No roses for Christmas

Layout 1Each year I try to find something a little different for our Christmas card, and the Shakespeare quotation of ‘At Christmas I no more desire a rose Than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled mirth; But like of each thing that in season grows’, from Love’s Labours Lost, seemed rather apt. I so enjoyed writing and painting the card I did a couple of years ago where I used the words of the first verse of the ‘Holly and the Ivy’ carol, writing round an oval and then painting holly and ivy in the centre as here, that I thought I’d do something similar again.

 

 

IMG_3471I sketched an oval and made a first attempt to see if the words fitted. Interestingly, the number of letters was about the same as the Holly and Ivy card so I knew it had to work. As before, I wanted the first line to go across the top of the oval rather than starting at the top middle. The first attempt here almost worked, but I started too high up on the left hand side, which meant that it didn’t balance on the right. I tried once more and finally I had it about right.

 

 

 

IMG_3419So I prepared the vellum, sketched on an oval, and got ready to write. I do wish that I could just keep things simple – but no! Writing in a circle, spiral or in an oval shape is always a challenge. The substrate has to be continually turned so that the letters are upright compared to the baseline and it’s very difficult to develop any rhythm and flow. And now I’m thinking, bearing in mind all of the above, why did I decide to write in not one, not two, but three colours? I thought the lettering would look good in oxide of chromium green (a really lovely colour to write with – the Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache version is so smooth), madder red and vermilion but this additional challenge was one whereby each individual stroke had to be considered in terms of the colour that was used before, and the colours were changed even in single strokes. I held the brushes apart in my left hand and simply stroked the quill nib gently on the paint to pick up the smallest amount of appropriate colour before writing.

IMG_3420But it was so lovely writing on vellum that even these challenges couldn’t put me off! Yet again authors don’t always consider calligraphers! Why didn’t Shakespeare know that at some point a few hundred years later I would want to flourish his words when written round an oval? Fortunately the two stretches of words without ascenders from ‘wish’ to ‘fangled’ on the right, and from ‘that’ to ‘Christmas’ on the left, fell sort of evenly either side of the oval, so there weren’t loads of extended strokes on one side and few on the other, and the two areas with no flourishes balanced out. Some of you may also notice that in concentrating on the writing and colours being fed into the pen I got a little short on space and so had to drop the ‘e’ from ‘fangl’d’. I reckoned that this was something that Shakespeare may well have done so didn’t feel too badly about it!

IMG_3463Then it was on to the rose painting. I had taken some photographs of the last roses of summer from our garden, and although it’s always better to paint from life, doing this in November meant that there were no decent roses left to paint! Here I’m two down and three to go. (The colours here are slightly different because I took this photograph in the evening under artificial light – I was working long hours on this!)

 

 

 

Layout 1And again the finished piece with the three colours blended in places in the text picked up by the different reds and greens in the paintings. The darker areas on the right are wear the unstretched vellum has dipped. It seemed to turn out reasonably well despite this.

Friendships are the best!

CIMG3117Calligraphers are commissioned to write out many varied texts, some of which appeal and sometimes, some not! These words very much appealed and they are sometimes used as a toast; surely most people would agree that actually the best ‘ships’ are friendships! This artwork was to be given to the client’s friend who enjoyed shooting, so I suggested incorporating pheasants into the design.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3474I wrote the words out as a draft and experimented with various layouts. Essentially, these are four lines at the end of three of which are the ‘good ships’, ‘wood ships’ and ‘friendships’.  However, having long lines meant that the these various ships were just lost in the text at the ends. So I re-wrote the ‘ships’ words in majuscules (capital letters) to try to give them more emphasis. But even then the ‘ships’ didn’t stand out sufficiently and the design also looked rather blocky and dull, and so I decided to change the whole shape of the piece. I cut the text into strips of short lines and aimed for a long and narrow piece, but even here writers are sent to try us! The line ‘But the best ships are friendships’ wouldn’t break where I wanted it to! As the whole essence of this toast is about friendships, I wanted that on one line, but that left the previous five words as a long line, and it didn’t break easily before ‘ships’ leaving the three three-letter word ‘are’ stranded on its own line! However, I bit the bullet, thought this the best layout and wrote ‘are’ very slightly wider to give it a bit more emphasis.

