Tag Archives: parchment

An unknown book by Graily Hewitt


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Graily Hewitt was a truly great craftsman. Not only did he write the ‘Illuminating’ section in Edward Johnston’s seminal work ‘Writing & Illuminating, and Lettering’ but his work is astonishingly fine, particularly his gilding on gesso. The gesso is usually laid exquisitely, with spine-tingling serifs, and the burnish of the gold leaf enviable. I have been shown and have been given permission to feature this book which has been previously unknown.

 

 

 

CIMG2734The book is a hand-written copy of the poem ‘John Gilpin’ and was written for the granddaughter of Dr R A Holmes (see right). He was a student of Graily Hewitt and they corresponded until the Dr’s death. Because his granddaughter had shown an interest in what the Dr did as a hobby (although a very competent ‘hobbyist’!) he left his desk and all his tools, materials and equipment to her. During the war, vellum, parchment, gold and pigments were scarce, and the granddaughter was asked if Graily Hewitt could have some of the calligraphy materials that had been left to her. She agreed and this book was sent to her as a thank you.

 

CIMG2735The accompanying letter written by Graily Hewitt is delightful, and starts ‘Dear Little Maid’. It explains that the book is ‘mere writing’ but what ‘your grandfather and I used to love and practice together’. He goes on to say that her grandfather ‘was getting on famously, though his profession kept him too busy to enjoy doing it often’.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2737Graily Hewitt then says that it is in thanks for her ‘unselfishness in parting with all his beautiful parchment and gold and most of his pens, that I, who loved him very much, might have them to continue in the work we both so much cared for … I can hardly get such things nowadays; and I shall be so glad to have them for their reminder of him and the craft he loved, as well as his continued kindness to me’.

 

 

 

CIMG2728 (1)The illumination is just perfect, even looked at under magnification.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2729The poem is written on parchment, not vellum, being Graily Hewitt’s preferred writing surface (for the different between the two see here), and so the writing isn’t always as sparklingly fine as it can be on vellum, but it shows the hand of a great master nevertheless.

 

 

 

CIMG2723The book is bound in fine red leather on raised bands, evident on the spine. The title is gold blocked and there is a simple narrow gold border around the front and back covers.

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG2725At the back of the book the name of the binder is recorded as ‘W H Smith’. This is now a newsagents, bookseller and stationers in the UK. It may seem strange to think that they once did such a fine binding. Dr Christopher de Hamel of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge has told me that Douglas Cockerell used to do most of the binding for W H Smith, so perhaps this slim volume has a link with another great man.

Vellum and Parchment, and a special offer

IMG_1600 - Version 2Most people are not aware that there is a difference between vellum and parchment – both being animal skin (not pretend ‘parchment’ paper). The names of skins are often used interchangeably and it can be quite difficult when looking at mediæval manuscripts to determine whether the substrate is vellum or parchment. The clue is often the crispness of the letter-forms, but if a sharpened quill is not used in the first place, then this can be even more challenging! I prefer the terms that the makers of vellum and parchment use and so regard vellum as calfskin; it is a dream surface to work on when prepared properly. Parchment is sheepskin and, in many people’s opinion, is inferior to vellum for calligraphy. Goatskin can also be used but its surface is often very bumpy. The skins are a by-product of the meat industry, and as far more skins are produced than can be used by the leatherworkers, many skins end up in land fill.

IMG_2351To see more about vellum and parchment and the qualities of the skin, what to look for, types of skins and the best to use, see my Calligraphy Clip, vellum and parchment.

 

 

 

vellum making

Skins for both parchment and vellum are selected carefully, washed and soaked in lime to slightly swell the hair follicles so that the hair can be removed more easily. The skins are washed again and then stretched out on a ‘frame’ or ‘herse’. Whilst on the frames they are kept under constant tension and scraped with a semi-circular razor-sharp knife. Lee Mapley of William Cowley Parchment Works, finalist in the Craft Skills Awards, is shown on the right; he produces skins of excellent quality. The skins are then allowed to dry and when ready, cut from the frames and rolled, stored and then sent out.

FullSizeRender******SPECIAL OFFER!! Three pieces of skin for £12 (+ p+p), usually £16 (+p+p). I always use skins from William Cowley, the only parchment and vellum maker in the UK, and I highly recommend their products. They have kindly agreed to a special trial offer for subscribers to my newsletter. A whole skin is very expensive, so why not try manuscript calfskin vellum, classic vellum and sheepskin parchment (*see next but one paragraph). All three pieces are about 5 x 3 inches (approximately 13 x 8 cm) which will be big enough to write out a verse of a short poem, piece of prose or paint a mediæval miniature (and without the hole as in those shown here!). To get this offer, please email me at the address on my website. I will then give you a personal code and the website link to William Cowley. They will give details of payment and ask where to send the offer. This offer is available to all my subscribers, and William Cowley will advise on postage for non-UK addresses.

