Tag Archives: calligraphy gouache

Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache

CIMG2401It is often very confusing when starting out in calligraphy to be faced with bottles of different inks, some specifically for calligraphy, some for drawing and some for fountain pens. What’s best to use? To avoid any confusion I would strongly recommend paint rather than ink, and, in some cases, paint is actually far better than ink on challenging papers or when writing in books. So if using paint, then the only paint I would recommend is Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache. I know I’m a bit biased because I did work with Schmincke to develop the paints, but my payment ended there, and I now recommend them because they are really good!



******Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache special offer! L Cornelissen, main suppliers of Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache, have very kindly arranged a fantastic offer! If you subscribe to my newsletter (subscribe here) then the price of the set of 13 x 20 ml tubes in a wooden box with an explanatory leaflet is £60 instead of £97. AND for those who live in the UK the p+p is FREE for a limited time. (The cost of p+p from Cornelissen is very reasonable for non-UK). If you would like to have this set, which will last most people a lifetime if they are calligraphers and/or painters of mediæval miniatures (ie don’t use a whole tube at one go!), then send me an email through my website and I’ll send you back your own personal code which you then use when you contact Cornelissen!

Layout 1The colours chosen for the set are based on Michael Wilcox’s book, Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green, which is well worth reading if you’re not familiar with it. This means there are two reds, two blues and two yellows. In addition there is a green – oxide of chromium (which works particularly well with a pen), burnt Siena as the brown (mix it with ultramarine for a great grey), Jet black (a great black ink), ivory black, permanent white, goldpearl and redpearl – both metallic pigments. All are particularly finely ground so pass well through a pen and also almost all have great coverage so pencil guidelines don’t show through (important for we calligraphers!)


IMG_1898For more information about the selection of colours and how to mix them, there is a special Calligraphy Clip here.





CIMG2423The tubes are a good size, and in calligraphy and painting miniatures, you don’t need much paint, so they will last a long time. Palettes for most painting are usually wide to allow for big brushes, this means the paint evaporates quite quickly, not what we want for calligraphy. I use small science crucibles for mixing paint as they have less surface area for evaporation. Squeeze about 1 cm (just under half-an-inch) of paint into the palette and then add water to the paint drip by drip. This is easiest done with an ink dropper (available at Cornelissen); if you add water from your brush, you don’t know how much liquid it is holding and so may add too much and then have to add more paint – and so it goes on!

CIMG2403The consistency of paint you want is that of thin, runny cream, so add sufficient water and mix up all the paint until that is achieved. If the paint is too thick then it won’t flow through the pen, and if too thin then it won’t cover pencil guidelines. The consistency is the same for painting mediæval miniatures.




CIMG2404Always add dark colours to light as you will need less pigment. It takes a lot of a light colour to make a difference to a dark colour, but only a touch of a dark colour to change a light colour. See my Calligraphy Clip about this paint to find out an easy way to reproduce mixed colours. It is important to mix up all the paint before using it. On the right there is clearly some red still unmixed and this could change the colour in the pen when using.



CIMG2402I never wash up palettes or throw paint away. Using crucibles, I simply pop on the lid and leave them. When I want to use that colour again, I add water drop by drop until the paint has softened and then use a brush and more water to mix to the consistency of thin, runny cream.





CIMG2424The same applies with paint palettes; I don’t wash them either, and, as they’re used by students on my courses, they often have quite a mix of paints on them. I love these porcelain palettes with many tiny wells which are ideal for the small amounts of pigment used for miniature painting. They also come with a lid which provides another surface for mixing, but you do have to let the paint on the lid dry before putting it over the welled part of the palette. I forgot this once – oops!.

