‘A Word for Autumn’

Layout 1The changing of the seasons can be one of delight or one of apprehension. Winter to spring promises fewer cold days, the singing of birds and the appearance and flowering of bulbs. Spring to summer indicates the lengthening of days, increased warmth and new growth. Summer to autumn can be a change that heralds colder, wind, rain, and shorter, darker days. The ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ then quickly becomes a season of shivering, endless rain and drizzle, even snow and ice, and closing curtains in the late afternoon against the gloom as well as battening down the hatches. However, A. A. Milne had it correct in ‘A Word for Autumn’ – it can be a time to fear, or a time for looking forward with some pleasure.

 

IMG_4169I wanted to create an artwork that I could use for an A5 greetings card for winter and Christmas. I loved the words (taken from a longer extract), and at the time of producing it the leaves on the trees were changing to a riot of autumn colours. First I experimented writing the text with a warm brown that I thought would echo that of many of the leaves. It seemed a bit dull and ‘samey’, but this first effort confirmed the chosen nib size (a Mitchell 5), and the line spacing and layout. I was on my way!

 

 

IMG_4167One of my favourite interpretations of words is to use a limited range of colours fed into the nib whilst writing (see blogpost here for how to do this). To some extent it is random, but it is also very controlled, assessing each individual stroke as it is written and also looking at the line above as to whether a different colour needs to be fed in. It’s not exactly conducive to a good rhythm and flow, but the end result, in my view, can be very pleasing. The key is not to use one colour or one colour combination for more than two strokes and to wash the nib out frequently. At this stage it doesn’t matter if mistakes are made. The letters or words should simply be re-written as here. I had the idea of a landscape-shaped card and experimented with a rough indication with coloured pencils of what it would look like if a representation of autumn leaves was falling and gathering at the bottom of the text in a layer of leaves. This didn’t give the impression enough of the leaves falling, so I decided on a portrait-shape.

 

IMG_4170Next I experimented with painting the leaves on vellum (calfskin). In my opinion this really is the best surface for painting and writing. The darker colours in this photo are not at all representative of the actual painting! I used yellow, brown and green gouache, and painted leaves from different types of trees that I noted on walks in the countryside. I wanted to give the impression of the leaves falling from the trees and being tossed and turned in a slight breeze so they didn’t all fall in the same direction. These then collected in a bed of leaves on the ground.

 

 

 

IMG_4168I always photocopy the text and use this as a guide for writing the finished piece. This means that the rough is then available for reference and for future use. As there was no centring or design to consider – the lines were aligned left with some indented – there was no cutting lines in to strips and working out the best arrangement. To ensure that there were no mistakes on letters, words or spacing, I folded the photocopy horizontally into the separate lines and placed these on the vellum just above where I was going to write, attaching the paper with masking tape as I did so.

Layout 1The text was written in the same colour combination as the leaves creating a coherent whole, with the dropping leaves emphasising the left aligned text, and the bed of leaves at the base creating a firm ending for the piece.

Grinling Gibbons – Master Woodcarver

IMG_3814Grinling Gibbons is probably the most skilled and most creative wood carver there has ever been. Stand in front of any of his pieces and marvel at the intricacy of the designs and the supreme skill in cutting into pale, almost white, limewood to create wonderful images in 3-D. This amazing wood carving is now in the Pitti Palace in Florence. It was made to celebrate the friendship between King Charles II of England and Cosimo III of the Medici family. The fact that it is still in existence is quite something as first it had to withstand the sea journey to the port of Livorna to get to Italy initially, then the flooding of Florence in 1966 and finally a fire at the Pitti Palace in 1984. It has recently been restored and is now exhibited in its glorious light colour contrasting with the darker background as shown here.

IMG_3819Two turtle doves, their beaks ‘kissing’, indicate the friendship between the two great men. The birds are surrounded by carved foliage, flowers and fruit.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3815 2Below the birds is the most delicate and intricate lace jabot. Without knowing that this was carved into wood, it could easily be thought of as real. Note the ring of roses just above this.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3825There are representations of the arts with one of them shown here – a goose feather (not yet made into a quill). Others include a paint palette and brushes, and a laurel wreath. Note, though, the carving of Grinling Gibbons’ name into the scroll at the bottom of the feather, and to the right beads, curling foliage, shells and bunch of grapes with the tendrils so delicately carved.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3821There are musical instruments, trumpets and what look like recorders as seen here, and even a musical score, the five staves, lines and notes clearly visible. Just above this is a medallion suspended from a chain with each link delicately carved. This sits on top of a quiver of arrows. And that in turn leads to a coronet, showing pearls and gems in exquisite detail.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3826Another coronet is at the bottom of the quiver, and this leads the eye to an amazing cornucopia of flowers and fruit – the sign of a true master.

