Starting new or finishing old?

I’m home from a weekend at Pentathlon, where I judged a couple of categories in the every-two year Caidan Arts and Sciences competition.  And like every time I’ve been at the event I am ultra inspired by all the amazing arts and projects that were done.  And I want to sweep all my current projects into the trash and start completely new things.

There’s something so enticing about a new project.  And after hours/weeks/years, an old project often becomes tiresome and a burden.  But of course this leads to the madness of having dozens of unfinished projects.

So the goal is to find time and energy to finish the old stuff as well as keeping the flames of inspiration burning on the new projects.

Arms embroidery project


So first up, I am going to finish this.  The next embroidery project after this is planned and started and then one after that is planned (and the one after that is in my head.) I’m still stuck on how to finish the stars in the chief of my arms, but I have a couple of ideas I’m going to try.

And the next 3 scrolls are planned and at least one of them is laid out.

Ars longa!


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.

Deciphering Secrets – Ruling the lines

I started by examining several manuscripts to get a feel for what I wanted to do.

First stop was the Aberdeen Bestiary.

I started with this page and then looked at several others following.  The page shows triangular marginal pricking and double lines for the frame. The lines are fairly thick compared to the thinnest part of the calligraphy, possibly a plummet, but that’s just a guess.  The text is written just above the ruling line.  The beginning of the text starts mostly at the second line of the frame but sometimes goes over.  As does the ending text.  The illustrations sometimes fill the entire text space, but sometimes are smaller, creating smaller columns of text.  The lines appear to go under the illustrations, but they are heavily painted and it’s a little hard to tell for certain. The date of the Aberdeen Bestiary is 1200.

Next I looked at the Luttrell Psalter here  The ruling lines are very faint and I’m not entirely sure but there may be lines on both the top and bottom of the text (or it may be a shadow from the other side of the page where there is line filler.)  The frame appears to be double lined, but it is very faint.  There is a great deal of painting outside the text area, in the margins, which show evidence of being trimmed.  The pricking holes are not in evidence on the pages I looked at. The Luttrell Psalter dates between 1320 and 1340.

Next I looked at the Hunting Book of Gaston Phoebus.  The entire book is not online but there are postings of individual pages.  The first is here:  The text for the book is set in two columns and the frame is done in single lines. The text is written above the ruled lines.   Another page shows the same thing.  Neither is high enough resolution to show pricking holes.

Trying to find more bestiaries that are online I found this one, Manāfiʻ-i ḥayavān., from Iran dated between 1297-1300 (with later additions done in the 19th Century).  It is framed in red ink in double lines.  The text appears to have no ruling lines. Image is not high enough resolution to see pricking holes.

The last manuscript I looked at was the Jacobus de Voragine: Golden legend dating from around 1370.  The text is set in two columns within a single line frame.  There is no sign of pricking holes.

Because I want to do calligraphy on my vellum quire, I need to be careful about where and how many lines I can fit in my text space.  I measured the size of the bifolium  and then used the Golden Ratio/Golden Mean aka secret canon method to determine how much space the text should take up.


It was sadly much less than I expected, so I went back to the words I’ve written for the project and edited it down, so no section is more than 14 lines.  I decided that to mark the pages, I need to make a template.  Historically, it would probably be made out of vellum, but I don’t have a piece to spare, so I will use cardstock.  Likewise, some kind of awl (or knife) would be used to prick the holes.  My awls are too thick for this job, and my pen knife is also too thick, so I think I will try a push pin.

Making the template has used more modern tools than I would like, on how exactly this process was done.  I used a computer to generate a ruling sheet, and then a light box to transfer the pricking locations to a piece of cardstock.


After the template was made, I did a practice sheet using a lead point aka plummet that I cast a couple of years ago.  (The plummet is made of half lead, half pewter.  It should have been half lead, half tin, but pure tin turned out to be hard to get.  It’s pretty soft and leaves a nice grey line.)

Then I did the first sheet of the bifolium.  I had to be careful to remember which were my framing lines and which were text lines.


I still need to do the other sheet, both sides, but I wanted to get this turned in tonight.  I’ll edit it and add the other sheet as soon as I get it finished.


Added:  Because I want to do this as a coherent book, I only have one ruling pattern.  This is on actual vellum, done with a lead plummet.

Here’s the second page taped before I put the template over it.


And here are both pages both ruled together:


Looking forward to the next part!

