Tag Archives: vellum

Gilding and painting a mediæval letter

CIf you ever wanted to learn how to cut a quill, what the difference is between vellum and parchment, how to deal with real gold leaf and use it in mediæval miniatures and illuminated letters, and how to paint them, then this course is for you. We shall be covering the techniques of gilding and traditional skills, and you will go home with your own initial letter, gilded and painted on vellum, and with gesso laid with a quill that you will have cut yourself.



Lovett courseI’m running a 3-day course in May – Saturday 23rd May to Monday 25th May 2015 – at my studio in Sevenoaks, Kent. Everything is provided – feathers for quills, vellum, gold, burnishers, paints, brushes, etc.

And tea/coffee and snacks and a light lunch is also included in the price.


gilding courseClasses are kept deliberately small so that individual and personal attention is emphasised.


Previous students have been kind enough to be very complimentary about the courses I’ve run:

Excellent – patient and with expertise, generous with materials and information, good humour welcome!

owlHighest level of coverage and specialisation. Everything was well thought out. Help and encouragement was always given. Patricia was very professional and enthusiastic.

Very good introduction and explanations of how to paint a mediæval miniature and the techniques used. Very encouraging to all students.

One of the best course tutors I have had.

Excellently taught – enthusiastic – well thought out and relaxed in a clear and concise manner.

I have achieved a long held ambition, and, thanks to Patricia and the relaxed atmosphere she created, I have amazed myself.

I honestly don’t think the course could have been better.

Every day has been excellent and I have achieved more than I thought I was capable of. Thanks for everything.

Please contact me if you want more details and the application form.

Vellum ‘music’ book

Vellum bookI am always on the lookout for suitable quotations to write out, and, as I am keen on music, when I had a collection of phrases on the topic, I decided to do something with them.






Rough textIt took quite a few years before I could get round to it, but I was eventually able to combine the music quotations with a spare piece of vellum I had and make a vellum book. To start with I experimented with nib size and writing style, and settled on the fallback of Italic. So I wrote out all the quotations to see how many lines each would take and what sort of shape they would be. I wrote out the authors’ names in tiny capitals as a contrast.

Text rough placedThen I cut up the different quotations and used magic tape to attach the authors’ names underneath in what I thought was the best position. I played around with blocks of text to try to get a balance in terms of layout, and placed these in various positions on a large piece of paper.

When I was happy with this, I marked all the positions and took measurements of exactly where each separate block of text, with the writers’ names, started and finished.

text on vellumThen it was time to determine the exact page size. The top margin is usually smaller than the bottom, and the two outer and the inner margins about the same (the ratio for a classically laid out manuscript book is 2 units at the top, 4 units at the bottom, and 3 units at each outer edge and in the gutter [fold]).





detailI selected a reasonably robust piece of vellum so that it wouldn’t buckle and cockle too much, but note the distinct curve of the skin on the above right. This is the piece of vellum without being under weights, and not sewn into a book.The skin was prepared (see Illumination DVD) and the positions of the lines were marked by pin pricks using a set of compasses (see Calligraphy Clip, Measuring lines) then the lines were drawn with a 4H pencil.


detailTo avoid the lettering looking too boring I wrote the text blocks alternately in Chinese liquid ink, and ultramarine Schmincke Calligraphy gouache. I also had the idea for a bit of levity by inserting a raised gesso musical note covered in pure gold leaf, (the same process as used for raised gold in mediæval illuminated manuscripts), between each of the text blocks.

I was fortunate in that my training many years ago also included bookbinding, which I enjoy very much, so making the vellum sheet into a book wasn’t too much of a challenge. Acid-free 230 gsm hp paper was used for the title page and colophon. I was given some lovely Indian hand-made paper marbled with gold swirls which seemed appropriate for the end papers, and also had some black and gold fabric with which I covered the boards for the book. So it was a case of folding, trimming, sewing and sticking and the book was done.

