford Cathedral  furnished the church with fabrics from Liberty and Heals and bought all the vestments etc. Percy Gabbatt seemed to domineer all the goings on at the church and any renovations etc (which he paid for) so tongue in cheek, the locals referred to the church as St. Gabbatt’s. They donated a wonderful porch statue called Incarnation made by friend Eric Gill and he and Gwen Reveratt and Graily Hewitt, I am led to believe, were all friends.  Graily Hewitt was commissioned to do the Baptismal roll in the church. In a church magazine I have, he was mentioned as living in Petersfield.  However this little Holy Communion book refers to Treyford. Treyford is not far from Petersfield. 

Written on the last page of the Holy Communion book by Graily Hewit  in pencil “Clairice Gabbatt memento Graily Hewitt 1946.”

Many thanks to Jenny for supplying the photographs and the background.

Quills and Quill Knives

Image-1An unusual quill knife in a manuscript image on Twitter made me look again at quill knives. This one had the necessary curved blade (don’t get me started on straight edges for cutting quills!) but a strange curved hook shape which seems to end in a point. I’ve really thought about why this shape of knife was developed and can’t see any real advantages for it over what I would call a ‘normal’ quill knife as below. It would be really difficult to sharpen that inner curved edge, so what would a dull inner curved blade be used for. Has anyone got any suggestions?

 

 

IMG_0101This is a trusty quill knife which I use when being filmed cutting quills. The shape of the handle sits really well in the hand, but for me the blade is rather too long and the lower part of the blade (the bolster or shank) should have been inserted more into the handle for better control. The blade is of steel, but not stainless steel, so there is some rust. Some years ago I was told that it wasn’t possible to get a good sharp edge on stainless steel, but according to Robin Wood MBE, who knows a thing or two about blades, modern stainless steels are much improved and these are what he uses for his tools and axes so they must be good.

IMG_0642So what’s important about a quill knife? First that it has a good handle that sits well and is comfortable in the hand; it is also important that it is substantial. I teach quill cutting as part of some of my Calligraphy courses, and in the three-day Painting a Mediæval Miniature course I run at the end of May each year. For these I use X-Acto knives (see image) which have good solid handles. They are sold with a pointed blade, but I buy curved blades and replace the pointed blade with these. In my opinion it is easier to replace a curved blade when it dulls for quill cutting than sharpening 16 knives! (And the blades aren’t wasted as they are then used for scraping mistakes from vellum, and then for cutting vellum and paper. And at the very end of their life, they’re used to sharpen pencils!). I would never cut quills with scalpels because the barrel of a quill is tough and a scalpel can so easily turn in the hand; having control of a razor sharp blade is paramount in my opinion!

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

Then the blade itself. First it needs to be reasonably short. There is strength in a more stubby blade that isn’t there in a longer, perhaps more flexible blade. And because cutting a quill requires only a short section of the blade, a knife with a longer blade where the whole edge slices isn’t necessary.

CIMG2507So how to cut a quill? If you want to see how it’s done then it’s all explained in my Illumination book and associated DVD (see here for details). The feathers used are the first five flight feathers of large birds. The differences between the first five flight feathers are explained in the book and DVD.

 

 

 

 

CIMG0977Once the feather is hardened, it is prepared and the nib then shaped.The first step here is making the long scoop cut.

 

 

 

CIMG0985Then the sides of the nib are shaped.

 

 

 

 

CIMG0991The long tip is trimmed to a manageable length.

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG1205And finally the end of the nib is shaped to make a quill that writes.

 

 

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

All modern pen knives – and the clue is in the name – have a curved blade. I’m not getting into ‘quill knife wars’, but every part of logic leads to the blade being curved so that it can ‘rock’ over the similarly curved end of the barrel of the feather when trimming the nib tip without splitting it. I do appreciate that there are those who swear by a straight blade, and these are sold on many websites, but it’s a curve for me and my students!

 

 

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

The images of historical quill knives have kindly been provided by Alan Cole of the University of London’s Museum of Writing to whom I am very grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

A Chronology of the Penknife (Finlay, 1990)There is an excellent pictorial history of the shapes of pen knives from the early 8th century to 1698 produced by Michael Finlay in ‘Western Writing Implements in the Age of the Quill Pen’ (Carlisle, UK, Plains Books, 1990) and reproduced here. (Thank you to Alexander Devine of the Parker Library for kindly sending this to me.)