Layout 1So to mix good colours using the Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache set, use those which have a tendency towards one another. So for a good orange choose a red which has a bit of yellow in it – vermilion – with a yellow that has a bit of red in it – cadmium yellow. To get a less pure orange, here I mixed cadmium with madder. Madder has a bit of blue in it, so works well with ultramarine, which has a bit of red in it to make a good purple (better than the colour shown on the right!). A less pure purple is made by mixing madder with Paris blue. Paris blue has a bit of yellow in it so makes a great green if mixed with lemon yellow which has a bit of blue in it. A less good green is made by mixing Paris blue and cadmium yellow. Oxide of chromium is a bit of a dull green so add other colours to liven it up. And burnt Siena and ultramarine make a grey with great depth – you’ll never use just black and white again once you’ve mixed this!

The metallic gouaches do need a bit of practice, and I show how to use them both on my DVD – Illumination – and also in my book Illumination – Gold and Colour. Order here.

IMG_2466The Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache set comes with a useful two-sided leaflet which explains more about mixing paints and also has some ideas for using the paints too.

The stages in creating a simple commission

HymnCalligraphy is a broad church, and just as there is a place for complicated, ‘designed’ pieces, with layered and textured backgrounds, and blocks of text of differing sizes and styles to create an exciting piece of work, so there is a place for pieces where the lettering is foremost and the design allows the meaning of the words to be paramount. One such piece was a commission I had earlier in the year – to write out a favourite hymn to mark a couple’s ruby wedding anniversary.

text 1It started with the whole hymn, and the client had the idea of laying the hymn out with the above verse in the centre and the remaining verses arranged around this. I experimented with writing styles and sizes of nibs, and then wrote out all the verses. I was in a bit of a flourish-y mood while I was doing this, but not all of these would make it into the final piece!


text 2So it was then time to cut up the verses and arrange them so that they looked as good as they could. The larger verse went in the middle, and the other verses were arranged around the edges in what I thought were the best places. However, there was a change of colour between the background paper and that which I was using. This, and the cut edges, often distract the eye, so if I had been going ahead with this design, I would have written it out again on a sheet of paper just to ensure that it all worked, before writing it out as a final piece.

Hymn 3That verse at the bottom bothered me. It made the shape strange, and, in my view, detracted from the central verse which was to be the focus. I removed the verse and it looked so much better.




red and blue textAt this stage, the client decided that, actually, it was only the main verse that was wanted. We had thought of writing the text in ruby red to mark the particular anniversary, but this could have looked a little plain. I suggested mixing two colours in the pen, which gives a variegated effect, as in a poem I wrote out on vellum, right. (The poem was ‘Kite’ which is why there is a black curvy line throughout the text – this was the tail of the kite.)This can be quite challenging to do, and it doesn’t help rhythm and flow, but it does emphasise two individuals coming together with a shared life (well, it does in my view!). I also rather enjoy the challenge of maintaining a consistency of colour and tone.

HymnRather than have the whole verse written out like this, the client selected certain words which meant a lot to him. So it was a little complicated to use the same nib, wash it in the middle of writing a line to use the two colours for one word every line, wash it again to go back to the red, but that’s what a calligrapher is for! I also suggested a very simple leaf decoration on the left-hand side, to add a touch of interest, but not to detract from the words.

Vellum ‘music’ book

Vellum bookI am always on the lookout for suitable quotations to write out, and, as I am keen on music, when I had a collection of phrases on the topic, I decided to do something with them.






Rough textIt took quite a few years before I could get round to it, but I was eventually able to combine the music quotations with a spare piece of vellum I had and make a vellum book. To start with I experimented with nib size and writing style, and settled on the fallback of Italic. So I wrote out all the quotations to see how many lines each would take and what sort of shape they would be. I wrote out the authors’ names in tiny capitals as a contrast.

Text rough placedThen I cut up the different quotations and used magic tape to attach the authors’ names underneath in what I thought was the best position. I played around with blocks of text to try to get a balance in terms of layout, and placed these in various positions on a large piece of paper.

