Tag Archives: vellum

Vespasiano da Bisticci – ‘cartolaio’ of Florence

Vespasiano_da_Bisticci_portraitIt must have been a very exciting time in Florence in the fifteenth century. The Humanists favoured Greek and Roman texts, rather than religious ones, and wanted them written out in luxury books. But who could procure the fine vellum needed, or the scribes to write the books in the new/old style of Humanistic Minuscule, artists to decorate them with white vine-scroll ornament, and skilled craftspeople to bind them in velvet or supple leather? Enter one Vespasiano da Bisticci (1421–1498) as shown here. He started working at a libreria along a street of similar shops when he was only 11 years of age but he learnt quickly and, when still a young man, became a member of the stationers’ guild and thus a fully fledged ‘cartolaio’.

Bartolomeo_Sanvito_-_Portrait_of_Petrarch_in_the_Incipit_Letter_“N”_-_Google_Art_ProjectThe Humanists wanted their ancient texts written in an ancient script. They thought Gothic scripts were too modern (though they look very old-fashioned to us!), and called them lettera/littera antica/antiqua. Looking back in history at various writing styles they were keen to get as close to the scripts of Rome and Greece, but they didn’t go back quite far enough. They settled instead on the clear and precise style developed during the reign of Charlemagne, another lover of all things classical. Charlemagne wanted a clear, easily readable script, that could be used throughout his empire, and this was it.

 

Screenshot 2023-12-13 at 17.00.31

The Humanists adapted it – they made the script more upright, they added feet to the  minims (sometimes emphasised too much!) and used classical Roman Capitals to complete the impressive look. The appearance on the page is almost of printed text when it is written as clearly and precisely as this. It is extremely difficult to justify text when it is hand-written – it is certainly not as simple and easy as highlighting a paragraph and clicking on a button to align left and right margins! Yet in this manuscript now in the British Library, written by Rodolpho Brancalupo, it is precisely what he has achieved.

Screenshot 2023-12-13 at 17.00.14Many of the pages of books at this time also reflected Classical influences. Those associated with the great Paduan scribe Bartolomeo San Vito and others often had decorations of swags and foliage, cherubs and acanthus leaves, vases and jewels, sea creatures and pearls – as can be seen in the manuscript page in the second paragraph. Others were decorated with bianchi girari (white twists), which worked well with the lighter and more delicate script. This is shown in this manuscript from the Fitzwilliam Museum which was supervised by Vespasiano da Bisticci and produced in about two months – an amazing feat!

IMG_3778Vespasiano’s shop can still be seen in Florence. It was on the corner of the Via del Proconsolo and Via de’ Pandolfini. Close by is another shop as here. This is a magnificent building with a most impressive doorway.

 

IMG_3780Above the rounded and decorated arch, between two horizontal swags of leaves and foliage, is a small carved open book. Those a little carried away by the romance of the bookshop of the famous bookseller thought that a book carved above the entrance indicated that this is the very shop.

 

IMG_3783This ‘book’ shop, though, is on the wrong corner, and in some ways sadly, although amazing that it’s still there, Vespasiano’s old shop is much more mundane now – at the time of writing it was a pizzeria. This is on here the correct corner and it was from where the bookseller traded.

There is much more about the Humanists, their manuscripts, and Vespasiano and his clients in ‘The Art of the Scribe’, published by the British Library, summer 2024.

‘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.

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 Glitterati of 2023

Layout 1What a wonderful group of eight budding illuminators-to-be there was for this year’s intensive Tools, Techniques and Materials of Mediæval Manuscripts three-day course in May. It is always interesting to see how eight different people, complete strangers, from different parts of the UK and the world will react when spending three days together. I have been so lucky in that everyone who comes on my courses has been really nice – and so it proved to be this time!