Deciphering Secrets: Preparing the Quires

Deciphering Secrets – Preparing the Quires

Because I only have the one piece of vellum, I’m only making one quire.


The next step in the process is to fold the parchment into quires, but before I do that, I need to prepare the vellum for writing and then cut it to size.  However before I do either, I want to cut a couple of goose feathers for use as quills, one cut to a crowquill, the other to a broad nib for writing.


First, I’ll soak the quills in water for about 20 minutes to soften them.  They’ve been sitting in a jar for months and have air-cured.  Then I’ll trim off all the feathers, cut off the tip and clean out the barrels.  I made the cuts and the quills are working fine (though they generally work better on a slanted surface and not flat.)

I used a very fine sandpaper to smooth the hair side which was a little rough and to raise a slight nap on the flesh side, as it appeared too slick to write on.  I then pounced both sides with pounce, dusting it lightly on the parchment and then rubbing it gently with a scrap of linen cloth.  I’m not sure exactly what is in the pounce container.  (I inherited it with some old art supplies but pounce can be made from finely powdered cuttlefish bone, gum sandarac, chalk or similar substances.)  I also smoothed the hair side with a bone folder, but there is still a rough spot that is going to be very hard to calligraph over.

After that was done I cut the vellum down to size.  I was just going to eyeball it but realized the piece is not rectangular. So I trimmed it (and it’s still a little off.)


After I fold and cut the parchment it will be 8 pages, comprised of two bifolium which I believe is a binio,

Time to fold the quires!  No problem with the first fold.  The second fold was a little harder as the vellum folded was now thicker.  Made the folds with the bone folder.  Then I decided to trim the uneven edges with my Exacto knife.  It’s not easy cutting through several layers of vellum!

Next to cut the quires open. I’ll switch blades on the Exacto knife so it is totally sharp. And then I trimmed the pages again because they still aren’t even (and aren’t perfect after trimming).  That was a little nerve-wracking.

Next I put a hole in the spine to tacket my bifolum together.  The most common tacket (thong used to bind loose bifolium pages together) is a sliver of parchment which I’ve done.

Last I will mark the order of the pages.  I have the text written out, though I may still do some editing on it.  I do know the order of what I want on the pages and will use letters to mark each page.  I’ll put the signatures in a box like the Lutrell Psalter.

Here’s a few manuscripts and other sources I used for inspiration:

Luttrell Psalter:  Catchphrase in a box.

1325-1340, Contents: ff. 1r-12v: Calendar, with the feasts of the following English saints included: Edward (18 March); Augustine (26 May); Translation of Thomas of Canterbury (7 July); Wilfrid (12 October); Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln (17 November); Edmund

Thanks for reading!

Here’s a website showing the step by step process of rebounding a choir book from Florence. Part way down the image labeled “The manuscript before rebinding” clearly shows the quires.

Here’s another manuscript that looks a little distressed but shows quires:

The Aberdeen Bestiary lists quite a lot of information about the quires:

Deciphering Secrets / Parchment Project

I’m taking an online class about Medieval manuscripts and the first project is to create a simulated “parchment” after examining online samples.

Of course, I have actual samples of parchment in my art supplies, but in interests of participating with the rest of the class that is doing the project according to the rubric, here goes.

Referenced manuscripts:

1)  I have in mind to do a few pages from a bestiary as the final project, so my first stop is to look at several pages from the Aberdeen Bestiary housed at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Looking at several of the pages, there does not seem to be a dramatic difference in color from the hair side to the flesh side, though the flesh side does have many obvious vein lines.  The pages also show discoloration in the lower left and right hand corners, but I think that can be ascribed to turning the pages.

The University of Abeerdeen claims copyright but allows for personal use and research purposes.

2)  I’ve also looked at the Bedford Hours housed at the British Library, London, UK. The Bedford Hours do not show a lot of differentiation in color between the pages, nor a lot of obvious follicles or vein lines but a few.  There is discoloration on the edges, but again that might be from handling over the years.

Appears to be in the public domain due to the age of the work.  (The British Library states a copyright term of 70 years after the death of the author/creator.)

3)  Next I looked at the “Golf Book”, an amazing work by the Flemish Master Simon Bening.  However the book is so lavishly decorated it’s hard to see the underlying parchment.  There are a few discolorations in less decorated sections.  Also housed in the British Library.