Sand, sanders and writing

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

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

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

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





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

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



Codex Amiatinus – a very English book with an Italian name

St Paul's, Jarrow
Abbott Ceofrid (pronounced Chalfrith) must have been a remarkable man. At the beginning of the eighth century, he was in charge of the twin foundations of St Peter’s at Monkwearmouth (now Sunderland) and also St Paul’s, Jarrow (right), both on or very close to the coast on the far north-east of England. The church buildings have evidence of Anglo-Saxon work, and although both have been much altered, it is still possible to get something of the feeling of what it must have been like at the time of Ceolfrid and Bede; Bede lived at Jarrow.

cod amIn 692, Ceolfrid commissioned three great pandects (all the books of the bible in one volume) to be created, one for Monkwearmouth, one for Jarrow and one to take with him when he went to see Pope Gregory II in Rome; this last book became the Codex Amiatinus. The date is fairly certain because it was in that year that the twin foundations were given a grant of extra land, needed to raise the cattle required for these books. (Map of Jerusalem on the right from the Codex Amiatinus)

Each of the three books had 1029 leaves from calfskin, which was of exceptionally fine quality. The books were large, one calfskin would have had the edges trimmed and then folded in two to make four pages. It’s been estimated that 2,000 cattle were needed for the project, and it should be pointed out that these would be calves, not fully grown mature cattle because their skin is too thick and unwieldy. The books weighed over 5 stone each (75 lbs, 35 kg), and would have required two strong people to move them once bound.

page from Cod AmiatinusThe writing in the Codex Amiatinus is a particularly fine uncial script (opening of St Mark on the right), and for many years was thought to be produced by scribes in or from Rome because of its quality. It must have taken years to produce three great books; seven scribes have been identified and there is evidence that the Venerable Bede was involved in the project. It was only at the beginning of the last century, and then only because of its similarity to other manuscripts known to have been produced at Monkwearmouth/Jarrow, that scholars agreed that the books would have been written by English scribes in England. There is no punctuation, but sections start with a large initial, and it is written as per cola et commata, which means that it is set out as clauses in a sentence, and indented as such. It is remarkably easy to navigate despite there being few illustrations or big headings.

Ezra page, Cod AmiatinusThe text is an almost pure form of the Latin Vulgate translation of St Jerome (the language used at the time, nothing to do with it being ‘vulgar’), and is thought to be have based on a book called the Codex Grandior, an Italian 6th century book, and again a pandect, but now lost. Benedict Biscop, who has recently been adopted as the patron saint of Sunderland, was the founder of the monasteries, as well as being Ceolfrid’s predecessor. He and Ceolfrid visited Rome in 678 and brought back books, including the Codex Grandior, bought from the library of the Vivarium, a monastery set up by Cassiodorus, on the site of modern Santa Maria de Vetere near Squillace, in Italy. (Right: The Ezra page from the Codex Amiatinus)

Two of the pandects stayed in England at Jarrow and Monkwearmouth, but, when he was 74 years of age, on 16th June in 716, Ceolfrid set out for Rome with the third book. It must have been a tearful departure as the monks knew they would not see their dear abbot again. Sadly, Ceolfrid didn’t get to Rome but died at Langres, Burgundy, in France on September 24th the same year.

Codex_Amiatinus_(dedication_page)By the 9th century, the pandect was at the monastery of Monte Amiata, near Siena, which gave the book its current name. It remained there until 1792 when the monastery closed and it was taken to the Laurentian Library in Florence, where it is to this day. In 1888 a scholar called Giovanni Battista de Rossi noted the similarity in text to the bibles mentioned by Bede, and also noted that the dedication of Petrus Langobardorum (Peter of Lombardy, see right, line 5) had been added over Ceolfridus Anglorum (Ceolfrid of England) which had been partially removed. This was one of the great Ceolfrid pandects.



Greenwell leafWhat happened to the two books that stayed? We have evidence that one was presented to King Offa when it was thought that it was a book from Rome, but that hasn’t survived, and nor has the other. However, individual leaves have. The most famous is the Greenwell leaf (right) discovered by the Reverend Greenwell in an old register that he said he bought in Newcastle. Other leaves have turned up including one from a book found at Kingston Lacy; mainly these are used as binding waste, which is why they are often discoloured and with pieces cut off.

So the Codex Amiatinus, one of the most famous books in the world because of its purity of text and script, is actually an English book produced by English scribes from Northumbria. Perhaps its name should be changed to Codex Northumbrianus (or whatever the Latin translation would be!).

A new Book of Hours (well 6 pages!)

Page from Book of HoursOver the years I have produced a number of props for television programmes and films, and have also been filmed writing as historical figures with a quill or pointy pen, or demonstrating what I do – illumination with gold and egg tempera, and writing on vellum with quills – as well as being filmed as myself – a scribe and illuminator. Being commissioned to produce six pages for a mock-up Book of Hours for the BBC series of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall was a really interesting job to get.