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine Cosimo’s delight when on 16th December 1682 this package arrived and was unwrapped before him. Now who wouldn’t want to receive a Christmas present like this?

 

Bede and the Theory of Everything

IMG_3746Many will have heard of the Venerable Bede (673–735) and appreciate that, to have been given that title, he must have been rather special and probably really clever. This new book by Michelle Brown explains exactly that – and more besides. Bede was clearly a most remarkable man whose intellect and reasoning was way beyond most, if not all, of his contemporaries and which still has an impact on us today.

 

 

 

cover_desktop_CodexOf course, any book by Michelle Brown is worth reading! Her knowledge in particular of this period is extensive and deep, but she wears her expertise lightly, and her writing is clear and most user-friendly. She considers Bede from a number of different aspects both the man and his work, and there are chapters about him as a monk and priest, as an historian and reformer, concerning the origins of written poetry, as a scholar and scientist, his influence on the Ceolfrith Bibles, Lindisfarne and the Lindisfarne Gospels and much more.

IMG_3773The three Ceolfrith Bibles, commissioned by the abbott himself, are particularly interesting and Michelle considers the text in detail and the ways in which it was influenced by Bede’s thought and writing. Two of the bibles stayed in England, one for the monastery at Jarrow and one for Monkwearmouth, but the book that became the Codex Amiatinus was taken to Italy to present to the pope. The cover of Michelle’s book shows this image of Ezra from Amiatinus, shown here. Ezra, from the Old testament, was a scribe and priest and is shown, of course, writing. The image of the scribe, with his feet resting on a footstool, an open book, and the slightly weird angle of the bench that he is sitting on is almost the same as the Matthew image in the Lindisfarne Gospels. What is sometimes missed at first glance are the instruments of making the book in the foreground. There are compasses which indicate the distances of the lines and the width of the text block, what looks like a stylus or dull point to draw the lines, and two ink sacks, probably pig’s bladders. In front of Ezra is another weirdly angled table with his inks, a well for red and a well for black.

IMG_3753Excitingly, though, the use of Greek letters to mark passages of note in the Codex Amiatinus (see more about this book here), Michelle suggests could actually be the hand of the great man. Bede knew Greek and was using a system of Greek letters, applied here, in an innovative way. Michelle goes further than that in suggesting that one of the seven different scribes who wrote the huge book, a pandect containing in one volume all the books of the bible, was Bede.

Her book also dispels one of the common myths that all people at this time thought that the world was flat. Bede worked out that in fact the variations in the length of shadows cast on sundials and the changes in the length of daylight hours according to latitude indicated that in fact the earth was a sphere.

The date of Easter had long been a thorny problem at this time as the calculation depended on either the ‘Nicene ruling’ or the Johannine belief. Easter was the most important date to be marked in the Christian calendar, and at a time when missionaries were still on the frontline converting non-believers it must have seemed incongruous that one sector celebrated Easter at one time and others were at that same date still observing Lent and marked Easter on a different day. This matter was considered at the Synod of Whitby in 664  at which Wilfrid promoted the Roman dating system and Colman the Ionan. Because the Roman system was based on the city where St Peter established the Christian church, being ‘the rock’ on which is was to be built, and, in addition held the keys to heaven, it was decided to adhere to the Roman dating. But Bede’s studies went further than this and he devised a system whereby the date of Easter could be accurately calculated in perpetuity.

page32lgeIn her extensive studies of this great man, Michelle Brown has identified a number of ‘firsts’. It is possible that the red interlinear gloss for the book of John in the Lindisfarne Gospels, written by Aldred who describes himself as ‘a miserable priest’,  is in fact the translation of this gospel into English by Bede himself, in which case it would be the earliest translation of any part of the bible into the vernacular.

 

 

 

Cod Am

Bede was clearly a most remarkable man, perhaps the cleverest man there has ever been with his range of interests and the work he produced. This book brings together the many intriguing strands of the man, his huge intellect and the ways in which he influenced thought at the time and how that still applies today, as well as his extensive interests. It is the most fascinating and illuminating read, incredibly informative and detailed, and is very highly recommended.

 

St Enodoc Church, Cornwall

IMG_3556 2Finding St Enodoc Church, Trebetherick, North Cornwall, is not straightforward – but well worth the effort! Walking from Polzeath or from the carpark at Daymer Bay (much nearer!) a small signpost, which is almost hidden, indicates a narrow winding path, shaded and almost overgrown by trees. This leads out to the open spaces of the Church course of St Enodoc Golf Course with views down to the sea and the River Camel estuary. The path turns and continues up a slight hill to the church gate.