When I was happy with this, I marked all the positions and took measurements of exactly where each separate block of text, with the writers’ names, started and finished.

text on vellumThen it was time to determine the exact page size. The top margin is usually smaller than the bottom, and the two outer and the inner margins about the same (the ratio for a classically laid out manuscript book is 2 units at the top, 4 units at the bottom, and 3 units at each outer edge and in the gutter [fold]).





detailI selected a reasonably robust piece of vellum so that it wouldn’t buckle and cockle too much, but note the distinct curve of the skin on the above right. This is the piece of vellum without being under weights, and not sewn into a book.The skin was prepared (see Illumination DVD) and the positions of the lines were marked by pin pricks using a set of compasses (see Calligraphy Clip, Measuring lines) then the lines were drawn with a 4H pencil.


detailTo avoid the lettering looking too boring I wrote the text blocks alternately in Chinese liquid ink, and ultramarine Schmincke Calligraphy gouache. I also had the idea for a bit of levity by inserting a raised gesso musical note covered in pure gold leaf, (the same process as used for raised gold in mediæval illuminated manuscripts), between each of the text blocks.

I was fortunate in that my training many years ago also included bookbinding, which I enjoy very much, so making the vellum sheet into a book wasn’t too much of a challenge. Acid-free 230 gsm hp paper was used for the title page and colophon. I was given some lovely Indian hand-made paper marbled with gold swirls which seemed appropriate for the end papers, and also had some black and gold fabric with which I covered the boards for the book. So it was a case of folding, trimming, sewing and sticking and the book was done.

A very special Book of Remembrance

Book of RemembranceI am often asked, when I’m talking to arts, general interest and history groups, what project or commission I have done which has meant the most to me. Without a doubt it’s the Books of Remembrance for Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. This year I have been associated with this for over 25 years, and there are more than 3,200 names written in what are now four volumes.



I was fortunate enough to have been involved from the very beginning such that when I was asked where to buy books of remembrance, I was able to say that the best place to start was with the paper, and then get it bound, and fortunately this is what happened. It makes setting up the book such as drawing the lines so much more straightforward and it is much quicker to work initially on flat pieces of paper.

Important decisions were taken early on in the planning. Rather than a list of names, the book was to be a ‘day’ book, whereby each day would be on display consecutively, showing those children who had died on that date. This meant that there were to be 366 pages at least for the days, plus prelims and pages at the end, including the colophon.

Most books of remembrance are written in black, red with sometimes a touch of gold. This seemed too cold and harsh for children, and we decided early on that green would be the best colour to use; it suggests youth and, indeed, life. Oxide of chromium calligraphy gouache is one of the best colours to write with and it is a fresh and light colour, yet with good coverage, and this is the colour I chose to use. It is from the Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache set of paints that I developed, and so is particularly finely ground to pass easily through the pen.

Another decision that was made before any pencil had been put to paper, was how the record of the children’s lives should be written. We had much discussion about the dates – 1st January 2014 – 3rd March 2014, or 1 January 2014 to 3 March 2014, or 1.1.2014, or 1.1.14 etc etc. The night before the final meeting and sign off I realised that these forms of dates were appropriate for monarchs and politicians, but were just not right for children. For children we think of their age, not their dates. So the ages are written in specifically – until 2 weeks the age is recorded as the number of days, from 2 weeks to 2 months in weeks, from 2 months to 2 years in months and after that in years.

a pageI made quite a few trials on how the pages should be set out, avoiding anything over fussy and elaborate. Again for the children we didn’t want a tightly spaced list. For a number of children, their short lives are full of drips, bandages, injections, and general intrusion; at least in death, we felt, there should be some space for their names. The book is large, and when open is about the size of a small coffee table. There are only 14 names of children, with their ages, on each two-page opening spread, 7 on each page.