IMG_3437To show the client I wrote the words out on paper first with an indication of the size. Depending on the length of the piece and time involved, I sometimes do this or sometimes just sent them the finished pasted-up draft. I was using the equivalent of a size 5 nib so the writing is all quite small and elegant. Although I wanted to give an amount of space around ‘friendships’ for emphasis, here on the draft there was much too much space and the word looked rather adrift from the rest. This needed to be changed in the finished piece.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3446 2 IMG_3445 2Once that was approved I prepared a lovely piece of creamy vellum, sharpened the quill and set to. The vellum and quill reacted together like a dream! It was such a pleasurable experience writing out the words in this way and the result was very crisp writing with the finest of hairlines! The writing is very small.

 

 

 

CIMG3117And so to the painting. How fortunate we are now to have the internet! It was not difficult to find a number of images of pheasants. I chose a male and female and painted these in different poses at the top and set in that green sward to pick up the green of the writing. These birds are tiny – just over a cm (10mm) each high. And then to the brace of pheasants for the bottom of the piece. Again I wanted a male and female and, because I thought that the male was probably the bigger bird, I hung them slightly unevenly, so the greater weight of the male was pulling down lower than the female. In the image I had found the birds were tied together with bright blue string which would have looked completely wrong in the subtle colours here, so I changed this into a piece of suitably subtle brown cord. If you look closely, you may even be able to see the twists!

My hope is that it will give pleasure to the recipient and his heirs, as vellum will last!

 

A wonderful collection of manuscripts

MS1r(90)Seeing a mediæval manuscript without any glass protection is very special. Imagine then, having a collection of manuscripts that you can see and handle anytime you want to, and how much it would be missed if given away. This was the case for the owner of a select and special collection of manuscripts that has recently been given to the University of Reading Special Collections department. The manuscripts range from single leaves to books and includes this gloriously decorated and gilded page.

 

MS102r(120)Even not very elaborate leaves have a rare simplicity, purity and attractiveness. This long narrow page has a red and blue pen-decorated gold initial which is balanced well by the regular and restrained fine Italic writing. Just look at that exquisite long curved stroke on the letter ‘A’ in ‘Amen’ on the second line.

 

 

 

 

And another long narrow page of Renaissance HMS53r(200)umanistic Minuscule. Again the initials are simply decorated with a grey, gold and red colour scheme. The lettering is very fine and even, but it is the line fillers that catch the eye. A very modern looking black and gold curved design alternates with a gold coloured knotted line and a line that looks as if it could be the branch of a tree. Note the particularly well executed knot design at the base of the page.

 

 

 

MS18r(Dscn1796)There are music leaves as here. This is a large leaf, probably from a choir book, where it would be propped on a lectern and the singers would stand closely around so that they can all see the words and notes. The Rotunda lettering is extraordinarily well executed with very fine hair lines to the ends of strokes. The larger initials are beautifully decorated with pen-drawn lines, and the large music notes are placed on four red lines not five of the music stave as now.

 

 

 

MS40r(90)There are calendar pages, probably from the beginning of a Book of Hours. Here you can see the water carrier of Aquarius, with the letters KL for ‘Kalends’ – from which we get the word ‘calendar’. Then follows a list of saints’ days with Saint Genevieve, Saint Symon, Saint Lucien and Saint William (Guillē). All this is surrounded by an elaborately detailed border of red, blue and green

 

 

 

MS23v(50)This Renaissance manuscript of Humanistic Minuscule has a typical ‘white vine’ ornamented initial letter. Here there is a winding clear white line and white dots; the line twines like a vine, hence the name. The lettering here is very even and it looks almost as if it has been typeset. It seems as if the scribe was very much enjoying the writing particularly with the lines above the letters indicating an abbreviation. There is a wonderful curved swoosh on the first word on the top line, and some lovely ‘wave’ shapes almost in the middle of the page on two successive words.

 

 

MS100f1r(72)Again a deceptively simply manuscript in Italic that is so even that it could too be printed. There is great rhythm to this script and real movement to some of the strokes – look at the red letter ‘Q’ halfway down the page, and the elaborate flourishes to the tails of strokes along the bottom line. The very restrained gold letter ‘I’ contained within a malachite green box has a little sunburst in gold and pen-work lines for added emphasis.

 

The Art Fund has kindly supported this very special collection.

 

 

Props for film and TV

CIMG2859As a professional scribe and illuminator, I am often asked to make props for film and TV. These have ranged from 19th century petitions of ‘thousands’ of names, Elizabethan maps, writing in ‘invisible ink’ and making it reappear onscreen, any number of documents, poems and letters, and, a few years back, to coincide with a big exhibition in Venice by one of the UK’s most well-known artists, a double spread of a 12th century manuscript written in Greek.