IMG_3549The arched stone lych gate is a fitting forerunner of the main building, with a central ‘bench’, ready to act as a rest for a coffin (and perhaps pall bearers), before it’s taken into the church for a funeral.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3550The word ‘lych’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon/German word ‘lich’ or ‘leiche’ which is the word for ‘corpse’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3553Although the church is thought to date from the twelfth century, a twentieth-century addition is proof that the the building is still in use. The Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, is buried here, St Enodoc being a church that he frequented when he was in Cornwall. In fact he wrote a poem about it – ‘Sunday Afternoon Service at St Enodoc’. The Gothic Textura lettering is surrounded by an exuberance of flourishes by the letter cutter Simon Verity. It really is a tour-de-force!

 

 

IMG_3579But this isn’t the only flamboyant tombstone in the churchyard. This nineteenth century gravestone for John Randall has just about every typeface ever designed on it! It is not easy to make out due to the wear and tear but it is a marvel of creativity and skill.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3580Here’s an enlargement of the top of the tombstone where the double lines and enhanced 3-D effect on the name can just be made out.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3577It is thought that St Enodoc (or Guenedoc) was Welsh and that there was some sort of wooden church at this point from the third century. Sand dunes move and indeed this church was buried for some three hundred years until it was restored in the nineteenth century. It is said that services continued to be held during this time, and that the vicar and congregation were lowered in to the church by a skylight in the roof! Here it is very clear how easily the church may have been covered by sand; the back and side wall round the corner are almost buried.

 

 

IMG_3578The church can be seen from a distance due to the rather stumpy spire which is decidedly crooked as shown here!

 

 

 

 

IMG_3558The oldest remaining tombstone of 1687 to a father and daughter, who sadly died within a week of one another, is propped in the porch. The figures in relief can just about be identified.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3559And to the left is a celtic cross, the carving of a cross is faint but can be seen. The shaft is rather slender and looks a little too fragile to support the large circular top. It was found during the nineteenth century restoration and renovations to the church.

 

 

 

 

454474BC-7353-4125-8FA0-2DC2CAAE7B19_1_105_cOnce inside the church there is the magnificent stone font, made of granite and dating from the twelfth century. There is twisted cable mounting on the support of the bowl, and the bowl itself is lined in lead.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3560The inside of the church is simple, as would be expected, with wooden pews and the fourteenth century addition of a south aisle. There are remnants of a wooden carved fifteenth century rood screen.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3563Windows are narrow, with wide embrasures, letting in as much light as possible. Note the irregular stones on the windowsill.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3569This window has a plaster surround and is not decorated with horizontal stones as above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3566On that windowsill and elsewhere in the church are stone querns used for grinding grain. The inside of them has been worn smooth over the years.

 

 

 

 

 

EB3A8E52-3565-4666-AD48-BD4DC450C6C1_1_105_cSt Enodoc Church is a lovely place to visit if in the area. Its setting is peaceful and tranquil, with the silence broken only by bird song.

The British Library One Day Illumination Masterclass Course

August 2023, finished animalsIt can be quite daunting signing up for a course which for many involves completely new techniques and tools. Most people haven’t picked up a paintbrush or dealt with paint since schooldays, and the thought of painting a mediæval miniature may be very tempting, but what if everyone else on the course is a trained artist? The British Library one-day Illumination Masterclass course is geared to allay all fears (at least most of them!). Much of painting in the style of mediæval miniatures is technique, and this is what I teach. These are the results of the course held in August 2023.

IMG_3380Everything is provided for each participant, no-one has to bring anything. It takes quite some time to prepare everything beforehand, and also a considerable time to set up for the course on the day. Here are the wet and dry boxes (those on my courses will know all about these!).

 

 

 

 

IMG_3381Each participant has their own work station set up on individual tables so that there is lots of space and everything they need is to hand. This is set up for a right-hander.

 

 

 

IMG_3382To allay any fears about not being creative, to avoid too complex an image for one day, and to use the time as effectively as possible, bestiary animals from manuscripts held at the British Library are chosen, and even these are selected to be ones that aren’t too complicated. Tracings are made which are transferred to treated vellum. The outlines are then reinforced with paint as here.

IMG_3383Instructions are given on dealing with gouache paint, using brushes, and how to paint using fine sable brushes. Here the pigment is being tested with a mixing brush to ensure that the very dilute consistency to paint the outline is correct, and also that the brush is held at the right angle to make the very fine strokes.

IMG_3385Then a modern adhesive is applied. There is not enough time in one day to use traditional gesso which raises the gold from the surface so that it shines brightly, and also creates a smooth surface to achieve a brilliant burnish. Anything other than gesso won’t have the effect of gold as in manuscripts, but it can still be stunning! Here the adhesive has been applied.

IMG_3386Next it’s GOLD. Despite not using gesso it’s always exciting to achieve that brilliance of metal with real gold leaf shining in the light. Areas not being worked on are masked as here.