January flowers

As the book was to be open each day for that date, I realised that, initially, there would be many pages with nothing on them apart from the date at the top. I suggested that I paint a little flower picture on the left-hand page for a bit of visual interest. I chose what were generally British flowers appropriate for each month of the year, but I did also add a personal touch here, in that they were flowers that I enjoyed drawing. Calligraphy and illustration on the same page can be a problem – which should be more important? In this book it certainly was the children’s names, so a full colour, detailed painting would have detracted from these. After much experimentation I decided on something simple and compatible with the design of the book. I outlined the design with a fine dark green line, and used two colours of dilute watercolour to paint only some of the flowers and leaves, leaving others uncoloured; similar to the children’s lives – they are finished but not complete.

I had the choice of paper, and so chose a favourite Arches which is quite robust, not too thick but also not too expensive. I experimented with pen nib size on the paper I was to use. Some names are very short – Sam Dun, for example, other children may have five or even six long names. How to give prominence to Sam, yet not have to squeeze the multiple names so much so that they would be almost illegible. I also decided to make the age and the year smaller, so that the names were prominent.

Then it was the time to start. I set out a template so that I could rule lines across the opening spread of both pages – wider guidelines for the names and narrower ones for the ages; I also needed guidelines for the beginning and endings of the columns. Just ruling the lines took well over a week of long days. Simply folding the paper to make the pages of the book took over a day.

I added some red and a bit of blue to darken the oxide of chromium green for the dates to head each paper. Again this was not straightforward. What size nib, and thus size of writing, would be best to use to allow for large lettering that will cope with both December twentysecond to be written along one line (not two) and yet May first would not be lost?

I lost count of how long each little flower drawing took – all 366 of them – but this was a labour of love, not one where I was totting up the hours.

bound bookWhat I did realise fairly soon, having all these pages stacked up in a huge pile, was that one book would be far too unwieldy, and asked the hospital if they could stretch to having two books bound by designer bookbinder Jen Lindsay. In fact, although not planned, this resulted in a great positive in that one book could be on display while the other volume was then available for the names to be written in. Jen did a great job of binding the books in a matching green leather, and made two book boxes which keep the volumes protected and safe when being stored.

ready to startThe names are written in at least twice a year, and we are now into volumes 3 and 4 because some of the pages in the original books are full. For those of you who are calligraphers, the names are written in a pen nib size of 3·5, and the ages in the line underneath in the smaller nib size of 4. I am now on my second sets of nibs after 3,200 names. Before I begin writing in the names I set everything out on a stool as on the right. A well-used kitchen towel protects the stool top, and on this a Chinese jade (coincidentally also green!) pen rest has dips for the two pen nib sizes and a paint brush for mixing the paint. I use a small scientific crucible for the paint, and this has a little lid to pop on top to protect the gouache when I need a break. A small jam jar of water is available for washing the pen nibs frequently, as well as a jar of fresh water and an ink dropper to add water to the paint when it gets a bit sticky. Then, just in case, another jar of clean water, a fine brush, and an electric eraser for the times when I make a mistake. I also always sharpen the nibs before writing; this ensures that the letter-strokes are clean and crisp.

day lily © patricia lovett 2014But all these are the nuts and bolts of what is certainly not a nuts and bolts job. First, it has been absolutely crucial to have a marvellous team at the hospital, especially Kathy Ramsay and Senior Chaplain Jim Linthicum who collate the names and ages, check, check and check again (and some of the names do need a huge amount of checking with combinations of consonants that are very difficult to pronounce), and contact the parents at what must always be a very difficult time to ensure that everything is correct. However, even more than this, it is about the children. Many of us have never been through the incomprehensible and devastating experience of losing a child. When I am writing out the children’s names I think about each and every one – their names and then their ages – those that are only a day or so old; the bigger babies who may be sitting up or even starting to walk; the toddlers talking away and such a cause of enjoyment; children who may have just started school and then growing up, and the teenagers, and even the few in their twenties; all are someone’s child, and the loss must be impossible to bear.
Ben Jonson's poemRecording their names in these wonderful books means that, no matter how short their lives, each child is remembered and is not forgotten. What has always impressed me about Great Ormond Street as well is that the sense that I get from them is the joy and delight of children while they are with us and how valuable that is. The verse of Ben Jonson’s poem, written at the beginning of the first volume (right), does seem to sum it up, and the illustration of a day lily (above) is on the front of the card that was sent to parents.



