The Wait

Cricket poem.PL 2020All those who love sport have been frustrated at either not being able to play it, or not being able to watch it, or both, during the spring and summer of this Covid-19 pandemic. Jimmy Lee from the England and Wales Cricket Board wrote a really poignant poem about this waiting, and the fact that in cricket this is what often happens. But, as he says, waiting isn’t time wasted, and we are a nation that queues. His words are really well chosen and they were read out by Stephen Fry in a wonderful film about the ways in which those who love this sport are just waiting for the game to begin, but that they are also contributing and helping those who are NHS and other Heroes on the front line during these challenging times. Watch the film here and have tissues ready!

 

CIMG3185So as some of you who are now familiar with how to tackle any text, poetry or prose will know, the first thing to do was to write it out. This artwork was to go on the wall so it couldn’t be written too small. And with quite a few lines too, there needed to be adequate space between them so that it was easy to read. I used my favourite green paint at the moment (Schmincke oxide of chromium – it really is wonderfully smooth for writing – mix with water to the consistency of thin, runny cream as always!) and a size 4 Mitchell/Manuscript nib and wrote the lines straight out just as they were.

CIMG3192I then photocopied this and cut the lines into strips to experiment with the best distance between lines. I also wanted to break up some of the lines and emphasise others by writing some of the text in small capitals. So I laid the lines out on to paper and played around with them a little and attached them with magic tape. I had the idea of writing out the title with a lot of space between the letters so that the letters themselves looked as if they were waiting, and when I’d done that I thought that red circles between the letters (a bit larger than just dots) could look as if they represented cricket balls.

 

 

Version 2I also wanted to add an illustration of a cricket bat resting on the stumps waiting – my first sketch in pencil is on the rough of the lines above. I searched for a long time to get an image of a bat at the right angle looking as if it could balance on stumps, and stumps too at the best angle, and made a number of drawings with the bat in different positions and the ball in various places. In the end I had what I thought looked best. The crease of the cricket pitch is usually cut very short, but all cricket lovers were waiting, and so I painted the grass longer than it would be in most matches. I also found an image of a bat with a red and black handle and this added a little bit of red to that part of the painting, thus slightly linking it to the red cricket balls in the title and the one by the stumps.

Cricket poem.PL 2020And so the piece was complete. It is so satisfying to write out words that have real meaning and to have a challenge in painting cricket stumps, bat and ball with an aim to get the proportions right and for them to fit in the best way.

 

‘…With Wakened Hands …’

Layout 1I really like this quotation from D H Lawrence, although I do wish that he hadn’t excluded women – many of whom have wakened hands just like men! However, these were the times and the words resonated so much with me that I wanted to write them out.

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG3183As usual, I wrote out the words just as they were and, for the last few months, I’ve been writing quite small, so I cut a swan’s quill to the equivalent of a size 5 Mitchell nib. I knew that I wanted to pop in a couple of flourishes on the top line so introduced these as I was writing the words. Having written the words out in the same script, I then read it through again to consider which phrases had particular meaning for me and wrote them out in small dancing capitals. One of the great things about being a calligrapher is that we all react to words differently, so what I choose to emphasise may not be the same as the next person. For some reason, although I love ‘with wakened hands’ I missed out the ‘with’ in the first write through and then the whole phrase in the second version! What was it about wakened hands that weren’t going through my brain?

CIMG3149I then photocopied the page and cut the text into strips for each line, breaking the text where it fitted my proposed design and allowing for the sense and flow of the words. The advantage of doing this is that when writing things out in rough usually I am much more relaxed and it doesn’t matter if I make a mistake as I can just write in the word or phrase again as can be seen; this means that the text isn’t tight and cramped as it may be when first writing on the prepared surface and on lines carefully measured and drawn. I marked the mid point of each line and placed them in order on a white piece of paper at about the best distance between the lines. I also numbered the lines (very important to ensure that the lines don’t get mixed up!).

I then used two L-shaped pieces of card and slid them up and down and in and out to set the margins of the piece which meant that I could cut a piece of vellum to this size and then prepared it for writing. I used a set of compasses to measure out the distance between the lines with pin pricks, and then ruled horizontal guidelines and also a vertical line indicating the centre.

CIMG3159I loved the green colour of oxide of chromium so I mixed up this Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache to the consistency of thin, runny cream and used a piece of magic tape that I’d taken some of the ‘tack’ off by pressing it again and again on my finger to attach the photocopied strip of the first line above where I was to write, lining up the centre point. Having the text just above where I was to write meant that it was much simpler to ensure that the words were spelled correctly and written in the right place so that the lines were centred.

CIMG3161So the text was written and now for the painting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG3166I really enjoyed painting squirrels on a recent piece so I decided to paint some more. Previously I had painted squirrels on grass. This time I thought I’d paint them in autumn on a bed of leaves, so I looked up images of red squirrels online and chose three in different poses for the top. I used a 000 Kolinsky sable brush (I prefer da Vinci brushes from Cornelissen and Son in London as they are such good quality) with watercolour and a strong magnifying glass – they were only about 10 mm tall! For the bed of leaves I used dilute light red and ochre to paint a wash, and then a darker brown to paint the leaves themselves – half of it is done in this enlargement.