 

 

 

 

So what would an ideal quill knife look like? For me it would have a short, slim, razor-sharp curved blade (the curve being on the outer edge of the blade), the blade should be inserted well into the handle, and that handle have a heft that sits well in the hand. An additional refinement for me would be the insertion somewhere on the handle of a crochet hook, perhaps pulling out in a way similar to a modern pen knife attachment. The crochet hook catches on to the membrane inside the barrel of the feather and is used to pull the membrane out. If the membrane isn’t removed it gets in the way of writing the letter-forms.

IMG_0644Classes of children were often large in the past, and until machine-made pen nibs were adopted in schools in the 19th century, one of the tedious jobs of a school teacher was to cut and trim the quills of the pupils in their classes. With often more than 40 students per class, a great deal of time would be attending to pens. What a boon it must have been when the quill cutter was invented, however, these were used almost invariably to cut a feather tip only into a point for Copperplate-type writing, To write letter-forms shaped by a broad-edged nib, it was back to the quill knife. This is a quill cutter with a curved blade to trim the quill, and then the part that cuts the quill and makes the slit is at the top.

 

Writing with a quill is magical – it is, literally, feather-light – and it becomes almost an extension of the arm. The downside, of course, is that the quill needs to be trimmed about every paragraph, and then recut eventually.

 

The Bury Bible

f956The Bury Bible is a stunner! It is thought that it was made about 1135 at the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk in the east of England. We even know who did the illuminations and who commissioned the bible (quite unusual for a book of this age). The Gesta Sacrum includes this (in Latin obviously!): ‘This Hervey, brother of Prior Talbot, met all the expenses for his brother the Prior to have a great Bible written, and he had it incomparably illuminated by Master Hugo. Because he could not find calf skins that suited him in our region, he procured parchment in Scotia.’ Although it may seem an obvious translation that the skin came from Scotland, the skins could also have come from Ireland.

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Master Hugo’s talent was certainly as incomparable as his illuminations. Detailed figures with expressive faces react with one another and look out from wide and heavily detailed framed borders. There is not a lot of gold and the adhesive isn’t very raised, but the vibrant colours make up for any lack of it. The figures in many of the larger illustrations are set against a dark green rectangle as here; in many manuscript books this would have been gold leaf, but the detailed drapery (wet-linen-look) and active, realistic figures would have competed against shiny raised gold. (Note the interestingly cut hole in this image so that the text from the previous page shows through. I can’t see any reason why this hole was cut out; it is unlikely that there would have been anything which was later controversial in this picture that then had to be removed, nor is there anything that I could detect on the previous page of text that should be cut out either. Another mystery about the book!).

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Another mystery is that most of the illuminations are on double pieces of skin. A smaller piece of vellum has been pasted on where the images are to the main page. It’s intriguing why this should have been done. I think there are two possibilities. First, there is a lot of paint over the illuminations and it is possible that the water in large areas of paint can relax the structure of the vellum and cause it to cockle and buckle, by having a reinforcing layer underneath this may prevent this. In addition, this density of colour can cause serious show-through to the other side of the skin. By adding an additional layer of skin this will help to prevent this show through. However, it doesn’t look as if the images were produced on separate pieces of skin and these were then pasted in afterwards. As can be seen here, the piece of skin is longer at the bottom, so some of the second line of green lettering is written over the join (look at the letter ‘S’), and the foot, neck and part of the head and ear of the lion on the top right also are painted over the join.

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

This image gives an indication of the detail of the painting. Even in small areas three or four different tones and shades are used to create a three-dimensional effect, a fine white line gives a highlight and a lift, and the areas and shapes are outlined in black. In this small section, there are two bearded men’s heads also squeezed in, and although tiny, they have been painted so carefully that they still look terrified!

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

There are very detailed decorated initial letters too such as this one with two blue and orange winged animals munching on a blue swirl, two bearded men, that same green background, and a narrow double ribbon of gold outlining the letter. The intense blue is ultramarine pigment made from lapis lazuli from north-west Afghanistan. Interestingly, it is thought that this actual pigment came via the Holy Land as a result of raids by the Crusaders, although tests have shown that much of the blue in manuscripts at this time was foliate.