 

 

 

IMG_2930It takes quite a long time to get the rooms ready. The furniture has to be arranged, and then all the tools and equipment set out for each individual – well over 30 individual pieces of equipment. No-one has to bring anything with them – it’s all provided. I do this for three main reasons. It is very expensive buying vellum, books of gold leaf, sets of paints, and fine kolinsky sable brushes. If someone is doing this only once, it is a lot of cost, which could be seriously off-putting! Then, for those coming long distances and even from overseas, buying all the correct stuff is not easy and carrying it long distances on public transport is also a challenge. Lastly, and this is from experience of many, many years, it is so important to have the right tools and materials – too low a gold level in leaf gold means that it will not stick to itself, a old burnisher that someone has found in a drawer may be scratched and ruin the gold, and new scissors bought cheaply will make the gold leaf tear. It really is a case of, quite rightly ,a workman blaming his tools when things don’t go well!

But the results were amazing as you can see. Gesso well laid, gold attached and burnished to a bright shine, and miniatures painted well.

IMG_2945Here are the results and comments from those on the course, although comments are not necessarily next to the image completed (by the way, the images may be a bit skewwhiff because I wanted to make sure the brilliance of the gold was captured).

Amazed at what I’d learnt on the first day. I thought we had a lot to do, and we did, but Patricia had timings meticulously planned, and we finished. it was extremely good value for such an in depth course (and most memorable).

 

IMG_2934Your help and advice at all stages have been very welcome; thank you for your encouraging words throughout the course. So glad to have attended. I have learned a great deal and particularly enjoyed using gesso. Absolutely fantastic. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2935Superb! I’ve learned so much and will definitely experiment with techniques in the future, Unique and top quality training with plenty of inspiration for future explorations. Very clear, easy to follow and clearly based on practical experience. Brilliantly pitched.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2937I just want to say what a wonderful experience this has been – absolutely perfect for me! Thank you so much for your wonderful warmth and hospitality (well beyond what the course would require to be a success).

 

 

 

IMG_2936Perfectly paced and really fun, learned so much, quill making amazing. Patricia you are wonderfully encouraging and positive, Loved the gesso and gilding. Tremendous! Wish I could have stayed for a week.

 

 

 

IMG_2942I was so looking forward to it, but the course was so much more than I could have expected, The learning was wonderful, and I cannot thank you enough for all the effort you put in to make it an amazing experience. Excellent! Repeats, great demonstrations, you are a wonderful teacher! All my thanks.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2939This is famously the best course in the world, which is why we’re all here. No-one was disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IIMG_2940 loved the fact that you walked us through the details of all the supplies we used, where they came from and how they are made. It was an amazing experience, I have learned so much more than I had hoped to. Patricia, you are a very generous teacher and person. I am so glad I signed up for this workshop.

 

 

 

Courses are held in Kent, UK, about 35 minutes by train from London. They are run usually the third weekend (plus the Friday) in May, and details are sent out in my free online monthly newsletter. The courses fill up very quickly, so if you are interested, do book your place as soon as it’s advertised!

Kedington Roll of Honour

IMG_1073All commissions present challenges, which is the joy of doing them, but some do create more than others! Such was the case with the Kedington Roll of Honour. This was to be a record of the the airmen who died and the few who survived in air crashes at Kedington in Suffolk, just before and during the Second World War, and forms part of the Kedington War Memorial. There were five dates that needed to be recorded with differing numbers of names and the amount of information. It was very difficult to get a balance between the lists and placement of them took some time. However, the best layout for the names left a large hole in the middle at the bottom.

IMG_1075I had been asked to incorporate flowers and shrubs relating to the places where the airmen came from which seemed to be the answer in filling this space, but getting a balance between the colours and sizes of the flowers etc was a challenge. It was also necessary in this balance to have the flowers and shrubs placed where they would grow in nature – prairie crocuses and daffodils at the bottom, thistles and lupins in the middle, and oak and maple ‘trees’ at the top for example. I tried many different shapes and designs for this, balancing the colours as part of the design. Initially I thought that a much freer shape, with branches and leaves extending beyond the main body of the vegetation would be better, but the extensions drew the eye too much. It was important to include all these elements but the shape, colour and detail should not then dominate; the names of the airmen are the most important part and nothing should detract from them.

IMG_0943As usual, the very first task was to experiment to decide on the size of nib, which determines the size of the lettering, for each of the sections, and then write everything out. Having done that, colour was introduced to elements of the lettering, including mixing a blue similar to that of Air Force blue. I then cut the names and information up into separate lines and placed them in order, attaching them to a large sheet of paper, and spacing the lines so that they weren’t too far apart, nor too close. Here everything has been laid out in rough and I am using two large L-shaped pieces of grey card to determine the margins before I ordered the vellum.