Layout 1At the bottom, I decided to use different images of squirrels on a dead tree trunk including a baby. I am on a campaign to get calligraphers to ensure that their work can be identified in the future by putting their names or their known cipher on their work. Here I wrote my name as small as I could in the same red colour underneath the leaves. And now the piece was finished!

 

 

Red Squirrels and an Uplifting Quotation

CIMG3120This quotation by J B Priestly is new to me and as soon as I read it I wanted to write it out. At these challenging times (April 2020) the words hold just the sort of promise that we need – tomorrow is a new day, a fresh start, and those wonderful words ‘with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning’! What could be better than that. I seem to be writing out a few long narrow pieces lately, and when I wrote out these words to see how they would ‘fall’ on the paper, they followed that pattern. I wanted to emphasise some phrases more than others – ‘a new day’, ‘a fresh start’ etc, and wouldn’t normally have written them in alternate lines like this, but that is just how it happened; and, of course, that ‘bit of magic’ needed to be different for significance! To add emphasis to the initial and the top lines I added a few flourishes.

 

Version 2The piece was written out on vellum for The Prince of Wales, President of the Heritage Crafts Association, to thank him for his kindness in suggesting his own President’s Award – an annual award for endangered crafts as identified in the Heritage Crafts Association’s Red List of Endangered Crafts. It was a beautiful piece of vellum which, once prepared, took the writing and paint very well.

 

 

 

 

Version 4As it was for The Prince of Wales I wanted to make it personal to him and so checked to ensure that he was as keen on red squirrels as ever, I was told that indeed he was. If newspaper and magazine articles are correct, His Royal Highness encourages them to come into the house at Birkhall. So at the top I painted a tiny red squirrel no more than 10 mm high eating a hazelnut. (Sadly the magnification doesn’t really show the detail of each hair being painted separately.)

Version 5Then at the bottom of the writing, to round it all off, I painted a squirrel looking alert, as though it was watching The Prince of Wales, and it is holding tiny Prince of Wales ostrich plumes in its paws to make it personal to him.

 

CIMG3120We don’t really get feedback on whether royal gifts are appreciated (or even seen) but I do hope that, if he sees this, The Prince of Wales’ spirits will be a little lifted by the words by J B Priestly and by his beloved red squirrels themselves perhaps bringing that ‘bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning’.

Designing a vellum panel – the Kellogg College Grace

1Creating a suitable design for writing out the Grace of Kellogg College in Oxford on stretched calfskin vellum created an interesting set of challenges. Unlike all other Oxford colleges, the Grace is in Welsh rather than Latin (or even English?) and I was asked to include a translation as well. The college has a close association with the Kellogg Company incorporating an ear of wheat in its coat of arms so I thought it would be appropriate to use this in some way in the panel. And being an Oxford College not only did it have its own coat of arms, but it seemed sensible to include that of Oxford University as well.

 

 

IMG_2138So I knew from the start that the two shields would be there in the design and that the text in one language would be in a different style from that in the other language. I experimented with different sizes of nib and writing styles, and also sizes and placement of shields, and made a rough paste-up. This is a very first draft, it became more refined as I went on, but this is where I started.

 

 

 

Version 2Starting from the top. The size of the shields needed to be large enough to be significant and be seen, but not so large that they dominated the piece – it was to show the text of the Grace after all, and wasn’t an heraldic panel! Then to join the shields at the top or the bottom, or to have them side by side or even one above the other? As the college is part of Oxford University it seemed best to have them joined in some way and I thought that facing outwards (independent but linked) and joined by the corners touching rather than the shields facing inwards and joining at the curved sides worked best. I decided early on that I wanted to have just a little bit of bling in the panel so used gold for everywhere it would seen sensible to use gold – and even where perhaps it wasn’t! So the Oxford University shield had gold crowns and gold clasps on the open book, and Kellogg College had a gold ear of wheat. I had to check to see whether the number of grains was in the blazon (it isn’t), but did find that the indented vertical line (per pale) had a specific number of complete white ‘peaks’ which represented the eleven founders.

Version 3And then on to the heading. I had experimented with capitals for ‘Kellogg College’ and Italic for ‘Grace’ but this meant that there was very much then an hourglass effect in the design. I also wanted to make a little bit more of ‘Kellogg College’ so I re-wrote it in different sizes of nib until I had the one that looked right and also experimented with flourishes. I thought that there was need for some degree of restraint here as it is a Grace after all, so flourishing just the second letter ‘l’ in each word seemed to work best. I also added three gold diamonds made with the pen on the initials ‘K’ and the ‘C’ and used a pencil burnisher to make sure that they shined. Then on to the tricky ‘Grace’ word – there are only five letters and it brought the whole piece to a very narrow place visually. Writing them in capital letters allowed me to space them out without losing the cohesion of the word, and I then used the pen to make a red diamond between each letter, and added a small circle of gold in the centre of each which I burnished using a pencil burnisher so that they shone. This brought the gold and red colours from the shields down into the piece as well. And I wanted to use those wheat ears which I really enjoyed painting, so popped two in before the letter ‘K’ and two into the bowl of the ‘C’.

