Deciphering Secrets – Writing and Decorating the Quires

I really wanted to go all out on this and decorate all eight pages of my vellum but a fatal mistake on calligraphy for one page and everything taking way longer than I thought is preventing that.  I hope you will like the four pages I did finish.

My first inspiration  is the Aberdeen Bestiary.  I looked at a number of pages both online starting here and in a paperback facsimile of the Bestiary (Bestiary MS Bodley 764 by Richard Barber).  I planned to do a single column of text with illustrations the full width of the text space, with varying sizes of rectangles.

Next I looked at “The Hunting Book of Gaston Phoebus”.  The entire book is not online but there are postings of individual pages.  One of them is here:  but I also have a hardback facsimile of the work: “The Hunting Book of Gaston Phebus: Manuscript francais 616 Paris, Bibliotheque nationale”, Harvey Miller Publishers”.  I am looking at this manuscript for background diapering patterns, frames around illustrations and capital letters.

I also looked at the Luttrell Psalter for ideas on line enders.  The text in the Luttrell Psalter is also a single column.

Last I looked at the Life of St. Margret manuscript for some simple capitals and marginal decoration inspirations.

My plan for decoration is:

Page 1 – Arms of the Barony of Lyondemere with mural crown (Full illustration)

Page 2 – Illustration of the Lyon de Mer (vignette)

Page 3 – Text about the Lyon de Mer (including 2 capitals, one planned to be rubricated)

The Lyon de Mer is the King of the Sea and fierce protector of the Barony of LyondemerE.  Said to come from fabled Lyonesse, it is comprised of the fore parts of a lion and the back parts of a dolphin.  This fierce beast can be seen swimming in pacific waters off the coast of fair Caid combatting all enemies of Crown and Kingdom.

Page 4 – Illustration of the Sanderling (vignette)

Page 5 – Text about the Sanderling (including 2 capitals)

The Sanderling appears to be a frivolous and flighty bird darting about on black legs on the sandy beaches of Lyondemere, chasing waves, but it is the patron all artists and crafters of the Barony.  Its grace and vigor grant inspiration to all and nurture the spirit of every weary artisan.

Page 6 – Illustration of the Lyonicorn (vignette and marginal illustration)

Page 7 – Text about the Lyonicorn (Text including 3 capitals in different styles)

The fabled Lyonicorn has not been seen for many years on the shores of Lyondemere.  co-joined from the front of a lion and the front of a unicorn It is rumored to travel about the Barony by sets to right, and left and many a turn single in a clock-wise path.  If one is very still country dance music may be heard and the creature might appear.

Page 8 – Maker’s mark, personal badges (in place of author portrait)

To start, I always wanted to make shell go, so I first made gum Arabic from crystals as that was an ingredient for the shell gold.

I made gum Arabic from gum Arabic crystals, soaking them over night in water and then filtering the mixtures through cheese cloth into a container.  The gum Arabic solution was so thick it had to be coaxed through the cheese cloth.  I added a little vinegar and oil of clove to help prevent it from moldering. (Turns out, adding vinegar was a mistake.  I started over later and made a new batch of gum Arabic from powdered gum Arabic.)

Next I gathered materials to make shell gold.  I’ve been saving bits of gold from gilding projects for awhile.

20170207_201129_32653593931_oI wasn’t sure how well it would work so I added only half the gold into the mortar.  Then I added some honey and poured in some Kosher salt.  I ground it for a bit and as it seemed to be working, I added in the rest of the gold.

After grinding for a bit, I put the mixture in a jar with some distilled water and stirred it up.  15 minutes later a lot of the gold had settled to the bottom, but some is still in suspension in the water.  I’ll wait at least any hour before checking again.  After it settled for a while, I poured of the water, trying not to disturb the gold sediment at the moment of the container.  I repeated this several times and then left it to settle overnight.  In the morning I poured of the water and deposited the gold sediment in a shell.  I left it for a while, then drew off excess water with an eyedropper.