 

IMG_1077However, I wasn’t happy with the design. It didn’t seem to hang together and I couldn’t work out exactly what needed to be done. I researched various links with Kedington and Suffolk and found out that cowslips are the county flower. Suddenly I had an idea and after a few experiments then it all seemed to come together. I painted some cowslips of various sizes and in various groupings to determine the exact format and size. In rough the whole design was pulled together by a simple line of cowslips painted so that they looked as if they were growing in a Suffolk meadow. I thought that this could represent the Suffolk countryside where those who had sadly died were now buried – the oval design of flowers above representing them when they were alive – above the ground. The final touch was a small bunch of cowslips at the bottom of the panel, tied with a piece of brown string, just the sort of thing someone might pick from the countryside and hedgerows and place on the grave of an airman during the war.

IMG_1078It was a beautifully creamy-white piece of vellum, but the design was too large for me to stretch the skin over wood first, so everything was written and painted before stretching. I treated the skin, marked out the spacing and ruled the lines. I then set to writing the title, headings, names etc and the information at the bottom. Lastly the painting was done mainly in watercolours. Both the writing and the painting sat very well on the treated skin – it was a beauty!

I hope that this Roll of Honour in its frame sits appropriately with the actual Kedington War Memorial cast in bronze.

A Gift for The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

Good shipsIt is unlikely that anyone will experience a Platinum Jubilee again, so the celebrations in the UK of The Queen’s anniversary in 2022 were particularly special. It is traditional for organisations and institutions to mark this by presenting the sovereign with a small gift, but how to make yours stand out amongst so many? This was the challenge for Gallyon Guns. They were aware of work I had done before and particularly liked the words of the ‘Friendship’ poem. The relationship between The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh seemed to be not only a warm and loving one but one also based on friendship, and with HRH’s naval background, it seemed particularly relevant.

 

 

Good shipsMy challenge was to make this not only relevant to the occasion but I wanted to also make it personal. The Queen is the queen of the whole of the UK and so a design was created of the four flowers of the nations and principality at the top of the poem. A rosebud was included with the open rose to represent The Prince of Wales as heir to the throne.

Good shipsThis theme of national flowers was continued at the base of the text. The two open red roses represented The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, with four rose buds representing The Prince of Wales, The Princess Royal and Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Three thistles on the right-hand side represent George, Charlotte and Louis, and on the left, Archie and Lilibet.

IMG_3474It is always useful, and very much advised, to keep the roughs of work completed as, if it is repeated, one process is removed as the lines already written can be used as a template. So having already written this previously, I was able to use the lines as a guide. If photocopies of the finished work are made, these can also be used. Take two so one can be a record, and the second one can be cut up for the lines, but don’t throw them away at the end – there may be yet another repeat!

The way in which I work is, once the writing style and pen nib size have been determined, to write out all the text first, without worrying about mistakes. This takes all the tension out of the task – always a challenge for the scribe as tension usually results in cramped letters and tight spacing at the start which tends to be improve later; this then shows in the finished piece. Without these concerns, if a mistake is made, the word is simply written out again and inserted into the correct place in the text. If any parts of the text are written in a different size, style or pen nib, then these are also written out at this stage without worries or obvious tension. The lettering is then cut into strips and placed on a suitable size of paper. Margins are also determined at this stage. The strips are cut according to sense and design and laid out on the paper. Lines can be shortened or lengthened, moved around to be aligned left or right, centred or whatever seems to be the most appropriate arrangement. At this point, colour in the background or illustration can be added so that the balance of the whole piece can be determined. This is a wonderfully creative process, but it can also be rather time consuming!

CIMG3159Once the guidelines have been drawn on the chosen surface, then these strips of text act as a guide for writing out the finished piece. Placing them just above the line being written means that spelling mistakes or words missed out are avoided, and starting and finishing lines where they should are indicated exactly above the places where they should start and finish! (The image is from a different piece but it gives the idea.) To attach the lines I use Magic tape but remove some of the stickiness by tapping my fingers on the tape – I don’t want any of the writing surface to be removed as well!