The skin from William Cowley was a dream – both hair and flesh side – and I chose sections that had a clear scattering of brown hair follicles so that there would be no confusion that it was paper ‘pretending’ to be vellum.

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 13.47.25This is a short film clip of the various stages of the book and how it looked once it had been pasted into the book itself.

testing writing



I tested the skin to see how much preparation it required (for all the information you need about using and preparing vellum and parchment, see my video, 3+ hours long on everything to do with manuscript crafts and modern materials), and then experimented with pen nib sizes and letter height so that I could replicate the writing. Once these were determined I was able to rule guidelines and see if my test preparations worked for writing.

The pages are based on the Hours of Joanna of Castille, but the designer has added gold and coloured side panels, and imported mediæval animals and motifs to add interest to the pages. The Hours are quite small – page size is 105 x160 mm (4 x 6 ins approx) – which means that the lettering is tiny – about 2 mm high.

There were two main ways of producing these six pages. One is to start from scratch with the text, and design and lay out the pages, inserting larger initials, designing the motifs and so on. This is rarely a real choice because it adds often more than twice as much to the time, which I certainly didn’t have. The other is to copy an already existing manuscript, which is indeed what I did.

Design transferredI traced the whole page, including the text, to get a sense of the rhythm and form of the script, but decided not to transfer the tracing of the lettering, as this results in rather static rhythm. It did need a lot of concentration to ensure that line endings were reasonably consistent. They looked very even in the original. However, when I was working on the pages I realised that line endings weren’t that consistent in the Joanna Hours. The tracing outline is secured here (right) by red paint – minium in mediæval manuscripts – I use traditional techniques as much as possible.

Book of Hours textI drew lines for the text and wrote out the first page which was actually the second one. It is always better to start not at the beginning if you can, as your writing is often tighter and more cramped when you first set out, and this shows if it’s right at the start. I was fortunate in that I had a transcription of the text; some of it was difficult to decipher, for example, domum or domiun (my Latin wasn’t good enough to translate as I went along). The letter i was rarely dotted, and, with wear, the tiny joining strokes at the top of an n and at the base for a u meant that these letters were difficult to distinguish. This transcription made a huge difference. The red rubrics were written as I went along, but I left spaces for the larger painted initials, and completed them after the writing.

Then it was on to the painting.

tiny monketI very much enjoyed painting the little animals, though these were less than 2 cm high.

There was a monkey (right), a rabbit (below), squirrel and two peacocks (one of them is below the rabbit on the right).














The squirrel eating a hazel nut was fun to paint.






And every mediæval manuscript needs a snail!

Book of HoursThere were also strawberries, thistles, roses, and blue and pink flowers of slightly indeterminate nature.


Book of Hours gold baseThen it was on to the gold. There wasn’t enough time to use the traditional mordant of gesso, so I used a modern medium, raised it slightly, and then applied real 23·5 carat gold leaf. Gold leaf on anything other than gesso is never as wonderfully shiny and smooth as in traditional manuscripts, but it will certainly look really illuminated as the pages are turned in the series.

Book of Hours pagesIt did look reasonably shiny, though, but as the book was going to be ‘aged’ and rubbed to looks as if it had been in the family for some generations, I didn’t worry too much about taking care with the gilding.


These six pages were sewn into one gathering, and this was then tipped into an already bound book which was aged to look as if it had passed through a few generations.


A modern flagellum

IMG_0522Beating the sin out of your body with a mediaeval flagellum may have worked in those times, but to me, this is a shocking use of beautiful writing and wonderful animal skin. I saw a flagellum first in the old British Library, when it was still housed within the British Museum in Great Russell Street. There was a well-used wooden handle, and Biblical texts in a form of Gothic Black Letter written on strips of animal skin, which were attached to the handle. The skin was rather discoloured, which it would be if it had been used to beat the body.

enlargement of modern flagellumI thought that, following my theme of loving a lot of lettering that is 3D, I’d try my hand at making a modern flagellum. But what to write? Although I love the words of the St James Bible, I thought that to use biblical texts would simply be a copy. I then realised that there were words and phrases that seemed to be beating the living daylights out of the English language – pre-owned, meaning second-hand, faux, meaning fake, compact (with houses and flats) meaning tiny, economical with the truth, meaning lying. I also have a bit of a thing about verbs being used as nouns, and I’m sorry, but it’s the grammar police here, different from (not different to), fewer for numbers (rather than less than), and so on.