The final step was adding a little gum Arabic and testing it.

Next I decided on a color palette and made up paint from dry pigments (mostly colors available in the Middle ages and Renaissance.

The process for most paints using a binder such as glair, gum Arabic or egg yolk is about the same.  Add water to the pigment, add the binder and blend it together.  Most period paints were ground on a porphyry slab but I just ground them a bit in a small votive candle holder. The sample picture is lead white.

I did the next step out of order.  Because I was planning to do calligraphy on both sides, and I wanted to trace some of the artwork, I thought I better do that first.

I did the calligraphy next and made a big mistake, forgetting which pages should have which text.  I think I could scrape the page, but started running out of time.


Next step was to do some gilding adding real gold to the pages.

Finally I was able to start painting.  I did the base colors first and then added highlights and darks to embellish the pictures.

I think I put more than 20 hours into this and it’s still not done (and I could have easily spent another 20-40 hours on the parts I did do:

Page 1 – Arms of the Barony of Lyondemere with mural crown


Arms of the Barony of Lyondemere, Kingdom of Caid with real gold crown.

Page 2 – Illustration of the Lyon de Mer


Penciled but not painted miniature in the style of the Aberdeen Bestiary.

Page 3 – Text about the Lyon de Mer

Not shown, mistake on the calligraphy.

Page 4 – Illustration of the Sanderling


Sanderling miniature, sketched but not painted

Page 5 – Text about the Sanderling


Sanderling text, calligraphed but capitals not finished, line-enders not done.

Page 6 – Illustration of the Lyonicorn


Lyonicorn illustration, Painted in the style of the Hunting Book of Gaston Phoebus, marginal ornamentation, first capital letter, real gold with red painted outline.

Page 7 – Text about the Lyonicorn


Lyonicorn text page, with second capital letter, large drop cap, with gold interior, blue with white decoration, third capital, red I with ink filigree outlining, line-ender ornamentation

Page 8 – Maker’s mark, personal badges.


In place of an author portrait I’ve done an illustration with two of my badges, the crowned squirrel holding a banner with a black rose in a black annulet.

Thank you for reading all this and hopefully for your comments!


Deciphering Secrets – Writing

The assignment for this week for Deciphering Secrets is all about writing.  For the assignment I cut a broad tip goose quill for a “heavy” hand and I cut a goose quill to a sharp tip (aka a crow quill) for a “light” hand.   I also used a metal Speedball commercial dip pen and a Pilot Parallel calligraphy pen for the exercise.  Both are broad nibs for “heavy” hands.

I wrote out the full section for the first entry in my bestiary, the Lyon de Mer in a simple Gothic hand using the broad goose quill pen and a commercial iron gall ink.   The writing angle is about 90%, and is indicated on the page.

The text is entitled The Lyon de Mer:

The Lyon de Mer is the King of the Sea and fierce protector of the Barony of Lyondemere.  Said to come from fabled Lyonesse, it is comprised of the fore parts of a lion and the back parts of a dolphin.  This fierce beast can be seen swimming in pacific waters off the coast of fair Caid combating all enemies of Crown and Kingdom.


Then I wrote the first line of the bestiary in a half-uncial hand using the Pilot Parallel pen.  The writing angle is much more shallow than the Gothic hand.  It’s about 45%


After I wrote a few letters with each of the pens and did a ductus for several of the letters.  In retrospect, I should have spaced them out a little further.


Here’s the full sheet of the exercise:


The crowquill pen is the lightest weight of the writing instruments I used, leaving all parts of the letter the same width.  The half-unical seems the heaviest of the pens (done with the Pilot Parallel pen), the shallow writing angle of the half uncial hand making more thick than thin lines (but it’s also the darkest ink.)  The broad cut goose quill appears heavier than the crow-quill but lighter than the half-uncial with the Pilot Parallel, but it’s also done with iron gall ink which will darken with time.