CIMG2811The story was that a freed Roman slave had amassed great wealth such that he was able to buy up great treasures. He wanted a suitable palace to display these and planned to take them on the ‘biggest ship ever made’ – the ‘Unbelievable’ – and then build his palace. Sadly, it was said, on his journey a sea monster caused the ship to wreck and the treasures were lost only to be found again hundreds of years later and brought to the surface in the twenty-first century. I was given a very wide brief and set to creating this double spread, checking the designs as I went along. I researched palaces in mediæval manuscripts, and it was lovely to create my own … in the style of! Of course the palace would have a fountain and fish pond and, as with many pieces I’ve done I enjoyed adding a bit of personal amusement. Each fish, for example, had an extra fin from one to four.

CIMG2809I knew that the spread was going to be aged but selected a piece that had a lot of character to it anyway. There was a fair smattering of brown spots which indicated the hair follicles. In my rough sketch I had planned to have carts with treasures being loaded on to the ship but realised that this would take far too long so in the end settled for wrapped bales on the quay, and a few treasures being shown on the deck of the ship. The freed slave, Amatan, is shown here, again in his fur hat and rich red robes lined with cloth of gold, supervising the loading. At this point I didn’t know what form the treasures would be so I painted in a few objects. To ensure that, mediævally speaking, the ship was in character, as it was meant to be so big, the prow extended well beyond the border.

CIMG2814They did give me a sketch of a mediæval monster from a manuscript as a suggestion but I thought it looked far too benign (a bit like a Tellytubby!) so I asked if I could make mine much more scary, to which they agreed. So here it is with horns – because it was evil – rows of sharp teeth and sharp claws. And because the monster was wrecking the ship by creating a storm, I drew a waterline which wasn’t horizontal to reflect that. (I did try it with a very angled sealine but it just looked weird!)

CIMG2804There are quite a few miniatures of ships in mediæval manuscripts, especially connected with the Jonah and the whale story, and I found a lovely image of a sailor falling overboard, which I copied, painting treasures tossed into the sea by the storm too. Amatan and another sailor are here pointing in horror at the monster, and even the ships’ prow is looking a bit scared! The mast is broken and the sail in tatters.

 

 

CIMG2815I also decided to have the monster coming up the side of the page and towering over the boat to make it seem even more menacing and had his gold tail pointing menacingly towards the crashing ship.

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG2863I then wrote the supplied Greek text and worked hard to ensure that it fitted the space exactly, rearranging the line spacing and the length of the lines to ensure that it did. I was also able to pretty much justify the lines so that the right- and left-margins looked neat.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2862I knew that they wanted the page aged, and so, once it was all done, took some sandpaper to the painting and roughed it all up a bit. However, when I saw it being used in the accompanying film about the story of the ‘find’, I saw that they had really roughed it up, with the gold leaf blistered and some of the images almost gone completely. The film of the story and the ‘find’ is available on Netflix if you subscribe. And the artist is still causing controversy about the whole project as here.

 

Dumfries House, Ayrshire, Scotland

‘There’s nothing that isn’t positive that comes out of this place.’

IMG_2850Dumfries House near Cumnock, Ayrshire, Scotland. is a unique place in many ways. The house was designed by Robert, John and James Adam, their first independent commission after the death of their father William. The building of the house was completed on budget and on time in 1759. It contains the most wonderful collection of original Chippendale and other furniture and is an amazing place to visit.

IMG_2849The whole estate and furniture was due to be sold when The Prince of Wales stepped in, reputedly arranging for the lorry carrying the precious furniture to be stopped on its way for the contents to be auctioned in London, and saving this unique house with its associated furniture which has an enviable provenance. However, being The Prince of Wales, this project didn’t end simply with saving a house and its contents. I was there to visit the estate and view the wonderful activities involving the whole community and while I was there I noticed that the stone on side of the house has very intriguing diagonal marks – mason’s marks or part of the design?

IMG_2855At the front of the house is a huge fountain and two formal mazes either side. I tried out the maze and as someone with no sense of direction, I was amazed (!) that I actually got to the middle, marked by a stone obelisk.

 

 

 

IMG_2857And just to prove it, here I am at the centre with the obelisk!

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2860It is well-known that The Prince of Wales loves gardens so as you would expect they are wonderful – a mix of colours and textures and not really done justice by this photograph.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2876As I walked through the gardens close to the house, I was intrigued by this huge tree which looked most impressive against the azure blue sky (yes, this photo was taken on the day I was there; the sky really was this blue).