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

The incredibly detailed painting can be seen easily here with just about every hair in the prophet’s white beard and eyebrows painted separately, and the care with which this face and the modelling on the pink (madder) robe have been minutely picked out is also shown. It is thought that the bible took two years to produce; my very rough estimate is that it would have taken this long to do the illuminations alone.

 

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

There are other enlarged letters too, in red, blue, green and a tan colour. Calligraphically, these are called Versals – letters where the width of the letter is made by repeated strokes. Note here where letters have been placed inside others to save on space. Perhaps the second word on the second line is a little too contracted!

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

That tan colour is most intriguing. The blue is, as indicated above, lapis lazuli which produces ultramarine pigment. The vibrant red is cinnabar (vermilion), and the green, verdigris (‘Greek green’ produced from copper and quite corrosive).But what of that tan? It is certainly very wishy washy and doesn’t stand up at all against the other jewel colours. And it’s not an adhesive for gold as it’s not sticky.  As yet, work has not been done on identifying the pigments used in the bible, but it would be interesting to know what this colour is. Master Hugo and whoever wrote these wonderful letters were experts in colour and balance, surely it was a much stronger colour originally to hold its own against the rest, and has just deteriorated over the years – but what is it?

 

 

© The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

There has been some debate as to whether these letters have been painted or made with a pen. This shows clearly that it is a pen that has made repeated strokes to build up the width as some of the verdigris paint has been worn away revealing the process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Here the central part of the letter has almost worn away completely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

And what inventiveness, as here various patterns have been etched into the strokes of the letters to add interest – or this may have been done by someone not particularly competent later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

It is thought that the text was written by one person. It is particularly strong and vibrant – and needed to be with such wonderful illuminations; it had to hold its own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

As is typical with manuscripts of this age, there are many abbreviations. The one here indicates that the letters ‘us’ have been omitted (eius), and is usually written as a curving comma just above the letter ‘i’. Here, the scribe has used the left-hand corner of the pen to draw what looks like a bell-shaped flower. In the absence of a more technical term, we decided to call it a ‘bluebell’ abbreviation!

 

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

The usual swiftly written abbreviations are taken to another level of careful construction in the Bury Bible. A horizontal bar above letters, again indicating an omission, is written with a thick stroke downwards and slightly to the right (some are almost hooked), and then the second thick stroke is made after a pen lift and with the pen repositioned before making the stroke.

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

It is clearer here where the repositioning of the last, third, stroke is made after a pen lift as a tiny part of the thin horizontal stroke peeps out beyond the second abbreviation.

 

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

And the abbreviation looking like a little ‘2’ shown here on the second line is written by making first a stroke to the left. The pen is then lifted and the curved stroke moving right is made then downwards to the left, and finally a thin stroke to the right. The abbreviation is finished by lifting the pen to make a serif downwards and to the right. This is a tiny curved abbreviation, not even an actual letter, and yet it involves three separate strokes. In this image the surface of the skin can be seen easily, with a wonderful speckling of dark hair follicles.

 

 

 

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

© Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

It’s not known whether the incomparable Master Hugo completed the lettering as well as the illuminations. He certainly was a talented man and could well have done so as it is of such a high standard and the care taken on writing matches that of the illustrations. There’s more information about of the book itself here, and images of each page on the Parker Library website here.

The Man in the Arena

IMG_3638One of the joys of taking commissions is being introduced to text that may not be familiar, and The Man in the Arena was one such. Written by Theodore Roosevelt it notes that it’s not those who criticise, or who stand on the sidelines heckling, but the person actually doing the job who is the one that matters. I really liked the text and may well write it out again. However, it did create a number of interesting challenges. The title was very long, and to write it out in one line resulted in only a few long lines of text below, with the title far too dominant. Splitting the title resulted in two uneven top lines, with the lower line longer, and a rather square block of text which looked rather dull and uninteresting for such inspirational words.

 

 

IMG_3628In the end, I settled for a long and narrow block of text, with the title along the side as shown here. The first phrase determined the width of the piece, there weren’t too many hyphenations or difficulties in the text running on to the following line, and it created an unusual shape which I think invites you to read the text. Of course, all this was decided after I had written out the text in rough and tried the lines in various positions. Here the text roughs are cut into lines of approximately equal length, the credit is the correct size and in position but the title isn’t long enough – it needs to stretch the whole length of the text block.