A new Book of Hours (well 6 pages!)

Page from Book of HoursOver the years I have produced a number of props for television programmes and films, and have also been filmed writing as historical figures with a quill or pointy pen, or demonstrating what I do – illumination with gold and egg tempera, and writing on vellum with quills – as well as being filmed as myself – a scribe and illuminator. Being commissioned to produce six pages for a mock-up Book of Hours for the BBC series of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall was a really interesting job to get.

The skin from William Cowley was a dream – both hair and flesh side – and I chose sections that had a clear scattering of brown hair follicles so that there would be no confusion that it was paper ‘pretending’ to be vellum.

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 13.47.25This is a short film clip of the various stages of the book and how it looked once it had been pasted into the book itself.

testing writing



I tested the skin to see how much preparation it required (for all the information you need about using and preparing vellum and parchment, see my video, 3+ hours long on everything to do with manuscript crafts and modern materials), and then experimented with pen nib sizes and letter height so that I could replicate the writing. Once these were determined I was able to rule guidelines and see if my test preparations worked for writing.

The pages are based on the Hours of Joanna of Castille, but the designer has added gold and coloured side panels, and imported mediæval animals and motifs to add interest to the pages. The Hours are quite small – page size is 105 x160 mm (4 x 6 ins approx) – which means that the lettering is tiny – about 2 mm high.

There were two main ways of producing these six pages. One is to start from scratch with the text, and design and lay out the pages, inserting larger initials, designing the motifs and so on. This is rarely a real choice because it adds often more than twice as much to the time, which I certainly didn’t have. The other is to copy an already existing manuscript, which is indeed what I did.

Design transferredI traced the whole page, including the text, to get a sense of the rhythm and form of the script, but decided not to transfer the tracing of the lettering, as this results in rather static rhythm. It did need a lot of concentration to ensure that line endings were reasonably consistent. They looked very even in the original. However, when I was working on the pages I realised that line endings weren’t that consistent in the Joanna Hours. The tracing outline is secured here (right) by red paint – minium in mediæval manuscripts – I use traditional techniques as much as possible.

Book of Hours textI drew lines for the text and wrote out the first page which was actually the second one. It is always better to start not at the beginning if you can, as your writing is often tighter and more cramped when you first set out, and this shows if it’s right at the start. I was fortunate in that I had a transcription of the text; some of it was difficult to decipher, for example, domum or domiun (my Latin wasn’t good enough to translate as I went along). The letter i was rarely dotted, and, with wear, the tiny joining strokes at the top of an n and at the base for a u meant that these letters were difficult to distinguish. This transcription made a huge difference. The red rubrics were written as I went along, but I left spaces for the larger painted initials, and completed them after the writing.

Then it was on to the painting.

tiny monketI very much enjoyed painting the little animals, though these were less than 2 cm high.

There was a monkey (right), a rabbit (below), squirrel and two peacocks (one of them is below the rabbit on the right).














The squirrel eating a hazel nut was fun to paint.






And every mediæval manuscript needs a snail!

Book of HoursThere were also strawberries, thistles, roses, and blue and pink flowers of slightly indeterminate nature.


Book of Hours gold baseThen it was on to the gold. There wasn’t enough time to use the traditional mordant of gesso, so I used a modern medium, raised it slightly, and then applied real 23·5 carat gold leaf. Gold leaf on anything other than gesso is never as wonderfully shiny and smooth as in traditional manuscripts, but it will certainly look really illuminated as the pages are turned in the series.