FullSizeRender*******The Private Library, the journal of the Private Libraries Association, has produced a whole edition on vellum, featuring a fascinating, detailed article about many aspects of skin written by James Freemantle. It costs £6 for UK residents (£5 + appropriate p+p for non-UK) and is available from Jim Maslen at maslen@maslen.karoo.co.uk

 

 

 

 

vellum skinVellum skins are not the same thickness all over as is paper; this can be seen from the picture on the right. This was the skin that I produced for the British Library’s major Genius of Illumination exhibition. The haunches, spine and shoulders are thicker and the ribs thinner. Care must be taken when selecting the part of the skin to use as parts will move and buckle or cockle in heat or when damp.

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*There are also different types of vellum skin. Calfskin manuscript vellum is prepared on both sides and so can be used in books or where you want to use the back of the skin. Classic vellum is bleached but prepared on only one side – useful if you want to create a broadsheet. Natural vellum is not bleached, shows the character of the skin, and again prepared on only one side. Kelmscott vellum has a surface coating which makes it ideal for printing; it was made originally for William Morris’s Kelmscott Press. It’s good for painting, but you need to use a dry-ish mix of gouache to avoid lifting the special finish. Slunk vellum is from the skins of stillborn or uterine calves and is quite thin but still strong. You can see the thinness in the picture as the handle of the paintbrush shows through much more in the skin on the far left.
Lovett P 6 copyThe skin needs to be prepared before use for writing and painting, and this information is in my book Illumination – Gold and Colour – and the accompanying (and stand alone) DVD Illumination, which is over 3 hours long. Both include how to stretch vellum over board to avoid it buckling and cockling and how to gild and paint a mediæval miniature in the traditional way. There’s lots of information about tools and materials for Illumination, as well as projects which are very simple to make.

CIMG2164Vellum skin does, though, give the most wonderful surface for writing and painting, and if you’ve never tried it then you are missing a rare treat!

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.

Sand, sanders and writing

sanderWe’ve seen it so many times before. Someone in mediæval or slightly later costume picks up a full feather with a flourish, pretends to write on paper or skin, looks at what’s been written, then picks up something that looks like a salt pot, shakes a powder on the writing, looks at the writing again and then blows the powder away. The result? A wonderfully ‘blotted’ piece of writing.

Oh so wrong! First the idea that full feathers are used. If ever you have a chance, try to write well and quickly with something that is about 40 cm/18 inches long. It gets everywhere and is very difficult to control. Feathers are cut to pen length 22-3 cm/9 inches for ease of use. And the blotting of wet ink, by ‘sand’? The impression is that ‘sand’ is used because the shaker is called a ‘sander’ (see above). ‘Sand’ isn’t used, at least not the type that comes from the beach. Think of it. This sand is crystalline. If it could blot up ink then water from the sea would come on to the shore as a wave and then simply be soaked or blotted up, no water would return. Sand from the shore doesn’t blot.

Tetraclinis_articulataThe ‘sand’ that is used is gum sandarac. The crystals of gum sandarac are called ‘tears’ and they come from the tetraclinis articulata, which is a small tree (see right), similar to a cyprus, found in north-west Africa. The resin is either exuded naturally or, like rubber, is made by cutting the bark of the tree; it hardens on exposure to air.

sandaracThe lumps, or tears, of gum sandarac, are ground to a pale yellow powder usually in a pestle and mortar. Once a powder, either it is used from a shaker (see above), or from a little bag (below) made from a piece of fine cotton usually tied up with string. Traditional shakers had a dished or concave top, so that excess sand could be shaken back into the container.

 

 

 

 

Using sandaracGum sandarac provides a very fine coating on paper or skin. This coating acts as a resist and so either the strokes of the letters are very fine, as on vellum, or it seals the surface of the sheet of paper. Hand-made paper in historical times was surface sized (nowadays paper is tub- or vat-sized – see the blog about paper). It was not always thoroughly done. If paper isn’t properly sized, ink will blot and strokes will have lots of little ‘bleeds’ like spiders’ legs. Gum sandarac prevented this and so it was and is always used before writing and not afterwards.

The last two photographs of gum sandarac and how to use it are from my new Illumination book. It looks like the log jam has at last been shifted and it may even go to the printers this year!

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