We had a great time one evening with our friends suggesting words and phrases, and then I set to. It may be flagellum, but I wanted to make it beautiful. So I chose some really creamy vellum, used Chinese red and black stick ink, and separated the individual words and phrases along each strip with a gold leaf dot on raised gesso. I marked out with pencil and a straight edge the strips on the vellum – the plan was to make long strips and fold them in half, and then attach them together – and set to. Once the gilding and writing were done I cut up the strips using a sharp knife and straight edge (not too clever with the raised and gilded dots, but there we are!), folded the strips in half and then sewed them all together with bookbinder’s thread.

I am not skilled in wood turning, but I know a man who is, our piano tuner! So we discussed the dimensions and he made the handle. I tried ramming the strips into the cup-shape in the handle but they didn’t stay there very effectively, so I then flooded the inside cavity with acid-free PVA, and it held.

Unlike the mediaeval flagellum which had been used and so the vellum strips were quite flexible, this vellum is stiff, and so, when displayed, each strip has to be separately attached to the backing (with white bluetac). I just wonder what people will think of this in years to come!

Golden Books – the Lindau Gospels and others

Lindau Gospels front coverIt is rare to get a ninth century book where the original jewelled cover is still attached to the book. The Lindau Gospels is one such. It was bought by John Pierpoint Morgan and was his first major manuscript purchase. The cover is simply amazing. The centre piece is Christ on the cross in gold, standing proud from the surface. Mourning figures, some with wings, are also in relief in the four surrounding panels. It is thought that below the arms of the cross are the Virgin Mary, John, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the wife of Cleopas (Cleopas was one of the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. His wife was Mary, and, in John’s Gospel, she was named as one of the women standing with Mary at the cross). The sun and moon are represented above the cross. (A design point: having a centred design makes the whole thing too far down the cover – how I want to just push it all up a bit!)

Rear_cover_of_Lindau_GospelsThe jewels are just stunning – pearls in abundance, amethysts, jade, beryls, and what could be moonstones amongst others. The back cover is not quite so lavish, but wonderful in its own way. Silver and gold have been worked into interlace, similar to that in the Lindisfarne Gospels, and although the jewels are fewer in number, the enamel work in very fine indeed. The additions of two vertical strips at either side edge indicate the the back cover was not made for this book. It is thought likely that the book was produced at the Royal Abbey of St Denis just outside Paris.

There is a discussion of the book cover in detail here.

462px-codex_aureus_sankt_emmeramThe Codex Aureus of St Emmeram (Golden Book) is also a ninth century book. The date for this book is quite precise – 870, and it was produced for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles II (the Bald), at his Palace School, probably again at St Denis. There must have been some exceptionally skilled craftspeople around at that time! It is a large book at 420×300 mm. Again there is a central cross shape, but this time the figure is Christ in Majesty holding a book where the text is clear and reads: ‘I am the way, and the truth…’. Around the central figure are the four evangelists’ symbols, and there are images of Christ’s miracles in the four L-shaped panels. It is thought that the monks Liuthard and Beringer wrote the book and to see some inside pages of their work click here.

Dodex Aureus of FreckenhorstThis is what some jewelled book covers are like now. This is the Codex Aureus of Freckenhorst, which is an 11th century gospel book. Although a few mother-of-pearl remains, with some pieces of jade, turquoise and amethyst, most of the stones have been prized out with a knife, which does leave us a peek at the wooden board forming the structure of the cover below. The central ivory is particularly exquisite. Christ is in a mandorla (this is the shape of two circles overlapping and so is where the circle of heaven overlaps with the circle of earth – which is where Christ is situated), holding a book, which again emphasises the importance of the Word at this time.

Stockholm Codex AureusA note at the beginning of the Gospel of St Matthew in the Stockholm Codex Aureus tells us that the book was stolen by the Vikings, no doubt for its precious cover, but was bought back ‘with much gold’ and presented to the church. It is quite likely that when it was realised that this was a book not a box, the cover was ripped off and the Vikings were then quite happy to sell the inside of the book on.