 

IMG_3387Agate dog tooth burnishers are used to apply the gold.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3390And the effects are rather wonderful!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3392And again here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3394Finally the paint is applied to create a wonderful mediæval miniature.

 

 

 

Comments from participants on this course:

Fantastic! Well structured and most enjoyable.

Such an enjoyable day, it’s amazing what can be done in a day due very much to the preparation and expertise Patricia brings.

Wonderful day and a very good and welcoming tutor.

Fascinating stuff!

Patricia is a great and supportive instructor. I look forward to taking more classes with her.

Humour, even steady pace, clear instruction, perfect level of detail, and fantastic tuition.

Most enjoyable and informative. Never thought I would produce such illumination in such a short time.

Very well pitched (in my view) to meet the requirements of novices and more experienced participants from a range of backgrounds. Loved the technical information.

Really enjoyed it! It was especially detailed with supplementary information which I liked.

It was very well planned and instruction and teaching were well summed up and delivered. I am going to return and learn more. Thank you Patricia.

It was very interesting and informative; I thoroughly enjoyed the day!

Well organised course. We didn’t bring anything to the course, which is great, everything is provided. Big thank you to Patricia.

(The only negative comments were to do with the arrangement of tables and movement round the room, which we realised as soon as the participants came in, and will be resolved for future courses, and the lighting in the room; it is suggested that if this is a potential problem, then participants may like to bring an illuminated magnifying glass with them.)

The Sforza Hours

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.35.07Imagine how Sir John Robinson from the Victoria and Albert Museum must have felt in 1871. He was in Madrid looking for manuscripts, and had heard of a ‘wonderful Illuminated manuscript.’ A priest was selling it and a price agreed. He put the peseta equivalent of £800 (£66,000 now) into the inside pocket of his brown cloak. Somehow or other though the money was stolen, which was clearly a disaster! However, he found another £800 and managed to secure the manuscript.

This is a page from the book painted by Giovan Pietro Birago showing the penitence of King David. It depicts the king transported to a Renaissance Italian town, and detail that is so typical of this artist. Note particularly the lively modelling of David’s robe highlighted in shell gold (real gold powder in gum Arabic base).

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.33.07However, this wasn’t the only dramatic incident in the manuscript’s history. The book was originally commissioned by Bona Sforza, Duchess of Milan, in the late fourteenth/early fifteenth century from the best artist in the city. As can be seen here, Birago had a wonderful style of painting, very mannered but very precise. Bearing in mind that this manuscript is the size of a pocket book, the detail is amazing.

This image is the text from the Hours of the Cross and the angel at the top holds the crown of thorns and the nails; at the base is a cherub kneeling in adoration of the cross. Note Birago’s style of high cheek bones and wonderfully curling locks. The borders either side are in typical Renaissance style of intertwining foliage, trumpets, and mythical creatures – in this case sirens.

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.33.51It was discovered some time later in a letter written by Birago to ‘Your Excellency’ (un-named) that a visit by Fra Johanne Jacopo to view the manuscript was not without incident. Apparently he stole part of the book! In that same letter Birago explained that ‘The part which your excellency has is worth more than 500 ducats. The other part is with the Duchess …’. So just a part of the book was worth five times more than Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Madonna of the Rocks’, valued at the time at 100 ducats.

In this image the Holy Spirit is descending in the form of a dove on to the disciples. Note St Peter with his keys, the very lively robes, and the wonderful curls of the men.

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.34.27The story of the book continues. It was not finished, but on the Duchess’s death passed to her nephew, Philibert II of Savoy. The manuscript wasn’t long with him because he died a year later and it then went to his widow, Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands. She went there taking the book with her, and after ten years asked Etienne de Lale to finish the text in a style that is rather inferior to that in the rest of the book. This page is by the original scribe in a strong Gothic Rotunda, a style used in Italy and Spain, much less compressed than the Gothic Textura of northern Europe.

 

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.32.03Margaret also asked the court painter Gerard Horenbout to add more illuminations. His style and that of Birago are totally different but both are supreme artists in miniature. Look at the detail here, how finely the figures are painted, although the sunny, hilly exteriors, and the light interiors of Italy painted by Birago have been replaced by Horenbout to dark rooms and the rather dreary, in comparison, backgrounds of northern Europe. The challenge of depicting haloes is well shown here. There’s not such a problem when the figures are full face and not looking down too much, but when shown as here it’s difficult not to see them as golden plates on their heads.

 

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.34.48Admitting the huge skill of Horenbout, my preference very much is the style of Birago. Here are some more miniatures in the Sforza hours. Now there’s curly hair and there’s curly hair! Admittedly Mary Magdalene was known for her hair when anointing the feet of Christ … but! It was said that she was a hermit in the desert and didn’t eat or drink but was sustained by God. She is supported by angels rising to heaven to receive that sustenance.