Book of Hours pagesIt did look reasonably shiny, though, but as the book was going to be ‘aged’ and rubbed to looks as if it had been in the family for some generations, I didn’t worry too much about taking care with the gilding.


These six pages were sewn into one gathering, and this was then tipped into an already bound book which was aged to look as if it had passed through a few generations.


Gold on Parchment

Gold on ParQuills, vellum and parchment (they are different!), real gold, egg tempera paints, the development of scripts, how manuscripts were made, how quills are cut, the sequence of manuscript painting, scribes, all this and more will be covered in the ‘Gold on Parchment’ session that I’ll be giving at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney on Monday 6th January from 5.30-7.30pm. Entrance is free. Do come along if you’re in the area (yes, I know it’s a long way, but you might enjoy it and could even be worth the airfare!!).

Kites flying high!

Finished Kite artworkI was asked to write out this poem for a special birthday present, and was delighted when the budget stretched to calfskin manuscript vellum, and real gold leaf on gesso base. As soon as I read the words, I had an idea of the shape and feel of the design. The poem talks at the end about the kite taking off, itself alone, and so I saw the kite flying free through the piece as the wind took it. To do this, and to create that feeling of the flight through the air, the piece just had to be long and narrow, there was no question of any other shape.




Kite 1I experimented with various sizes of lettering – the lines are quite long and there are six verses, so it couldn’t be too large. On the other hand, pieces that are hung on the wall, as this was intended to do, need to have larger lettering than that in books, for example, which are held in the hand, as people read further away from a wall-hung piece. I wrote the verses out fairly quickly on to Layout paper (for types of calligraphy paper, see Calligraphy Clips – Paper), and then cut these up into strips and placed them either side of a quickly drawn kite. The piece didn’t hang together, though, and rather than unite the verses, the tail of the kite seemed to separate them.


Kite 2So I changed the design a bit and pulled the verses together. I did have an idea of the size of pen to use for the lettering, and maintained that thought of the verses being slightly offset, and so wrote out the first more formal rough on to proper paper. Layout paper is fine for first trials, but it doesn’t always give the real feel of how long the lines will be, what the final spaacing will be, and so on, so after experimenting I do then prefer to use a good quality piece of paper. As someone once said, paper is no use if it’s stored under the bed or in a drawer; it needs to be used!




Kite 4So I was pretty sure about the dimensions from this writing out, what shape the kite should be, and how the tail would fall in the piece. I used two large, wide L-shaped pieces of card, placed carefully to make a rectangle, to determine the margins, and then cut the vellum such that it could be stretched round a piece of wood. For more information about vellum, why it needs to be stretched, and how to do the stretching see my Illumination DVD. It stretched beautifully flat and I then set to marking out the skin using a compasses and a 4H pencil (again see Calligraphy Clips for Measuring Lines). I mixed up Paris Blue and Madder Red Calligraphy gouache (again Calligraphy Clips – Ink and paint) and fed this into the nib as I wrote. When there is illumination well away from lettering, it is usual to do the writing first, as in this case. The centre line was marked on the skin and, taking a deep breath, I drew on the tail of the kite freehand.


Kite piece, gesso laidThe illumination and decoration was next. I mixed up some new gesso and laid it with a quill. I turned the piece upside down for ease of working and so that laying the gesso would be away from the area of writing, although my paper guard did slip a little as you can see here. The gesso is still wet and glistens in the light. It is also possible to make out the markings of the hair follicles. And there is a better idea in this enlargement of the variegated colours of the red and blue gouache.


kite piece, briar hedgeAgain masking off the lettering, I then went to the lower part of the panel to concentrate on the briar hedge. This had been designed especially for this piece, and consisted of pink roses with gold centres and rose leaves with prickles on the leaves and the intertwining stems. Almost pure real gold leaf (23·5 carat) was placed over the dried, scraped and polished gesso. Raising the gold from the surface like this makes it shine and catch the light.

