Tag Archives: illumination

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

 

 

Glittering Gilders

IMG_1469We had an early start at the London University Palæography International Summer School to ensure that the images of mediæval beasts were transferred on to prepared vellum, and the adhesive laid before a break for coffee. It was marvellous that everyone managed this, but hard and concentrated work!

 

 

IMG_1472It’s tricky to get a whole miniature gilded and painted in a day, especially as most people have no experience whatsoever in even handling a paintbrush, let alone one with so few hairs, so we chose the miniatures carefully, focusing on animals from bestiaries. This lovely peacock is the copy, not the bestiary original!

 

 

IMG_1470Here is a fearsome bonnacon without its usual defence mechanism (look it up!), with two soldiers holding spears and shields.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1474And here two elegant goats, with the ‘original’ being copied in front. Notice the shine of real gold leaf on the vellum!

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRenderA red elephant and a blue dragon are fighting here perhaps producing dragon’s blood!

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 2And a knight on a horse is hunting a boar here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1475Two strongly coloured pigs!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1477 2And lastly a white horse fit for a princess!

Comments from students included:

Excellent!

Best class of the week.

A detailed, practical workshop.

I thought the teaching was excellent; all the explanations were very clear and thorough. Patricia was very encouraging throughout the course and I never felt that I wouldn’t achieve something worthwhile. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed this course.

Next year, 2017, I shall be teaching a one-day practical calligraphy course for LIPSS, and the year after that, 2018, there will be a repeat of this course. Meanwhile, in 2017 I am thinking of running the three-day gilding and painting a mediæval miniature course again here in Sevenoaks, probably over the late May Bank Holiday. Look out for details and dates in my newsletters. This was the one last year.

Gilding and painting a mediæval letter

CIf you ever wanted to learn how to cut a quill, what the difference is between vellum and parchment, how to deal with real gold leaf and use it in mediæval miniatures and illuminated letters, and how to paint them, then this course is for you. We shall be covering the techniques of gilding and traditional skills, and you will go home with your own initial letter, gilded and painted on vellum, and with gesso laid with a quill that you will have cut yourself.

 

 

Lovett courseI’m running a 3-day course in May – Saturday 23rd May to Monday 25th May 2015 – at my studio in Sevenoaks, Kent. Everything is provided – feathers for quills, vellum, gold, burnishers, paints, brushes, etc.

And tea/coffee and snacks and a light lunch is also included in the price.

 

gilding courseClasses are kept deliberately small so that individual and personal attention is emphasised.

 

Previous students have been kind enough to be very complimentary about the courses I’ve run:

Excellent – patient and with expertise, generous with materials and information, good humour welcome!

owlHighest level of coverage and specialisation. Everything was well thought out. Help and encouragement was always given. Patricia was very professional and enthusiastic.

Very good introduction and explanations of how to paint a mediæval miniature and the techniques used. Very encouraging to all students.

One of the best course tutors I have had.

Excellently taught – enthusiastic – well thought out and relaxed in a clear and concise manner.

I have achieved a long held ambition, and, thanks to Patricia and the relaxed atmosphere she created, I have amazed myself.

I honestly don’t think the course could have been better.

Every day has been excellent and I have achieved more than I thought I was capable of. Thanks for everything.

Please contact me if you want more details and the application form.

What’s on show at the British Library?

Lovell LectionaryI thought it would be helpful to have an easy link to the manuscripts on display at the British Library. Thanks to Dr Kathleen Doyle for supplying the list. I plan to update this when new manuscripts are added or are removed.

These are they:

Harley MS 4431, ff. 2v-3 Christine de Pizan
Add. MS 20698, ff. 69v-70 The City of Ladies
Harley 7026 ff. 4v – 5 The Lovell Lectionary, England, 1400 – 1410
Egerton 608 ff. 138v – 139 An Echternach Gospel-book, middle of the 11th Century
Harley 2804 ff. 216v – 217 The Worms Bible, central Germany, circa 1148
Add. MS 16977 ff. 186v – 187 Glossed Bible, Paris, Second-half of the 13th Century
Egerton 618 ff. 57v – 58 Early Wycliffite Bible, London circa 1400
Royal 1 C viii ff. 325v – 326 Later Wycliffite Bible. London (?), Early 15th Century
Add. MS 39625 ff. 71v – 72 The Vidin Gospels, Bulgaria, mid-14th Century.
Add MS 39626  ff 292-293 The Gospels of Jakov of Serres
Add. MS 39627 The Gospels of Ivan Alexander
Sloane 1975, ff.42v-43 Herbal
Add 41623, ff.35v-36 Herbal
Add 18850, ff.207v-208 Bedford Hours
Add 82945, ff.18v-19 Wardington Hours
Harley Roll Y.6, first 2 or 3 membranes Guthlac Roll
Add 5111, ff.10-11 Canon tables
Burney 19, ff.63v-64 Portrait of Mark