 

 

IMG_3635It took quite a few tries before the title was the right length.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3624Because there were so many short lines, it would have been easy to get them muddled, so I numbered the lines on the final piece of paper I used in faint pencil, and also numbered the lines in red on the roughs to avoid any errors.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3633Then, again to avoid errors, I placed each line of text above where I was writing. This ensured that not only did I not make any errors in the text, but that the lines ended where they should.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3642I was asked to do two versions of the piece, so I decided to write the title of the second one in red. It’s interesting how simply changing the colour of the title affects the ‘mood’ of the piece.

 

‘Cræft’ by Alex Langlands

images-1Many in the UK and elsewhere will be familiar with Dr Alex Langlands through his TV presenting skills and archæological and historical knowledge on BBC programmes such as Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, Full Steam Ahead and so on. However his interest, knowledge, expertise and skills in traditional crafts are perhaps less well known, but recognised by the Heritage Crafts Association – he is one of our Founder Patrons, and one of our most supportive.

 

 

imagesHis new book – Cræft – How Traditional Crafts are About More Than Just Making – shows this fascination with craft to excellent effect. However, it is not ‘just’ craft, Alex brings into consideration  landscape, geology, archæology, hand skills, tools, communities and so much more in this book which is both informative and a really good read.

 

 

 

eb5063a773f0f95b8b0be22c88b875deIn the fourteen chapters, after defining craft, Alex considers a range of linked crafts from weaving and baskets, to shoes and harnesses, from making golf clubs to preserving eating apples – this book is a mine of fascinating information. However, it is not just information presented here in a dry and erudite way, but information that is linked to our heritage countryside and considered in terms of what we may lose, what we have now and what would be of benefit in the future. On the right Alex is making a cable tie from a bramble using initially a sparhook. Who knew that those pesky brambles that catch and scratch your legs and trip you up if you’re not careful, could be so useful, and in this clip here, Alex uses one of the ties to make a faggot for his fire.

images-3We all know that there are different types of sheep, those for wool and those for meat, but Alex explains that actually the wool on those sheep very handily matches the climate conditions locally – not a coincidence! Devon Longwool, for example produces cloth that is suitable for wet and often bleak parts of the UK, such as in Devon. And mountain breeds produce coarse cloth suitable for tough trench coats and the very durable cloth, serge. This consideration leads Alex on to look at the most efficient way of cleaning sheep wool for shearing – wash the sheep in a nearby stream where the dirt is then dealt with by the water and drains away naturally, and the wool dries most efficiently, without any artificial means, on the sheep’s back! And then on to carding, spinning (which Ruth Goodman, fellow presenter shown here also with Peter Ginn, taught Alex to do using a simple wooden spoon) and weaving. Alex then focuses on the advantages of woollen clothing, for him (and all of us!), and his predilection for tweed suits and fair isle jumpers as worn here. But the story doesn’t stop in the past – as with many crafts – the link between Harris Tweed and Nike is also included. And to this could be added the high-end fashion houses fascination with beautiful woollen cloth mainly from Scotland. And then there is the link to hurdles – but here you will need to get the book yourself to find out what that is.

alexI tried dipping in to this book for speed to write this review, but would then find myself half and hour later absolutely hooked on the craft and Alex’s explanation. It is a book that you can read in small sections, but far better to read at a stretch, and what a rewarding stretch that would be. As Chair of the Heritage Crafts Association of course I would say that this is a book everyone should read, but even without that, this is a book that everyone should read! It brings together so much about our past, about the skills and techniques, about why the craft is there in the first place in terms of the landscape, about the links with our ancestors and about how much we can learn by marvelling at the skills, techniques and traditions that have shaped us as a nation, and including also the important part crafts can well play in our future. I cannot recommend this book more highly.

To My Dear and Loving Husband

IMG_3501 2The Art Workers’ Guild in London is a great institution, set up by followers of William Morris, and providing a forum for those who work in craft, art and architecture. Fortnightly lectures for Brothers and their guests on a variety of topics are held in the Lecture Room attached to a beautiful 18th century building. In this room a bust of William Morris, a previous Master, looks down on all proceedings. The Art Workers’ Guild held an auction in November 2017 to raise money for roofing over the atrium to create exhibition space. As Brothers of the Guild, we were asked to produce work that could be auctioned, and this is mine.