Of course, anything to do with the royal is confidential, but I did hear through the grapevine that, unlike many of the presentations made ,The Queen did see this one and she was not displeased! That certainly made my week!

Glitterati of 2022

IMG_1727Although it was a slightly depleted group due to Covid, ill health and travel challenges, there was such enthusiasm for the three-day May 2022 ‘Illuminating a Mediæval Miniature’ course. And, as always, only lovely people seem to come on these courses so it was a joy to spend three days in their company. It takes quite a long time to set out all the tools and materials required for making, laying, preparing and gilding gesso, which raises the the gold from the surface of the vellum, cutting quills, preparing vellum, transferring the tracing and painting two miniatures. This image is just the work station for just one person.

IMG_1728This is the third course run since the pandemic, and very careful arrangements are made to allow for this. There are two or three people on long tables and two large rooms are used. In addition a virus extractor is run throughout the course. Naturally, people are often a bit worried that everyone else will be so much better than them, but the course is all about techniques and applying them, and so the results invariably astonish in a good way (!) those taking part.

 

 

IMG_0824It is an intensive and often exhausting three days, but seeing what people produce makes up for it all! See the results below.

 

 

 

 

IMG_0823These are the comments from those on this course, but not necessarily beside each person’s own work:

Oh how wonderful! Just being in this calm lovely space, surrounded by glorious artwork, was marvellous. Watching Patricia paint, measure out ingredients, teach, share her expertise and encourage us all was a masterclass in what exemplary teaching should be.

IMG_0829What a privilege! I have loved every minute and I cannot believe how much I have learned and achieved. It has been wonderful.

Excellent. Patricia is kind and encouraging, and great care and kindness is taken with all arrangements.

All beautifully paced and so encouraging. It makes a lot of difference to have expert demonstrations in person not Zoom, and to be able to ask lots of questions.

IMG_0835Heartily recommended. Everyone comes away having succeeded in producing something to be proud of using exquisite materials most would not usually have access to. Plus – what lovely people!

Wonderful! I did the 1-day course at the British Library and felt compelled to do the 3-day course. The teaching was so focused and clear, but also open and fun.

 

 

 

IMG_0838Very well worth it, I have truly learned something unique and wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0842Absolutely spot on – just the right amount of explanation etc including repetition.

Fantastic – would love to do it (yet) again.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0839I could not have asked for a more fun, fascinating and engaging course; I learned so much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0841Down to earth, and crucially delivered with a sense of humour. Wonderfully accommodating of attendees’ skillsets from professional artist to complete novice. This must have been tough to do but Patricia made it look easy. A privilege to have been taught by a leading authority on the subject.

 

The Fully Qualified Glitterati

Layout 1Another group of people eager to learn the traditional skills and techniques of mediæval illumination and miniature painting gathered in Kent, UK, in May 2021. This was a group who had planned to take this course in 2020 but the pandemic got in the way, so everyone, including me, was very excited to be able actually to take the course.

IMG_1726Everything is provided on the course, no-one needs to bring anything with them, and it takes quite a while to ensure that all the tools and materials are clean, pencils sharpened, erasers ready to use, and there are no scratches on the burnishers. Those who have been on my courses before will recognise the wet boxes and the dry boxes!

 

 

 

 

IMG_1727Each participant has their work station set up for them so that all they need is ready to hand; no-one has to share tools etc and wait for someone else to finish using them. There is also plenty of space so those working don’t feel cramped.

 

 

 

IMG_1749After practising applying gold and burnishing to already laid gesso, gesso is made for participants to take home to make more illuminated miniatures, and gesso made earlier is applied to their own choice of miniature. But first everyone cuts their own quill from a swan’s feather to apply the gesso.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1743Vellum is prepared and the outline traced and transferred to the skin. Gesso is then laid ready for gilding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1739Applying real gold leaf changes the pink gesso into what looks like solid gold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1746Everyone is delighted with the magical effect, even if some gesso is a little smoother than others. Turning it in the light really does look as if the miniature is illuminated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1753After practising painting their miniature everyone sets to painting their ‘proper’ one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1759A great deal of concentration is required for this, and while people are busy painting, I explain about the types of skin to use, and also show and talk about the traditional pigments.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1751Everyone was delighted with their results and said they learned a lot. I hope they continue to do more as they were a very impressive set of illuminations. And no, most people had never done this before, and many had very little painting experience either.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1766Genuine comments from the course include:

It was great, relaxed but very informative. Lovely day, uninterrupted painting. Perfect. I loved it.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1773Excellent instructions and I loved how passionate and knowledgeable you are about your subject. I learnt loads and my confidence built up over the duration of the course. I am looking forward to trying my new-found skills at home.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1779Very enjoyable, very well done. I was very happy with what I managed to achieve all thanks to Patricia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1775Everything was very clear and thank you for your individual support on any questions or problems. A wonderful course. Thank you so much!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1765Really clear instructions, explanations, etc, and brilliant being able to ask as many questions as possible. Had an amazing time, thank you. Will be definitely going home and continuing my painting. I had lost my enjoyment of painting any illuminations as I had just become frustrated not knowing what to do and the techniques needed. Thanks.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1761Expert teaching of intricate techniques very well explained and demonstrated. The course is very well paced. Enough time to really focus on a good painting.

 

 

 

IMG_1770Brilliant, even for a beginner with no knowledge of the craft. Best course ever – would wish to do another. Experience shines through gently. 10 out of 10.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1763A model example of thorough preparation, micro and macro management of a complex subject. Delightful outcome of a memorable three days. Bravissimo!

(NB, the comments don’t necessarily match the person creating the miniature!)

****One person on the course had a Dystonic tremor which affects the whole body, and also has MS which affects other parts. Painting the practice piece was done in the afternoon and the hand wasn’t so steady, but painting the best piece started in the morning and they found that ‘with so much concentration, I was hardly shaking. It feels since the course that my self confidence has taken a huge boost as well’.

So don’t think this course isn’t for you if you have no experience. Illumination involves technique, and that is what is taught. And if you, too, have a tremor or a physical challenge, you may well surprise yourself and what you can do in three days!

 

‘It is not yet spring …’

Layout 1Most calligraphers are always on the lookout for words and texts that appeal and can be written out and interpreted. I noted these wonderful words by Edward Thomas (who for a time lived near us) early in 2020 before the resulting pandemic became so restrictive. I wrote them out in the winter of 2020 when it really did seem that any spring really was being dreamed as being ‘more wonderful and more blessed than ever was spring’.

 

 

 

CIMG3264As always, the words were addressed first. I needed to work out the length of the line of text so that I could select a size of oval that fitted. A piece of vellum of suitable size was prepared and the oval shape drawn in as a guide for the lettering. I thought that this colour green for the text would work well with the theme.

Yet again, dear Edward Thomas did not consider us as calligraphers when he wrote. How wonderful it would have been if he had thought to include some words that had ascenders that could be flourished in the top left half and at the base.

 

CIMG3267 2And now to the flowers. I researched photographs of spring flowers; I would have preferred to have used actual examples but I was working on this at the wrong time of year. I made sketches of where various flowers could go – it seemed sensible to have taller flowers near the top and smaller flowers nearer the base, so bluebells were in the upper part and violets, crocuses and primroses towards the lower part.

I sketched out a possible layout in coloured pencils and checked it for size of the flowers and colour balance with the lettering.

 

CIMG3269This stage was partway through the painting. The leaves on bluebells are yet to be inserted and I didn’t like the straightish line on the top of the violets on the right hand side. The primroses also needed more definition, but it’s on its way.

 

 

 

 

Layout 1And this is the finished piece. The bluebells don’t look quite so isolated now they have some leaves to accompany them. The single hellebore and primroses have more definition, there are now more hellebores lower right and left, with crocuses in a bed of grass in the base.

There is always a delicate balance between text and illustration and in this instance it can rightly be said that there isn’t that much of a balance here, let alone a delicate one! The density and colour of the flowers really do outweigh the lettering which dances around trying to hold its own but not succeeding very well! However, this was an effect of the pandemic and the thought that when spring comes it really will be ‘more wonderful and more blessed than ever was spring’.

 

 

‘…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!