A modern flagellum

IMG_0522Beating the sin out of your body with a mediaeval flagellum may have worked in those times, but to me, this is a shocking use of beautiful writing and wonderful animal skin. I saw a flagellum first in the old British Library, when it was still housed within the British Museum in Great Russell Street. There was a well-used wooden handle, and Biblical texts in a form of Gothic Black Letter written on strips of animal skin, which were attached to the handle. The skin was rather discoloured, which it would be if it had been used to beat the body.

enlargement of modern flagellumI thought that, following my theme of loving a lot of lettering that is 3D, I’d try my hand at making a modern flagellum. But what to write? Although I love the words of the St James Bible, I thought that to use biblical texts would simply be a copy. I then realised that there were words and phrases that seemed to be beating the living daylights out of the English language – pre-owned, meaning second-hand, faux, meaning fake, compact (with houses and flats) meaning tiny, economical with the truth, meaning lying. I also have a bit of a thing about verbs being used as nouns, and I’m sorry, but it’s the grammar police here, different from (not different to), fewer for numbers (rather than less than), and so on.

We had a great time one evening with our friends suggesting words and phrases, and then I set to. It may be flagellum, but I wanted to make it beautiful. So I chose some really creamy vellum, used Chinese red and black stick ink, and separated the individual words and phrases along each strip with a gold leaf dot on raised gesso. I marked out with pencil and a straight edge the strips on the vellum – the plan was to make long strips and fold them in half, and then attach them together – and set to. Once the gilding and writing were done I cut up the strips using a sharp knife and straight edge (not too clever with the raised and gilded dots, but there we are!), folded the strips in half and then sewed them all together with bookbinder’s thread.

I am not skilled in wood turning, but I know a man who is, our piano tuner! So we discussed the dimensions and he made the handle. I tried ramming the strips into the cup-shape in the handle but they didn’t stay there very effectively, so I then flooded the inside cavity with acid-free PVA, and it held.

Unlike the mediaeval flagellum which had been used and so the vellum strips were quite flexible, this vellum is stiff, and so, when displayed, each strip has to be separately attached to the backing (with white bluetac). I just wonder what people will think of this in years to come!

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!!).

On the rebound – a 14th century book

Cover of choir bookMany of us don’t fully appreciate the work that has to be done behind the scenes to ensure that manuscript books in exhibitions are presented in the best possible way. In the Victoria and Albert Museum, a choir book made in Tuscany, probably Florence, in around 1380 for a religious house of nuns is one such. It contains the chants to be sung in the Masses for saints on their feast days.

 

 

 

Piccolomini LibraryThese choir books were usually large enough to be propped on a stand so that all the choristers could see the words and music at the same time. Many of them are quite huge, and there is a glorious collection of these books which can be seen by the public in the Piccolomini Library at the cathedral in Sienna, Italy.

 

Choir book before restorationThe V&A book, though, was not in a good state of repair. It had been stored upright rather than flat and this had put a strain on the binding such that the front cover and the first few quires were separated from the rest of the book. Handling the book was challenging without causing further damage.

 

Detail of damaAlso, the inside was in a sorry state. It was very dirty, and some of the pigments and gold leaf had started to detach. There is a large chunk of gold leaf that has fallen off in this illumination and the other areas of gold look damaged too.

 

 

 

 

 

Partially cleaned manuscript pageSo the decision was made to completely rebind the book and also clean and consolidate the pigments. Most of the cleaning was done by using a soft eraser, although there was some use of a chemical sponge. The results can be seen here on the right and below. The pigments were also analysed and a whole range of colours including the precious lapis lazuli (ultramarine) and Enlargement of cleaned areavermilion (cinnabar), as well as red lead (minium), lead white, (ceruse), azurite (citramarine) and organic pink (probably madder looking at the manuscript). The non-destructive tests on the ink were inconclusive, so it is not clear whether it was oak gall or carbon ink used.

 

 

Book sections sewn on to alum tawesThe book was rebound, including removing the metal bosses on the covers to enable the latter to be attached to a new spine. A series of photographs of this process is shown on the website page and it is a fascinating record of a true craft process.

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’!

New Illumination book on the way

After many delays I’m now getting very excited at the publication of my new book on Illumination. I’ve updated a lot of the techniques from my previous British Library book ‘Companion to Calligraphy, Illumination and Heraldry’ (can’t believe how long ago that was published!), and it links very well with my DVD on Illumination. I think that we’re on the home straight now, and could even get copies in time for Christmas! Fingers crossed.

This is the cover (left side is the back, then the spine, and then the right is the front cover):

Cover of Illumination

The little angel on the back is a copy from the Sforza Hours. It’s one of my favourite manuscripts with paintings both by Birago, done when the book was in Italy commissioned originally by Bona Sforza, Duchess of Milan, and then by Horenbout, in the Netherlands, when the stolen images were replaced by this great Dutch artist (the story of the book is really fascinating.)

Angels by BiragoMy favourites are those by Birago as he paints saints and angels with the most fabulous cheek bones and really curly hair. They almost look as if they have put their fingers in electric sockets such are the curls, and despite being angels they don’t seem to have known about frizz-eaze!

My angel is a copy of one painted by Birago and is of a chorister, but I popped a quill into his left hand to make him into a scribe (or an illuminator) ready to write or lay gesso into a book.