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2877The bark of this tree was fascinating with its whirls and swirls and I wished I had time to sit and draw it.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2889However, it’s not just the house and formal gardens that are worth seeing. On the estate there are animals kept specifically to show children where their food comes from. And if Dumfries House is a building fit for a prince, the animal houses are certainly beautiful enough for The Prince’s farm animals! But the walled garden really was something else! There was a whole long border of HRH’s favourite flower – delphiniums. Again this photo really doesn’t do it justice.

IMG_2890But true to walled gardens, there were also beds of fruit and vegetables, again used to teach children about food but the produce also used in the café and catering training on the estate, and for the formal dinners given by The Prince of Wales.

 

 

IMG_2893Students from The Prince’s Drawing School were in residence when I was there, using the house and grounds as inspiration for their work. There are also great plans for a development to allow onsite training in building and living crafts. This will add to the training already being done in the Textile Centre. Training is given in sewing and machining skills, not now taught in the textile industry, and I was most impressed by what was produced. Here Ashleigh Douglas, head of the centre, shows a specially designed tartan.

 

 

IMG_2896And, as it’s Scotland, Graeme has been making kilts, and will be creating one of the above tartan after he has finished this one.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2901 2The facilities are most impressive.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2885However, what actually impressed me most of all was, as in the quote at the very top, the comprehensive positivity of Dumfries House and its activities. Every single person I spoke to, from the local taxi driver, to the waitress in the hotel, to those visiting the grounds and house, every single person said how important the estate was to the locality and how impressed they were with what The Prince had done. And in terms of the staff in the house itself, not one wasn’t welcoming, courteous and so kind. It truly felt like a privilege to be wandering through these beautiful grounds and touring a wonderful historical house. If you ever have the chance to visit yourself – do go, make a detour or even a special visit. You won’t regret it.

Even More Glittering Gilders

Layout 1Another group of keen potential gilders met in May 2019 to learn the craft skills of creating mediæval miniatures over three very full days. Their stunning results, albeit some unfinished, are shown here – just look at how shiny that gold is! The brilliance of this shine is really only possible on traditional gesso, as modern adhesives don’t seem to react quite so well with pure gold leaf.

 

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Everything was set out for each participant at their own work station so they needed to bring nothing with them apart from the willingness to learn!

 

 

 

IMG_2691The first day started with trial gilding then making and laying gesso. Then it was on to laying it for real around the mediæval animal image on prepared vellum pieces. Gesso forms the raised base on which the gold adheres. By lifting it from the surface, the shiny gold reflects the light, looking as if it comes from the illumination itself – hence the name.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2704Once the gesso is dry and calm, then the gold is attached, and on gesso it can be polished until it is really shiny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2695The brilliance of shine, polished with a burnisher, with this group was quite amazing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2701And on to painting. After a detailed demonstration on paint consistency, mixing paint and using the fine, Kolinsky sable brushes, everyone set to.

 

 

 

IMG_2713The results in terms of the shine of the gold and painting were most impressive.

 

 

 

IMG_2711Here are some comments from the participants:

IMG_2728Patricia, I enjoyed every moment of your course, thanks to your perfect preparation, wonderful teaching and fabulous hospitality. The course was everything I hoped for and more.

 

 

 

I have learned so much, a really great few days. You were clear and concise, very funny and informative. I loved it.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2706Fabulous. Excellent. Pitched at the perfect level with exactly the right amount of repetition/reinforcement. Perfect course numbers to allow 1:1 assistance. A real privilege to participate. 

 

 

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I was so thrilled when I knew I’d be able to come, and the course has been everything I had hoped for and so much more. Thank you Patricia for your patience, expertise and wisdom.

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I loved that everything was explained in a clear, straightforward and good humoured manner. It was everything I had hoped for and so much more. The attention to detail throughout the course was fabulous, from our name cards to the gesso we could take away.

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Thank you for the wonderful course. I learned so much in such a short space of time! And I really appreciated all the care and attention you put into every aspect of our three days.

The Lost Words – Forget-me-not

IMG_2350It is always very sad when we lose words, not just because we can’t remember what to say in a conversation, but when the very words themselves seem to have lost their value. It was noted that a children’s dictionary decided to leave out words which it judged to have ‘lack of use’. These very words conjure up images in our memories – of collecting blackberries from brambles, of threading a piece of string through a conker, of pigs pannaging for acorns in the New Forest, of a lark ascending, of holly and ivy in the Christmas carol, of a sea of bluebells swaying in the wind. All these words have been removed from this dictionary. To mark their loss, the Lettering Arts Trust exhibited a number of beautiful letter-cut artworks at their gallery in Snape Matings in 2019. They also produced a wonderfully designed, exquisitely illustrated catalogue to accompany this.