 

 

 

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.34.18Never has there been a group of more high cheek-boned, curly haired men than here in this image of the Last Supper. Even the servants ladling soup and pouring and serving wine are depicted in the same way. And for itinerant travellers, the disciples are certainly robed luxuriously.

There’s more to be seen on the British Library’s website here, and although there are only few pages of this manuscript remaining, each of the images is a real gem.

A Scribe and Illuminator’s Workroom

IMG_3268Having just finished twenty-one new pieces for my forthcoming British Library book (this post is written in July 2023), I decided to re-cover my sloping board – something I do once about every 3-4 years, depending on how dirty it is. As it was so lovely and clean I felt that it might be interesting to show the board and the rest of my workroom. This is the view from the door, and although it looks big, it’s about 2 metres by 3·5 metres. However, don’t think that I’m complaining that it’s small! I know how very lucky I am to have a dedicated workroom when most people have to share their working space within another room, as I did for very many years. My chair in front of the board is padded with two flat cushions and stools are to hand on the right to put completed work or a computer, or texts just written. Note also how close my chair is to the sink on the left.

IMG_3297So, the room tour. Directly to the left of the door are large cardboard tubes. Most of these are from vellum skins sent from William Cowley, but the large one at the back right is from work I did for the Damian Hirst ‘s exhibition held in Venice – ‘Treasures of the Wreck of the Unbelievable’. To the immediate left are red tubes of tracing paper for large projects. The tubes are useful not only for storing large sheets of paper but also for sending large artworks to those who have commissioned pieces. Now, however, I work mostly on vellum, and so large pieces are stretched over board requiring a different delivery system, and so these tubes are a bit redundant, somehow, though, I can’t bring myself to throw them away!

IMG_3296On the work surface to the right of the tubes are swans’ and Canadian goose feathers ready to be cut into quills. It may look like quite a lot for one scribe but most are waiting for workshops I teach on ‘Quills and Calligraphy’. I also don’t cure feathers with heat – sand or a Dutching tool and an iron. I find that feathers cure themselves by just being left to dry naturally as I’m sure happened in mediæval and Renaissance times. It was only with the rise of literacy and growth of empires and the need for records that more and more pens were needed and the curing process had to be speeded up that heat was needed.

 

IMG_3270Above that are cupboards of books and supplies. This is the first cupboard. At the bottom left is a small folder bursting with papers. These are quotations, poems and prose that I’ve collected over many years and which I write out to give to friends or for my own use. Occasionally someone will ask me if I’ve got something suitable for an occasion and it may be in here or in one of the books to the right which focus on important stages in life – birth, marriage and death mainly. Above that are various books by other calligraphers – it’s always useful to see what the competition is up to. And above that books on Latin, Chaucer, and various reference books to use in my work.

 

IMG_3298Under that cupboard is a new piece on vellum waiting to be sent to the person who commissioned it. I hope to be able to do a blogpost about this in the future as it was a really interesting artwork to do. Behind that is a strip of lead to be made into lead points to show to classes and for them to use. And at the back, to the right is oak gall ink getting nicely black. Oh and more books!

 

IMG_3300Below that, all along the work surface are even more books! Book shelves in the house are completely full, so are the cupboards here. I also have my own books here which I also use for reference – not everything stays in mind and so it’s helpful to look things up. In front of the books is a new box of Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache to use in photographs for the new book. They really are the best paints to use for writing and for painting. There’s more about them and mixing colours from the two reds, two blues, and two yellows here.

IMG_3292There’s a small sink just behind where I sit, completely reachable by simply swivelling round in my seat. I cleaned it up specially for this photo! It’s usually covered with ink and colour and not a pretty sight. To the right of the sink is a pot with old toothbrushes in it ready to brush the nibs clean. To the side and behind the sink are clean little jars up-ended and ready to fill with water for washing brushes when painting or to add to gouache to dilute it for writing and painting. It isn’t shown here but the tap is this side of the sink just to the left again for ease of use.

 

IMG_3272On to the window sill there’s clean paper towels for wiping nibs and reservoirs dry so they don’t rust, and tubes of Schmincke gouache ready to use. There are too many tubes to store neatly but I know where each tube is in that pile and usually just need to reach my hand out to grab the one I want.

 

 

IMG_3288Further along the window sill is a pot of quills already cut just waiting to be used. The nibs of all of these will have separated into two halves. This is not a disaster! The strength of a feather is when it is complete, cutting into it weakens it. However, popping the quill into a jar of water for an hour or so brings the two tines together ready for use and doesn’t soften the nib.