Once the gilding was done, the flowers and leaves were painted, as well as the kite and blue kite bows. The title and dedication was finally added, and then, the next day, the pencil lines removed with a soft eraser.



Luck be a Lady …

Wooden cubeIn my view, calligraphy doesn’t always have to be two-dimensional. I really like pieces that aren’t hung on a wall, and making calligraphy books is a favourite. I had a different idea from a book, though, and that was to make some calligraphy dice, not just any old dice, but ones made with slunk vellum (very fine skin), with real gold leaf covered dots, and with the numbers written with a quill. First, I needed some wooden cubes which could be covered, and once I had these, the experiments started.


Wooden cubes covered with paperThe problem with using slunk vellum, though, is that it is by nature very thin, and so the darker wood could be seen easily beneath the skin – not a good look. I experimented with covering the wood with paper. The paper itself needed to be reasonably robust otherwise it too would show the wood through. However, none of the covering styles I experimented with were suitable as the skin still showed through what was beneath – the folds in the covering paper. In the end I simply used archival quality PVA and pasted this on one side of the wood. I then placed this on a square of paper slightly larger than one side of the wooden cube, and pressed and held down. When dry, I used a knife to trim off the paper close to the edges of the cube, so there were no folds at all that could show through.

Strips of slunk vellum with pencil linesNow to setting out the dice. I experimented with various layouts, and needed to ensure that whatever style I chose, I could fit in numbers such as 6 and 1, which have three letters, as well as the number 3 with five letters (normally no problem, but I was working on an area of just over 2.5 cms (one inch), and the lettering was to be written as circles within that, so an even smaller space!). When I was happy with my design, I cut two strips of slunk vellum, treated it carefully (see my DVD for more details of treating skin for writing and gilding and lots more [download the order form]), and used a sharp 4h pencil, compasses, stencils for the circles and a straight edge to set out each face of the dice. Rather than working with small squares of fiddly and curling up vellum, I kept them as a strip for ease.

L b L 4I made a new batch of gesso (my DVD again), and laid it with a quill, making sure that each dot was round and stood proud of the skin surface. I use a scientist’s crucible for both gesso and pigments and ink, rather than a usual flat paint palette, as the former has a smaller surface area for the moisture to evaporate. Traditionally (!), we use the end of a paintbrush to stir the gesso, as the ingredients for gesso need to be constantly mixed. Using a quill to lay gesso usually means that there are fewer air bubbles, and this was the case in this instance.

Partly gilded dotsWhen the gesso was completely dry, I polished the dots with a burnisher (you might be able to see the shine on the dots of the top vellum strip). Then to lay the gold leaf – this was 23.5 ct, almost pure, gold leaf. I got up early one morning, because laying gesso needs a certain amount of humidity, and set to. Gilding the dots was a little fiddly, but no more so than in some other jobs I had done. The curved-bladed knife is to scrape away excess gold when the gilding is complete.

Writing completed on the vellum stripsAnd on to the writing. I used a quill, recut so it was sharp (yup, that DVD again!), and wrote the letters and numbers in Chinese liquid ink and in ultramarine Schmincke Calligraphy gouache (the best to use for calligraphy). I had planned for the two dice to look different, one with blue numbers and black lettering and the other with black numbers and blue lettering.

Finished illuminated dice


When the writing had dried completely (always leave at least half a day for this on best pieces), I erased all the guidelines, and then carefully trimmed each square using a straight edge and metal rule. Finally, and really carefully, I pasted each side of the dice, and firmly placed the appropriate square of illuminated vellum securely. Usually I would use a bookbinder’s bone folder to press the surface down, but this wasn’t possible with the gilded dots. I allowed the finished dice to dry and here they are.

And why ‘Luck be a Lady’? Well, those of you who are as firm musicals fans as me will know that this was sung in Guys and Dolls by Sky Masterson. The first line in his song ends with ‘tonight’, but I wanted luck to be a lady for more than just ‘tonight’!