IMG_2353The ingenuity of the letter cutters, demonstrating also their craftsmanship, is shown in this piece by the great Tom Perkins. With his distinctive letter-forms, the letters R and U nestle under their respective preceding Cs, and the letter O is replaced by a gentle opening crocus but still retaining the letter-form.

 

IMG_2356Hazel is often used for weaving and basketry and here Emi Gordon has woven the strokes of the letters so that they interlace and overlap, with a gently twisted crossbar to the letter A and an elegant flourish at the end. The selection of the paint colour for the letters is particularly appropriate.

 

 

IMG_2355The delicacy of hazel is in sharp contrast to Gillian Forbes’ piece, with the network of pointed leaves sitting like hands cradling the gilded conkers. The style of lettering seems particularly apt and the way in which the leaves have been cut outlines their shape in the top left-hand corner.

 

 

 

IMG_2351Occasionally, the letters themselves aren’t really necessary to convey meaning and shape. Here the word pasture is suggested in a field of pasture. Let your eyes blur a little to work out the shapes – they are there! Phil Surey’s work certainly gives new meaning to ‘pastures new’!

 

IMG_2354And very graphically, here a little boy is fishing for minnows, sitting on a deck which is supported by the very word. Gentle reeds blowing in the wind add movement to the piece and point the way to the boy, his float bobbing colourfully on the water. A very evocative piece by Stuart Buckle.

 

IMG_2357Work out willow here in a piece that mirrors the gentle willow swaying in the breeze. Joe Hickey mourns the loss of the word where the wood is used for weaving and for cricket bats.

The exhibition is on at the Lettering Arts Trust at Snape Matings, Suffolk IP17 1SP from 15th March to 26th May 2019 and is well worth a visit. The catalogue is available from their website.

 

 

 

Quills and Calligraphy

IMG_1961Sixteen eager students were ready to start a day of learning and practising calligraphy as part of the events associated with the fantastic Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms 2018-2019 exhibition at the British Library. We were focusing on the Angled-Pen Uncials as in the St Cuthbert Gospel of St John, a very pleasing writing style, and which has only majuscules, or capital letters.

 

IMG_1947Everything was set out before the students arrived with a sloping board, pen and nib, ink, etc and sets of A3 information and exemplar sheets so that no ruling lines was necessary while learning.

 

 

 

IMG_1952The morning was spent learning and practising the letters and then the afternoon focused on quill cutting and preparing and writing on vellum. Cutting quills was a lot tougher than it looked – the barrels of swans’ feather are really strong!

 

 

 

IMG_1954It does take some preparation, but once the steps are clearly explained and reinforced to everyone as they cut the feathers, really good quills resulted.

 

 

 

IMG_1958Then it was on to preparing the vellum, practising writing names using the quill and then, with a deep breath, writing on the vellum itself. I suggested using Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache in vermilion as a contrast for the initial letter and this worked really well. The results needed to be admired even halfway through the writing!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1956And the concentration here was intense!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1961But the results were very much worthwhile! Congratulations to all students for such a successful day – and for being such a lovely group to worth with.

Plaxtol Roll of Honour

IMG_1110The vast number of people involved in the First World War is being highlighted during these centenary years. This huge number is perhaps particularly exemplified  in the small Kentish village of Plaxtol. Over 150 men, all former pupils of the local village school, went to the front, as well as four members of staff. I was asked recently to prepare a Roll of Honour on vellum recording the names of these men.

CIMG2464I was given a typed list and the requirement that there would be a decorated border of cob nuts and hops, as these were local to the area, and so set about designing the panel. I experimented with the styles and sizes of text, spacing between the lines, placing of the blocks of text and so on.

CIMG2468I decided on Edward Johnston’s Foundational Hand for the text, as it was this style, and Roman Capitals, again championed by Johnston, that MacDonald (Max) Gill used as his lettering design for all the First World War Memorials; Max being a student of Johnston. As always, everything was written out in rough first, and then positioned where it was to go. In the typewritten version the letters ‘RIP’ were written without fullstops, which I copied for two of the columns, and then inserted the fullstops for the other two – we all agreed that the latter looked better. I also used the traditional colour scheme for such panels of red and black.
IMG_1108Then it was deep breath time, the vellum was prepared, ruling up done, and I had to start the writing. I tacked the four columns of names first to get the body of the panel done, writing all the names and then returning with the same size nib and red paint to insert the words ‘Wounded’, or ‘R.I.P’ where appropriate. However, I used a compressed Roman form for ‘Wounded’ so that the columns weren’t too wide.