I chose to write out this poem by the American Anne Bradstreet because it is one of my favourites. And I decided to set it out just a little bit differently. I designed it as a landscape book IMG_3496and made it wide and narrow. I fed two colours of Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache into a quill as I wrote (more on this here). I really like doing this as I feel that it represents two separate people coming together in a relationship, sometimes one colour, sometimes the other, but mostly a variable mix of the two. The treated vellum was a dream to write on, and the lettering came out very finely, as can be seen by the title where I have left in the pencil guidelines. (Note the upper pencil line for the poet’s name. I was enjoying writing so much that I rather generously flourished the letter ‘g’ and then wasn’t sure that the tiny writing for Anne’s name would show up with the loop of the flourish, so had to drop it down a bit!)

 

IMG_3502I wanted to ensure that the balance between the title page and the poem worked well. It wasn’t quite as easy as normal to get the measurements right with this unusual shape of book.

 

IMG_3512I selected the colours red and blue gouache and found hand-made paper which matched exactly that of the paint, and, with a white title page and ‘endpaper’ to ensure that the colour behind the vellum was the best to show it off well, I prepared a ‘liner’ of the dark blue paper which had been made in India, and a cover of stiff red paper, a paper which had been made in Thailand. I made deckle edges on both.

IMG_3508I sewed everything together with a dark blue ribbon, wrote the title on a piece of vellum from the same skin and attached it to the front cover. Everything seemed to work well together and I hope that the successful bidder enjoys their book.

Charter for Trees, Woods and People

© Patricia Lovett MBE/Woodland Trust 2017

© Patricia Lovett MBE/Woodland Trust 2017

The Charter for Trees, Woods and People has been created to record the importance of woods and trees to us all and also to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest which is now in Lincoln Castle. This early Charter, sealed by Henry III, re-established rights of access to royal forests. The Woodland Trust led on the new project for the nation, collecting comments and ideas from many people, and putting together ten tenets of contemporary views of the value of trees and woods to people. I was delighted when I heard that I had been the unanimous choice to carry out this important and prestigious commission.

 

First lettering trialsI needed the text before I could start doing anything really, and once I had it I appreciated that it was quite lengthy! As this piece was going to be framed, the size of writing needed to be larger than for something held in the hand such as a book, as people stand further away to read and look at things on the wall so I couldn’t really use anything smaller than a size 5 nib, and the writing style had to be a compact one such as Italic. The title set the width of the piece, and although I wanted to write it in strong wide Roman Capitals (as can be seen here in the first tryout of the title), I realised that I needed to reduce the width as it would have made the piece really wide and rather unwieldy! I kept to the usual proportions for Roman Capitals, but just reduced the width of the round letters which seemed to work. This shows my first writing out of the text.

I didn’t really have time to consider the design for long as everything had to be completed, from first sight of the text to final piece, in about six weeks, so sizes of the various blocks of text, inter-linear spacing, layout etc, had to be done pretty much instinctively and based on previous experience. I used as a guide for the text blocks the longest sub-title, but realised once I had written out all the text that this would have left far too much space between the two columns and the illustrations would have dominated the text, but it was good practice anyway for writing out the lengthy text blocks.

Text blocksSo, with a lot of measuring – never my strong point – I wrote out all the text again with columns the width I thought they should be to allow for a narrower central column of decoration. As I was writing out the text blocks in rough, I realised that they were working out sort of justified, with a straight margin on the left and also on the right. Now in calligraphy we really never seek to justify text because it can make the spacing look very uneven, just as it does sometimes in printed text. And it also adds another level of stress which really isn’t needed for something like this, but …!

Text set outThe Woodland Trust had sent a list of eleven trees that they wanted included on the Charter, so these needed to be placed appropriately. Before I received the text I had been thinking and experimenting about how to represent these trees. They could be shown as complete trees, but the leaves would have been so small and they could be identified only by the overall tree shape – and who knows those that well? Or they could be shown as botanical paintings with one or two of the leaves carefully painted as exact replicas. However, this is where the decision about what is more important comes in. Is the text or the painting to be emphasised more? Here it is clearly the text of the Charter, so the decoration had to be subsidiary to the lettering and not in competition with it. With quite a lot of experimentation of various styles, sizes, what to include and exclude etc, I decided to show parts of trees where their identification would be obvious, and for most trees it’s their leaves and berries or seeds – conkers, acorns, hazel nuts, rowan berries etc. Having read the text I appreciated that the essence of it was how important trees are to us – around us, close to us in our gardens and on our streets, and almost within us – lifting our spirits and delighting the eye – so to have them separated in the piece by being a wide border along the bottom or along the sides wouldn’t really reflect that. A painted central vertical column of trees seemed to be the best way forward – and it had an added bonus too – read on to the end …