Note at Stockholm Cod AurYou can just about make out the note written above the magnificent ‘Christi Autem’ and then continued at the bottom of the page. It explains that Earl Alfred, from Surrey, and his wife Werburg bought the book from the ‘heathen invading army’. The inside lives up to its name of Codex Aureus. A mid-eighth century book, it was probably produced in Canterbury. Pages of dyed purple vellum with gold, silver and white pigments are followed by undyed skin with black, red and gold. Wulfhelm the goldsmith is named, so too are Ceolhard , Niclas and Ealhhun, who were probably the scribes and illuminators.


St Cuthbert’s Gospel – a rare jewel

St Cuthbert's Gospel 1St Cuthbert’s Gospels is one of the most covetable books I have ever had the privilege to see close up. Being within a foot or so of a seventh-century book that was found in the coffin of the important Northumbrian saint, St Cuthbert, was an amazing experience. When the coffin in the shrine of St Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral was opened in 1104, the book was found placed there with other objects such as St Cuthbert’s pectoral cross and precious textiles. It fits in the hand, as you can see on the right, and could so easily have slipped into my pocket if no-one had been watching!



St Cuthbert Gospel, coverWhat is quite remarkable about the book is that it is still in its original binding, and as such is the oldest European bound book. Deep red leather covers wooden boards. On the front cover a scroll pattern and straight lines (which make a neat frame) have been outlined, possibly with cord or even carved wood which was then glued on to the cover. This meant that, when the red leather was pasted on, these areas became raised from the surface. In the surrounding border and in the upper and lower blocks, an interlace pattern has been indented and also coloured; the yellow pigment is more obvious than the blue in this photograph.


Coptic bindingThe gospel is a coptic binding, which means that, rather than the sections of folded pages (gatherings) being sewn on to wide tapes and these then attached to the covers, the gatherings are sewn with thick thread in a sort of chain stitch (see right) and these hold the sections of the book together and are then attached to the wooden boards (as you can see on the right). This is how codices (books as we know them) were first made and they rarely have covered spines. The wooden boards of this book (right) – made when I was at college – would then have been covered by red leather and tooled to get the effect of the St Cuthbert Gospel.

Coptic book openThe binding is particularly flexible, as you can see again here with that college-made book. When I was being filmed writing the first page of this book at the British Library I was able to speak to the conservation book binder, and he said that the spine is still completely flexible, and it would be possible to turn the book round completely on itself so that back and front cover could touch – of course he hadn’t done this!

St Cuthbert Gospel, f. 1Inside the book the text is written in the lettering style of Uncial. There are very few ascenders and descenders and the letters are essentially majuscule. The Gospel of St John starts with a long versal I in red (versals are letters where the thicker strokes are constructed out of two or more pen strokes, rather then simply changing the nib to the thickest angle and making one stroke); this letter is followed by a smaller letter N. The red ink has smudged slightly over the years. The rest of the text is in a dark brown ink. As with most scribes when writing an important manuscript, the first few words are rather tightly written, but by line four things are more relaxed, although it is only in the second paragraph that the scribe really gets into his stride. Notice, too, that the first two words (In principio – In the beginning…) are written with more pen nib angle changes than for the remaining Angled Pen Uncial script. This page, too, because it is the first page, is more discoloured and worn than the rest of the book.

St Cuthbert's Gospel 2And the remarkable aspect of this book is how even and pleasing on the page the text is. There is considerable consistency to the lettering, and it is quite easy to read with very few contractions, unlike some manuscripts written centuries later. Look out for Lazarus at the end of the second line on the right, for example (obviously this page is about the raising of Lazarus). It is written per cola et commata, that is the length of the line is determined by the sense of the text, and a subsequent clause starts on the next line. You may also be able to see the fuzzy ink indicating an erasing at the start of line 8. The scribe has scratched out whatever it was written in error and the vellum skin is rougher at this point. Look out, too, for where the ink is running out and so the scribe fills his quill for the next letter. In the second to last line the letters TT in quattuor have had additions to the start of the serifs on the crossbar (look closely, and see that the crossbars are fainter at the beginnings and ends, and so the scribe has added tiny strokes with a full quill of ink to emphasise them).

Look also at the free Calligraphy Clips page on this website for how to write this style of lettering (it’s the latest set I’ve put up so you’ll need to scroll to the bottom).

photoWhen the St Cuthbert Gospel was saved for the nation, the British Library made a film to celebrate this, and I was lucky enough to be asked to show how the first page was done. I tried to be as ‘period’ as I could. I knew that a plastic ruler wouldn’t quite cut the mustard, so I found a piece of wood to draw the lines (rather large, but it was real wood), and fished out an old bradawl from the tool box to score the lines. There is no sound on this clip, but it does show how the page would have been set out, and how the letters were written.