CIMG2630I left painting the border until last. My original design had the hops and cob nuts entwined but this was not was wanted. The suggestion of having separate blocks of the two plants would have made this part of the panel very disjointed, so I drew a long wavy line along the whole border, with the cob nuts growing up from the ‘valley’ and the hops hanging down from the ‘hills’. The width of border was about an inch (2–3 cm) high. The hops are about 1–2 mm each in size and each have about 5 different colours on them.

CIMG2617The panel was too large for me to stretch the vellum first around a board as I couldn’t then reach the top of it, so I had to do this after it was all done. The need for stretching is obvious from the way in which the skin is bumpy in the picture on the right.

It was a huge job and difficult to cost at the beginning – I spent far more time on it than I charged for, and now it hangs in Plaxtol Village Memorial Hall. It would be nice if more people knew about it and were able to see it.

How Mediæval Manuscripts were Made

fcdcf8be-d41f-4954-b06e-603091f607c1It really was a great joy and privilege to be part of the great Polonsky Project, which was a joint venture between the British Library and the Bibliotèque nationale in Paris to digitise manuscripts which from before the year 1100. They were keen to show how those manuscripts were made, and so it was on two very hot days in the summer of 2017 that Dr Alison Ray, filmer Jan and I spent many hours recording those processes. The films are now on the British Library’s and the Bibliotèque nationale’s websites (the latter being dubbed into French) and sections of the films were also used in the fantastic 2017–2018 Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition at the British Library.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 18.53.31The first film features the pen used for the writing, which, of course, was usually a quill cut from the feather of a large bird. I always use penknives which have curved blades as the curve rolls over the slight curve in the barrel of a feather to cut the nib tip, whereas a straight blade tends to squash the feather. Indeed, penknives today (the clue is in the name!) still always have a curved blade. Here’s the link. There’s more on quill knives and how to cut a quill on my website on this link.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.05.35Ink was usually made from oak galls, although in fact peach, cherry and apricot stones can also be used but give a less dense colour. It’s the tannic acid from the galls reacting to copperas (iron sulphate) that creates a dark liquid, and which needs an adhesive, in this case gum Arabic, to ensure that it adheres to the writing surface. To see the process, click here.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.07.32The writing surface was vellum or parchment – calfskin, sheepskin, goatskin or ever deer on occasion. In this clip I explain about the differences between the hair and flesh sides of vellum and also the qualities of other types of skin. More here.

 

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.10.21Having cut pieces of skin to size for writing, the page needed to be set out, and often dividers – similar to sets of compasses, but with a point at the end of each leg – were used as it was easier to mark the exact positions of the guidelines in this way. On occasion, the lines would be set out using a ruler and lead point (or similar) and then the positions marked using the tip of a knife (perhaps a penknife). Here the ‘point’ would actually be a triangle shape and this can be seen in some manuscripts. There’s more on setting out a manuscript page here.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.17.54Pigments used in illuminations came from animal, vegetable and mineral sources. Perhaps the most famous is ultramarine, as Cennini Cennino called it ‘perfect, beyond all other colours’. A very similar blue, but much cheaper was citramarine. Woad and indigo are from vegetable sources along with madder. And Tyrian purple and carmine came from animals. There’s more on this link, including dragon’s blood!

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.22.01 1These pigments have no natural adhesive (apart from saffron interestingly!) and so this needs to be added. Traditional either glair, the egg white or the egg yolk was added. This film clip explains the process, including the equivalent of a hole in one! It can be tricky removing the egg yolk from the egg sac, but when this was being filmed, it worked with the very first egg! Here it is with the knife being withdrawn and the yolk falling out at the bottom. See the whole thing and more here.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.26.13And having got everything ready, it was then only the setting out the illumination, laying the gesso, applying gold and then painting bringing everything to life and with wonderful colour. Watch the process here.

It is hoped that these short films will add to the knowledge and understanding of these historical craft processes and ensure that more people understand and appreciate the skills that went in to creating the wonderful manuscripts now in great collections such as those at the British Library and the Bibliotèque nationale.