 

 

 

IMG_3275Below the window sill and just to the left of the seat is a trolley of already mixed (but now dried) small palettes and crucibles of paint, jars of black ink, and ink droppers to add water to paint (never use a brush dipped in clean water as the quantity can’t be controlled). Good quality gouache will last in this dry state with water added when it needs to be used. At the front right are pen holders, the green one in the shape of a dragon, and an Arkansas stone to sharpen nibs. As a right-hander, everything is to my left so that I can easily fill pens with ink and paint with my left hand, and then not take a fully charged pen over where I’ve just written. I did think to clean this up a little before this post, but it’s how I work and so I left it!

IMG_3276Then, proud moment here, my clean new board. This is flat whereas it would usually be at a slope of about 45°. It’s a large board with its own stand with a sloping rule, ideal for drawing the many lines calligraphers need to do. A pad of white paper completely covers the board, and then a fold of paper (fold at the top) goes right across bottom part of the board held at a slight tension, so that the writing paper can go to the right and left, and up and down, and doesn’t slip. The writing paper or vellum isn’t attached anywhere because it needs to be at a comfortable writing level which is usually when the hand is about the same level as the shoulder. The shadow is a large light fitted with daylight bulbs so it gives the truest light. The window, which is another source of light, is of course, for a right-hander on my left so that my hand doesn’t create a shadow where I’m writing and painting.

IMG_3299To the right of the board are all the tools I need for painting and writing. At the back on the left is a long metal straight edge for cutting paper and skin of large pieces, and to the left, in the front, are erasers in a little muller, behind that a tiny jar of pounce, and behind that little bags of sandarac in a shallow pot. Magic tape, used pretty much all the time to attach lines on roughs and best pieces is to the left of a hygrometer which indicates the humidity for illumination. And behind that are scissors, dividers, pens, brushes, paste and wash brushes etc. To the right of the storage pots are large knives for cutting vellum.

 

 

IMG_3284 2At the back of the table to the right is a plastic folder which holds set squares. One side of all of these has a metal edge for cutting (don’t cut using a set square without a metal edge as the knife is bound to cut into the plastic and ruin the straight edge). It is easy to stand up from my board and simply reach over for these. In front of them is a magnifying glass on its own stand for working on tiny paintings.

 

IMG_3285All sit on a variety of sizes of cutting mats. Of course, everything has to be moved off if I want to use the larger one, so I must admit that I usually use the medium sized one and just slide the paper/skin along. This isn’t the best or most efficient and it really would be more sensible simply to move stuff off!

 

 

IMG_3286 2A relatively new addition, recommended by my son-in-law who is an excellent photographer, is this flat table and two powerful lights (not the the Anglepoise to the right which has a different purpose) to take good quality photographs of my work, and the camera I use (far too old but I don’t know what new one to get – I’m far from an expert!) is at the back. On the table is a card with gesso at various mixes, and an experiment of shell gold on vellum written with a quill just to make sure that the treatment I was going to give for the actual skin produced the best result.

 

 

IMG_3287 2The last of the ‘tour’ are rolls of vellum (and one of paper to the left). It is better to take the relatively tightly rolled skins out of the tube they are sent in so that the roll is much looser; this then makes it easier to cut large and small pieces from the skin. In front of the rolls are smaller pieces of vellum in a clear plastic folder, some far too small to use but somehow I think they may be handy for something. I used to make vellum size from them for making gesso but now I use fish glue (Seccotine). This is a bit of a dark corner so the Anglepoise lamp is there to add light when selecting the skins.

 

 

IMG_3283And a last tantalising look at how the sloping board is at the moment (July 2023). These are the twenty-one new pieces of artwork with stage-by-stage of how they were done for the ‘Art of the Scribe’ book to be published Spring 2024 by the British Library. It is an information book about seven selected writing styles – the ones most commonly used by calligraphers –and also a practical section for each script of three graded pieces with detailed instructions on how to do them. You’ll have to wait until the book is published to see what’s in those folders!

Fear no More the Heat of the Sun

Fear no more‘Fear no more the heat of the sun’ is a poem from William Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline’. It is a poem of reassurance at death – nothing can touch the deceased now, not sun, cold, thunderstorms, whims of monarchs or tyrants, or even ghosts or witches.

I had been wanting to write this out for for time and thought it would be appropriate for my new book ‘The Art of the Scribe’, to be published by the British Library in 2024. It just wasn’t right though and so I went a different route in the end.

 

 

IMG_2745The first rough is here and the script I tried was Caroline Minuscule. This is one of the seven scripts featured in the new book. I had the idea of the sun colours changing from red to yellow through a couple of oranges for each verse, but it really didn’t work. The piece was far to large and it just didn’t hang together in these varied colours. The initial letters for each verse were emphasised here and I left space to write a gold initial for the first verse.