The book is now at the British Library, and they were thrilled to own it now, as is evident on this BBC World News item with Dr Claire Breay (a couple of seconds in on this clip). It is usually on display in the British Library, and for many years it was shown closed – very frustrating to we scribes! Conservation experts have indicated that it can now be displayed open so everyone can have a chance of studying the wonderful script for themselves.


Gold on Parchment

Gold on ParQuills, vellum and parchment (they are different!), real gold, egg tempera paints, the development of scripts, how manuscripts were made, how quills are cut, the sequence of manuscript painting, scribes, all this and more will be covered in the ‘Gold on Parchment’ session that I’ll be giving at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney on Monday 6th January from 5.30-7.30pm. Entrance is free. Do come along if you’re in the area (yes, I know it’s a long way, but you might enjoy it and could even be worth the airfare!!).

Kites flying high!

Finished Kite artworkI was asked to write out this poem for a special birthday present, and was delighted when the budget stretched to calfskin manuscript vellum, and real gold leaf on gesso base. As soon as I read the words, I had an idea of the shape and feel of the design. The poem talks at the end about the kite taking off, itself alone, and so I saw the kite flying free through the piece as the wind took it. To do this, and to create that feeling of the flight through the air, the piece just had to be long and narrow, there was no question of any other shape.




Kite 1I experimented with various sizes of lettering – the lines are quite long and there are six verses, so it couldn’t be too large. On the other hand, pieces that are hung on the wall, as this was intended to do, need to have larger lettering than that in books, for example, which are held in the hand, as people read further away from a wall-hung piece. I wrote the verses out fairly quickly on to Layout paper (for types of calligraphy paper, see Calligraphy Clips – Paper), and then cut these up into strips and placed them either side of a quickly drawn kite. The piece didn’t hang together, though, and rather than unite the verses, the tail of the kite seemed to separate them.


Kite 2So I changed the design a bit and pulled the verses together. I did have an idea of the size of pen to use for the lettering, and maintained that thought of the verses being slightly offset, and so wrote out the first more formal rough on to proper paper. Layout paper is fine for first trials, but it doesn’t always give the real feel of how long the lines will be, what the final spaacing will be, and so on, so after experimenting I do then prefer to use a good quality piece of paper. As someone once said, paper is no use if it’s stored under the bed or in a drawer; it needs to be used!




Kite 4So I was pretty sure about the dimensions from this writing out, what shape the kite should be, and how the tail would fall in the piece. I used two large, wide L-shaped pieces of card, placed carefully to make a rectangle, to determine the margins, and then cut the vellum such that it could be stretched round a piece of wood. For more information about vellum, why it needs to be stretched, and how to do the stretching see my Illumination DVD. It stretched beautifully flat and I then set to marking out the skin using a compasses and a 4H pencil (again see Calligraphy Clips for Measuring Lines). I mixed up Paris Blue and Madder Red Calligraphy gouache (again Calligraphy Clips – Ink and paint) and fed this into the nib as I wrote. When there is illumination well away from lettering, it is usual to do the writing first, as in this case. The centre line was marked on the skin and, taking a deep breath, I drew on the tail of the kite freehand.


Kite piece, gesso laidThe illumination and decoration was next. I mixed up some new gesso and laid it with a quill. I turned the piece upside down for ease of working and so that laying the gesso would be away from the area of writing, although my paper guard did slip a little as you can see here. The gesso is still wet and glistens in the light. It is also possible to make out the markings of the hair follicles. And there is a better idea in this enlargement of the variegated colours of the red and blue gouache.


kite piece, briar hedgeAgain masking off the lettering, I then went to the lower part of the panel to concentrate on the briar hedge. This had been designed especially for this piece, and consisted of pink roses with gold centres and rose leaves with prickles on the leaves and the intertwining stems. Almost pure real gold leaf (23·5 carat) was placed over the dried, scraped and polished gesso. Raising the gold from the surface like this makes it shine and catch the light.

Once the gilding was done, the flowers and leaves were painted, as well as the kite and blue kite bows. The title and dedication was finally added, and then, the next day, the pencil lines removed with a soft eraser.