Copyright as above.

4)  Last I went to look at the famous Book of Kells housed at Trinity University, Dublin, Ireland. The Book of Kells is the oldest of the manuscripts I’ve viewed and has the most dramatic color differences from flesh side to hair side with more visible follicles showing and some veining.  It is discolored due to its age and has several visible repairs.

Copyright 2012 The Board of Trinity College Dublin. Images are available for single-use academic application only. Publication, transmission or display is prohibited without formal written approval of Trinity College Library, Dublin.
5)  Last I looked at some parchment that I have in hand.  One shows a pretty dramatic change in color from the flesh side to the hair side, the hair side being more yellow. The other is less dramatic, but the hair side is more yellow than the hair side.

The piece I would use for the actual project is cut from a half hide and is slightly more yellow on the hair side.  Both sides have a blemish where the parchment looks a little thin but I’m excited to put this piece to use.

For the simulated “parchment” project I am using 100 lb vellum surface Bristol Board.  To begin the transformation, I am using tea to color the “hair” side.  My first thought was to use a brush, but because I don’t want the paper to get too wet I used a sponge instead.

There doesn’t seem to be a big difference in the before and after, but I will let it dry overnight and look at it in the morning. The paper is curling on the edges.

I decided that I really didn’t like the tea dye, so I started over with a new piece of Bristol board using dilute walnut ink instead.


Then after taping the paper to my work surface, due to curling, I used dilute iron gall ink and a small stenciling brush, to add “hair follicles”.


For the flesh side, using a small brush, size 3/0 and dilute walnut ink, I added capillary/vein lines.


I hope the photos are sufficient to convey what I was doing.  The light isn’t very good in that part of my residence.

Finishing a scroll

You’ve just finished a scroll and now it’s time to sit back with a satisfied smile and an appropriate drink.  But wait, are you really finished?  Here’s some things to look for before you turn in your scroll:

  1. Proofread the text.

It’s best to do the calligraphy and proofread the text before you do the painting on a scroll, but just in case, proofread it again.  Make sure the name of the recipient and the Crown are correct.  Also make sure you have the correct award and award date.  If you find a mistake, some can be easily fixed.  Other mistakes may be harder, but there is almost always a way to make a correction.  If you can’t figure one out, consult other scribes for suggestions.

  1. Is everything painted?

It’s easy to miss painting a corner or a small bug or single flower.  Look over the scroll to make sure that everything is painted.  Also, check to make sure that everything that needs embellishment is done.  In a complex piece it’s very easy to miss a detail.

  1. Is everything outlined that needs it?

Not all styles of illumination require that all things be outlined, but a number of them do.  Go back and look at your inspiration piece and see where and what kind of outlines are needed.  Many things are outlined in black using a crow quill or a brush.  Some things are outlined in the same shade as the motif (or sometimes a darker tone of the main color of the motif).

  1. Are there signature lines?

It’s generally a lot easier for monarchs to sign scrolls when they know exactly where to sign, so at minimum leave pencil lines for them to sign on.  I think a scroll looks more finished when the signature lines are inked in rather than penciled (unless you plan to erase the pencil line afterward).  It’s also a nice touch to label the signature lines (usually underneath) with Rex/Regina, King/Queen or something similar.

  1. Is there seal space?

Please make sure to leave enough space for the seals.  It’s ok to have a seal cover part of the design, but the seals generally stick better if the area is not completely painted over.  Please mark the center of where you want the seal to go.  An X is fine, as is leaving a crown for the Kingdom seal and crossed trumpets for the Herald’s seal, or the initials KS and HS, or something.  Please don’t leave the entire penciled circle for the seals, as the seals often don’t spread enough to cover all the pencil line.

  1. Sign the scroll

At the minimum sign your name on the scroll in pencil, on the back near the top of the scroll. You can also add your email address, and any information about the scroll you want the recipient to have such as materials especially if you used any toxic pigments, such as white lead, manuscripts that served as inspiration, etc.  You may also want to add a signature or makers mark to the front, but make sure those are small and discreet.

  1. Take a picture.

Take a picture of your scroll for your records.  While you are at it, gather your layout, calligraphy practice sheets, exemplar images, and other bits and bobs and make a folder.  If you do a similar style, it will come in handy.

  1. Make some notes.

Take a good look at your scroll and pick out things that went well, and things that you would do different next time.  Add those notes to your folder.