Version 4When there are translations like these it is a choice whether to use two colours (I did experiment with alternate red and green texts to represent Wales, but realised that it was a bit garish and actually this college was in England!) or two styles of writing, and tried also the Welsh in capitals and the English in Italic. As the Grace is said in Welsh, it seemed best to make this more dominant than the English translation, and, conveniently, the top line had quite a few letters ‘d’ which lent themselves to flourishing. Notice that only the first and last of the letters ‘d’ have been flourished in ‘dedwydd’ – more flourishes on the other letters ‘d’ would have upset the rhythm of those flourishes and drawn the eye particularly to that word. I also picked up the wheat ear theme again and painted a couple of very small little gold wheat ears at the top and bottom of the Grace itself.

Version 5One of the things that I always suggest to clients who are kind enough to commission such pieces is to say who gave it and whether this was for a particular reason. This is especially relevant when a piece is commissioned for a special birthday or an anniversary, otherwise it could look as if it was just bought off the shelf and not made explicitly for the occasion. It doesn’t need to be big or intrusive – here just a line of small capitals explains who gave this and when and it also neatly finishes the panel as well, bringing it to a conclusion.

Version 6And to bring the whole piece together, a single ear of corn wasn’t substantial enough at the bottom, so here there is a sheaf of golden wheat held together by twine. On the same lines of who commissioned the piece and for whom, I am always interested in who has done the work. We expect paintings and drawings to be signed, and the names of authors of books are on the cover and inside, but for some reason calligraphy is rarely ‘signed’. I now always try to ensure that my work is signed inobtrusively s possible either by using just my initials in a cipher (PL) or my whole name. In this instance, the width of the sheaf of wheat determined that I would be able to write only my initial and surname.

 

1Designing the whole piece created a series of challenges which shows the value of trying things out before committing to the final piece, which of course we all know!

Rectors of Chevening

CIMG3146Being asked to create a panel listing the rectors of St Botolph’s Church in Chevening, Kent, was a fascinating project with a number of interesting design challenges. The list goes back to Reginald in 1262 and there were 56 names in all. It’s always a problem working out the size and style of the lettering so that there is a wide enough space for names as long as William de Wintreshull but also accommodating short names such as John Wode and John Crull without having a large white space on the right.

 

 

 

IMG_3575Because it is a formal piece and the script should reflect that, I began by writing out the names in round hand (English Caroline Minuscule), or Edward Johnston’s Foundational Hand as here. However, I soon realised that those long names were causing me problems and the columns would be too wide. I had decided at the start that there should be three columns as two would have made the piece too long and four would have resulted in a wide panel and the lettering for the names would be too small.

 

 

IMG_3001So I changed the lettering to Compressed English Minuscule and this worked much better. I wasn’t sure whether the dates should be in black or red – the problem with a vibrant red is that it can be overwhelming sometimes. I tried both and realised that actually the red dates looked better than the black. I also asked the client if there were flowers or plants associated with the church.They didn’t have any ideas so I looked for suitable biblical texts and thought that John 15: verse 5 seemed very appropriate – ‘I am the vine; you are the branches’, the rectors being the branches in spreading the word. This also gave me the opportunity to use vines and grapes as decoration.

 

IMG_3404It took a little while to get the information correct. After I had written out the rough it was suggested that where there were two rectors in one year the date was omitted which really didn’t look right, and then that there should be an ampersand rather than the year as here, but this didn’t look right either. In the end it was decided to revert to my original layout.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3731The piece was so large that I couldn’t stretch the vellum before I started as I wouldn’t have been able to reach to letter the top, so I prepared the skin, which was quite bumpy, drew all the lines and set to. Because the heading is often the most daunting I always start with this to get it over with, and then worked my way down the board. I left the red lettering so that I could do it all in one go.

 

 

 

CIMG3147Then it was on to painting the vines and grapes.I decided that the vine should start in the middle of the piece and then the branches should extend out to the right and left. This also gave a nod to mediæval images of the tree of Jesse which also seemed rather appropriate. To get the best balance with the lettering and the position of the paintings within the piece, I designed it so that the leaves and grapes were the largest at the bottom, a little smaller either side of the name ‘St Botolph’s’ and then smallest of all on the row just above the columns. I don’t know how many leaves I painted, and certainly not how many grapes, but there were thousands it seemed!

CIMG3146The skin was very bumpy as can be seen when unstretched, and so it needed to be dampened and then pulled round a strong piece of wood and carefully attached at the back. This will also help to keep the vellum flat in the cold and sometimes damp atmosphere in many churches.

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!

 

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.

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.