Ink experimentsThe Woodland Trust, understandably, wanted me to use oak gall ink. This wasn’t a problem as I do use it often, and have just done a major project using this. However, I didn’t have time to make it myself and they had someone who was doing this anyway for the Charter. Unfortunately, the ink supplied created further challenges as shown here. Another problem to test and overcome!

Not making mistakesSo with the text written, the headings done and the central column indicated, it was time to draw the lines. However, it wasn’t quite as straightforward as that! The first column was a line longer than the second column, and the sub-headings were in a different writing style than the text. It took quite a bit of measuring and re-measuring to work out exactly the inter-linear spacing to ensure that both columns ended up at the right place. Setting out the whole piece was immensely time-consuming and yet again I misjudged how long this seemingly simple process would take. I tackled the text blocks first. Having written them out in rough, when I was more relaxed, I knew that the spacing would be about right – not tight and tense. So I photocopied all the text, cut the photocopies up into strips of individual lines, and attached these just above where I was to write each line to avoid making mistakes. The lines were very carefully numbered!

Why I hate paper!The Woodland Trust wanted the Charter on paper not vellum (to avoid upsetting those who are sensitive to such things), despite me pointing out that the paper I would use wouldn’t be tree-based but from cotton or linen rag. Now I really don’t like using paper, because when using a sharp nib, it often picks up paper fibres which can’t be seen until they mess up the letters as here – note the ‘d’ at the end of the last line in the upper text block.

 

 

 

 

Writing finshedThen it was time to write the sub-headings, the text about the Charter along the bottom, and the main heading itself. This is where I found out that the paper I was using, Lavis Fidelis, was softer than I wanted it to be. I’ve had a large roll of this paper, about 350 gsm in weight, for a very long time and I thought it would be perfect for this piece, which turned out to be very large. But over the years, the hot pressed surface had slightly softened, and the paint in the large letters did not sit evenly on the surface. Every stroke on the title and the poem at the top had to be over-painted. However, I was pleased with the fact that having the lines justified gave neat edges to the right and left margins, which was particularly important with the central painted decoration. However, what with writing on paper where it’s not easy to erase mistakes without it being seen, this was an added level of stress that I could have done without! Note that both text columns line up top and bottom despite the extra line in the left-hand column.

erasing linesAnd once I had finished the writing and allowed the ink and paint to ‘settle’ for at least 24 hours, I had to be really careful in erasing the lines because the ink was so fragile. This eraser was a new one, and it had a point when I started. Because of the delicate paper surface, it took me about three hours just to remove the lines!

 

 

 

 

 

Tube on boardNow the Charter is large, 78.5 by 82.5 cms, and this meant that the paper stretched way below my sloping board especially when I was writing close to the top of the Charter. It is so easy just to lean on the paper without thinking and crease it, so I used a cardboard tube placed over the bottom edge of my board and taped it underneath the guard sheet. I had cut a vertical section along the length of the tube so that the tube would fit over the board and this created a smooth round surface for the paper to slide over. Even if I leant heavily on the paper, the fact that it was backed by this curved shape rather than a straight edge meant that the paper remained undamaged.

Wrong interlinear spacingI am often asked if I ever make mistakes – the answer is far too often – but as I use vellum these can be erased without trace. However, despite every check, I made a major error which meant that I had to start all over again. The lines of text in the blocks varied in number from five to eight lines, and the headings needed lines ruled at different heights – all requiring great care – so it wasn’t just a case of drawing lines the same distance apart all the way down the page, but drawing lines appropriate for each separate block of text and its heading. I never start at the beginning because no matter how much you try to relax you are always tense before you start writing and this comes out in the hand and writing. Starting elsewhere and then going back to the beginning one you’re relaxed and into writing the piece is a better approach. So I started at text block seven, which went OK and so I wrote out text block eight. Then, for no apparent reason, I picked up the paper strips of text for block ten rather than nine. Block nine had fewer lines then ten, but I only realised this when I ran out of guidelines! I thought – and hoped – that the Woodland Trust would not mind too much the reversal of these two text blocks, so I went back to the left-hand side of the paper to identify the guideline measurements and drew the appropriate lines. HOWEVER I took the wrong inter-linear measurement – how could this have happened? So although mixing up the text blocks might have been acceptable, lines too close together as evident in the last two lines here certainly weren’t! So it was the huge job of marking out and re-drawing all those lines for the whole piece on a new piece of paper!