 

 

 

IMG_2634This lay on one side of my work bench for some time, mulling over the design and thinking of ways to improve it, I was spurred on by realising that it was the colours, size and script that were all wrong – not much right then! Quite a change was required. So I mixed one colour – a good orange (see here for colour mixing) using Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache, I cut a small nib on a swan’s quill, about the size of a Mitchell nib size 6, and wrote it out in rough.

I had the idea of a setting sun at the bottom of the piece. This is depicted in some mediæval manuscripts with alternate straight rays and wavy rays which I rather like – good to have that difference. Not being that good at sums, it took me a little while to work out the appropriate angles so that the rays were even, but once this was done and half-circles inscribed with compasses, it was not too difficult to draw and paint them in Schmincke Goldpearl.

Fear no moreI had done quite a bit of research for the new books into scripts of the Renaissance and decided on a style of Arrighi Italic. I used a lovely piece of prepared vellum (see here, and here). With a left aligned margin and a small quill I wrote out the text in orange gouache, painted the sun at the bottom, with the rays carefully measured out and was able to give the piece to friends. I was sorry in a way to see it go as I rather liked what I had done with it in the end, but pleased, too, that they would be able to enjoy it.

‘Craft Britain – Why Making Matters’

IMG_2489It is not always the case that a new non-fiction book is a page turner, but ‘Craft Britain – Why Making Matters’ by Helen Chislett and David Linley is certainly one such. Page after page of beautiful photographs are surrounded by an informative, fascinating and interesting text. To be fair, craft usually photographs well, but these images are exquisite!

In my view, the book starts not on page one, but with the gloriously marbled blue endpapers by Lucy McGrath, acknowledged in the text – reflecting books in the  nineteenth century when most would have had endpapers like this. It gives the book the quality that continues on the following pages.

IMG_2490Lucy McGrath is marbling paper here by flicking – in a controlled way – colour on to a thickened water base. A piece of suitably sized paper is then floated on the top and when lifted off the marbling has been transferred on to the sheet of paper. The beautifully patterned paper is used not simply for endpapers but for books, book marks, Christmas baubles and much else.

 

IMG_2496From the wonderfully colourful to the monotone, but equally exquisite work of Geoffery Preston MBE. He works in stucco/plaster, moulding by hand the flowers, foliage and flourishes that he designs. This is an overmantel that he’s produced and if you want to see more of his work, save up and go to the bar at the Goring Hotel in London where you’ll be amazed at the sea creatures and his designs that are on the wall leading out to the garden. This craft links to pargetting which is included in the book.

 

IMG_2494Although all craft is beautiful in my eyes, particularly heritage craft (!), it is often, and perhaps usually, useful as well, and none more so than most objects to do with the making of shoes. Steven Lowe owns and runs Crispians which produces lasts for bespoke shoes; lasts are the wooden former, the shape of a person’s foot, around which shoes are made. He also runs Lastmaker House which trains those who wish to learn the craft. When Steven presented at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Craft a few years ago he explained that the vast majority of those who come on his courses are from abroad; it is a sad situation when this endangered craft cannot recruit those in the UK who could make it viable.

 

IMG_2495Another craft carried out by only a few people is wheelwrighting. Mike Rowland and Son are featured in the book. The skills are being passed on in that they have trained one apprentice already and now have Sam Phillips, shown here, working in the workshop. Self-employed makers and micro businesses like these find the costs of training almost prohibitive. If just one day a week is set aside for passing on the skills, and it is usually much more, then production goes down by 20% and that’s a craftsperson’s profit, so they can afford to live, not enouigh to pay for an apprentice. Government provision for support for apprenticeships in the UK works well for bankers and hairdressers, but is virtually non-existent for these endangered crafts. This is rather ironic because the crafts are where the whole apprenticeship, journeyman and master system was established!

IMG_2498Many do not realise the craft skills that are involved in scientific glass instrument blowing, but they are definitely right at the centre! A lot of scientific and medical experiments and processes could not take place if they did not have the correct glass equipment to do so. This elegant tower of glass could sit under a spotlight on a shelf in an expensive penthouse suite as an ornament, but it is actually a water jacketed oxygenator made by Terri Adams as part of cardiovascular research. Terri is the University of Oxford’s only scientific glassblower, and this is an endangered craft with fewer than fifty of these craftspeople in the UK.

 

 

IMG_2491Nowadays we are used to wallpaper being produced by machine, but this wasn’t always the case. In the past wallpaper was printed from carved wooden blocks, often cherry wood; here Hugh Dunford Wood is carving a pattern in lino bespoke to clients who can choose not only the design but also the colours for the ground and print.

The book is divided into twelve chapters after a foreword by Stephen Bayley and an Introduction. Each chapter is a cornucopia of crafts, with details and photographs of each one. It really is an absolute delight and very highly recommended.