Hazel startingThen it was on to the decoration. I started to paint each type of tree carefully on another piece of paper to get the design and balance right. This was an education in itself as so often things are in calligraphy and painting. How did the leaves hang on the branches – up/down/flat/singly/in clusters/evenly along the branch/randomly? And were the veins symmetrical or random, and having got the shape of the leaves were the edges smooth, jagged, rounded, pointed etc etc. I learned so much doing this. Annoyingly, despite all my preparations beforehand, the softness of the surface of the paper meant that I couldn’t transfer any of the designs over because in erasing any pencil or similar lines, the paint also came off the paper! So, having got the idea of the leaves etc, I just had to take a deep breath and wing it. I set out the faintest guideline in pencil for branches and then used very dilute Schmincke gouache and a very fine Kolinsky sable da Vinci brush (size 00) to paint in the leaves and fruit/seeds, having done all that previous research.

Hazel finishedNext, I used the fine brush and outlined the branches and leaves, put in the veins, added further colour to the leaves and fruit/seeds and finished the painting off. It all sounds so easy but actually each tree took the best part of a day with the research, initial painting and then the final painting on the Charter. Above and here are the hazel leaves and nuts.

 

painting douglas firI enjoyed all the painting and for the Douglas fir and yew I counted how many separate tiny strokes of paint I made for one short section along the branches. There were over 350 strokes not more than a couple of millimetres long in three colours for a section less than 10 millimetres long! As I say so often in my courses, the consistency of the paint and the control of it is crucial and it was here.

 

 

 

 

Everything masked for paintingBefore I started painting I covered the text completely, as it had taken me so long to write, the last thing I wanted was a green blob of paint across the lettering!

 

 

 

 

 

 

First 3 treesSo I worked my way up from the bottom painting the trees, here it’s oak, rowan and Douglas fir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trees 2Once it got too far for me to reach from the bottom, I turned the Charter round and worked on it upside down. So from the top here it’s sycamore, hawthorn, horse chestnut, hazel, yew, ash and apple. The order in which the trees were featured was up to me so I spread those with red berries throughout the column as red, being a complementary colour to green, would make a sharp contrast and visually ‘ping’, and also carefully placed the ones with darker leaves, or more spikey ones etc so they were evenly balanced and didn’t dominate too much.

 

 

Painting upside downThis is the completed central column of trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top decorationI then added tiny little blocks of leaves and fruit either side of the poem at the top. These were about 1.5 cms square in all. This brought some colour and interest to the top of the Charter.

 

 

Delivering charterAnd the added bonus of having the central column of decoration? This can be seen here in the finished Charter, where Matt Larsen-Daw, who is Project Leader for the Charter, is receiving it. The shape of the central column of decoration with the title and heading text and paintings makes the letter ‘T’, and, of course, ‘T’ stands for Trees – the whole point of the Charter! (Note the wide margins on the Charter, giving the calligraphy room to breathe, and see then the picture frame below)

 

 

 

IMG_3551There was a lot of publicity for the Charter and it was featured on BBC1’s Countryfile programme on November 5th 2017, and also on BBC Breakfast on November 6th, as shown here. I did shiver when I saw the Charter in all that sunlight on Lincoln Castle ramparts, but it was taken inside straight after the programme!

 

 

IMG_3557There were big celebrations at Lincoln both in the Cathedral and in the Castle to launch the Charter and mark the 800th Anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest on November 6th. It was a bitterly cold evening with a fierce wind, and Lincoln stands high in the surrounding countryside. Here I am once the Charter was taken inside to be close to the 1217 Charter. (And, like many of you no doubt, although the frame was lovely, I just longed for more space around the piece, particularly at the bottom. I had indicated the dimensions for framing, but this must have got lost in translation!)

The whole experience of designing, writing and painting this Charter was one that I enjoyed very much indeed, and the benefit was that I learned so much about trees. I am most grateful to the Woodland Trust for giving me this opportunity.