A wonderful Edward Johnston book

IMG_2373Sometimes the most chance encounters bring rich rewards! At a recent Christopher de Hamel lecture at the British Library, I overheard the words ‘Edward Johnston’, and my ears pricked up. It turned out that a church on the south coast had an illuminated book of the Communion Service written by the great calligrapher in 1902. The photos I was shown looked amazing and I arranged to go and see the book as soon as I could. It truly was wonderful and such a thrill to see page after page of Edward Johnston’s writing and illumination.

 

 

IMG_2377The note at the back (see below) explained the production of the book and that the hands and faces in this crucifixion scene were painted by ‘my friend E G Treglown of Birmingham’. Note the border decoration of a waving pattern of vine stems and leaves with bunches of grapes, reflecting John 15 ‘I am the vine: you are the branches’. The gold here is shell gold – gold powder in gum Arabic base – with raised gold leaf grapes.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2400A paragraph in Priscilla Johnston’s book about her father notes that ‘ G B Gabb, a surgeon … accordingly commissioned Johnston to write out the Communion Service. The terms of the agreement were that he was to ‘make the most gorgeous book within his power’ and ask for money whenever he wanted it’. What a commission! The lavish use of gold leaf here and above, (where shell gold as well has been used in the border,) are certainly testament to the gorgeous nature of the book! Johnston used ‘Reeve’s raising agent’ as gesso. I haven’t been able to find out anything about this raising agent and would be grateful if anyone reading this can shed any light on it. It is a much deeper red than the pink colour made by the addition of Armenian bole to gesso today.

 

IMG_2393 IMG_2420The decorated initials are particularly fine as can be seen here. A raised gold leaf initial A with first a background of ultramarine and shell gold applied in straight lines with a ruler, with circles along the lines on the left, and then a similarly raised gold A with an ultramarine background and a swirling foliage pattern in green and red with the addition of white dots.

IMG_2382As would be expected of Johnston the initial letters are particularly fine as here, although the red gold cross behind the raised gold letter A may not be a complete success, but all is forgiven by the surety of the strokes in the versals!

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2406This glorious page of raised gold letters absolutely shone in the light and would lift anyone’s heart and spirit. It really is a tour-de-force.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2386The book also contains music for the service as here with an impressive decorated border of raised gold leaves and blue cranesbill. The main wavy line going through the image is drawn with a firmness of the master. I think Johnston would particularly have enjoyed creating the squiggly fine black lines of decoration.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2407That same firmness of line is shown here in this red vermilion decorated chalice; many would envy that sureness of stroke. Interestingly, it looks in places that Johnston may have used a broad edge calligraphy nib for some of the strokes. Note how the furthest left curved line to the base gradually changes from a thicker line to thinner, and also the thin and thicks on the two circles in the oval shape halfway up.

 

 

 

IMG_2375The lettering, as Johnston explains in the note at the back, is based on tenth-century manuscripts. We know that he was introduced to these by Sir Sydney Cockerell, particularly the Ramsey Psalter (BL Harley 2904) which Johnston studied and then developed into his Foundational Hand. The tail of the letter g extending to the right is very much one found in the Psalter. The tenth-century Benedictional of St Æthelwold, written at about the same time and probably at the same location, has a similar style of writing, but here the tail of this letter is dealt with more successfully. Now, dare I say this, pace calligraphers, but Johnston does need to work more on his letters s where almost invariably the top bowl is larger than the bottom (it should be the other way round to prevent the letter looking top heavy).

 

FE3FD8FE-D6DE-4589-915E-A043F639A74E_1_105_c IMG_2432And traditional to the period of study, Johnston used a blind point to rule the lines, where the furrow on one side of the page created a raised line on the other. On the left-hand image there is a faint black baseline where some of the ink on the opposite page has rubbed off on the raised skin.

IMG_2433 copyThe gold tooled cover is just magnificent – produced by Douglas Cockerell, probably the most famous bookbinder of his time, and brother of Sydney.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2442 IMG_2440 IMG_2438 IMG_2439In each corner is a little raised carved ‘button’, not as large as a penny coin, with the symbols of the four evangelists. These are exquisite and the design fits so well in to the circular shape.

 

Matthew – the winged man,

 

 

 

 

Mark – the lion,

 

 

 

 

 

Luke – the bull,

 

 

 

 

 

And John – the eagle.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2413At the back Johnston explains about the book, where his sources for the text come from, and also about the materials used. The skin is ‘Roman vellum’, or lambskin, manufactured at Brentford, no doubt by Bands (since closed), and could explain the difficulty in achieving really fine strokes as this skin is renowned for its greasiness. The blue is ultramarine ash, which I know only as a much paler colour than ultramarine, but here it’s about as strong.

This truly is a remarkable book and it is a privilege to show photographs of it here.