Colorium, paint making workshop!

colorium 3

Yesterday I went to a friend’s house to do a workshop in making paint from dry pigments. Rebecca’s primary focus is painting and staining guilds so painting on cloth is one of her big interests (while mine is illumination).  The basic instructions are from Cennini (though we used rabbit skin glue to size the cloth before painting, and not gesso sottile.  I confess I’ve never read all the way through Cennini, just bits of it, so it may be that using rabbit skin glue instead of gesso sottile is mentioned elsewhere in the book.)

So, first we stretched out linen and silk on frames, using oversized embroidery hoops.  The linen was sized with the rabbit skin glue (which needs to be soaked for a while and then cooked) and the silk was sized with the rabbit skin glue plus some egg white. We left them to dry (which didn’t take long as it was warm out.)

colorium 5

Then we started in on making the paints.  We didn’t do a lot of measuring mostly working by eye, though we probably used about a teaspoon of each pigment.  The pigments were poured out on a glass slab, then water added to make a paste, and then ground with a muller.  We added about 3 drops of egg yolk and then ground again.  All the pigments (except two) were from Natural Pigments. Rebecca, Una and I took turns grinding the paints. I need to add that the egg yolk was from Rebecca’s adorable medieval chickens!

We decided not to do any toxic colors as Rebecca has pets and a child.  The colors chosen are mostly ones  available in Cennini’s time (though probably not all  known by these exact names): Malachite, Nicosia Green Earth, Verona Green Earth, Azurite, Lapis Lazuli, Blue Ridge Violet Hematite, Blue Ridge Hematite, Lemon Ocher, Zinc White, Chalk, Lamp Black, and Vine Black.  We added Yellow Ocher and Italian Brown Ocher which Rebecca had in her stash.

All the paints worked great except for the chalk (which flaked dramatically on both the linen and silk) and the blues.  The Lapis Lazuli flaked quite a bit on the silk, and a little on the linen.  The Azurite flaked a little on the silk. I suspect that those were all under-bound.  I think we also needed to add more water to all of them to make them flow more.

All in all, it was a fabulous experimental workshop day and I look forward to doing more.


Catching up on Projects

How do you get things done?  Most of us live pretty busy lives and the hobby stuff usually takes a back burner to everything else.  Sometimes you have to set aside a block of time to accomplish something, but it’s also possible to make progress with small bits of time like 15 or 30 minutes or even 5 minutes.  Over days and weeks that all can add up.

I started an embroidery project, collar and cuffs for a new Elizabethan shift ages ago, but the project kept getting set aside for other more urgent things.  I decided I really want to get it done and have been working on it for short bits of time over the last week.  The cuffs are done, and now the collar is almost done.

red shift embroidery 1

I’m also still working on an SCA award scroll, this one is a backlog court barony scroll.  While I would really like to block out some major time to work on it, I’m still making progress doing a little at a time.  I’m starting to lay down base colors.  There will be a lot of detail work coming later.

Cara scroll progress 6

On the big block of time end of things, a couple of weeks ago, friends had a sewing day and we spent most of the day sewing.  Sometimes, working with a group of people all doing similar things, keeps me going long past the time I would have stopped if I was working alone.  I got to work with an overlock sewing machine.  It’s a pretty cool thing if you want to finish the edges of fabric that frays like linen in a quick non-historical manner.  I made a couple of pairs of linen shorts to wear under costumes for those hot hot summer event days, inspired by this post from Whilja’s Corner:

How do you get things done?



Book of Kells

I’m taking an online class about the Book of Kells from Trinity College in Dublin through FutureLearn.  The class is in the second week, but I don’t think it’s too late to join.  You can join here:  It’s been fascinating (and most of the reading and videos are pretty short so it’s not like it will take a huge amount of time).

This week though, there was an exercise to try and decorate a letter in the style of the Book of Kells.  Most of my interest in illuminated manuscripts is much later period (and I haven’t done anything in an Insular style in a very long time) but I decided to give it ago.

I found a letter M in “The Book of Kells” by Bernard Meehan (which was on the book shelf and handy) and decided to write out the word March for the current month. I wanted to use some iron gall ink and quill, but the ink decided not to get very dark (I think I need new ink!) so I went back to Calli brand ink and a metal dip pen.  If I was doing an SCA scroll, I’d spend a lot more time practicing the calligraphy.

I traced the letter and then went to look for paint.  I need to source out better colors for this era of illumination.  The paint is a combination of paints I made from dry pigments and tube gouache.  (I really need to make better notes on paints I make.  Some had colors labeled, but none listed the binder used. Future scribe will do a better job.)

I think it probably took about five hours start to finish. It’s on an Artist Trading Card so the size is 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches.

Book of Kells

And a blast from the past, a Book of Kells style scroll I did eons ago.

kells scroll

Court Barony scroll diary

So last time I talked about figuring out the next step in the scroll making progress and dealing with procrastination.  And I find myself at one of those procrastination type moments.  I have outlined the scroll in walnut ink and gilded the one capital letter in the scroll and also re-gilded the baronial coronet that sits on the top of the design.  So, I should be ready to start painting (and I want to start painting) but I still have to design a little scene that sits at the top of the design.  I know what I want it to look like, but my drawing skills are not quite up to snuff.

I’ve been looking for reference images, both actual photographs and medieval scenes, and I haven’t quite found what I want.  Or maybe I’m just delaying because I don’t think the vision in my head will match the final outcome.

I do want to make progress on the scroll this week, so tomorrow, I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and tackle the scene.

In the meantime, I’ve set up my color palette for the scroll.  Last year I was fortunate to take a class at the Known World Heraldic and Scribal Symposium from the amazing Antoinette de la Croix, a Mistress of the Laurel in the Kingdom of Aethelmearc.  It was transformative!  While I’ve planned out the colors for scrolls in advance before (mostly), the idea of making a chart and writing down what colors I used and how I mixed them, is totally brilliant and I will be doing much more of this in the future.

cara colors


To Glove or Not to Glove

I’ve never been a big fan of wearing a glove while doing calligraphy or painting on a scroll, but I’m also not a fan of getting hand oils on my scroll paper either. Depending on the type of paper you are using hand oils can cause the ink or paint you are using to bead up on the surface of the paper.  It seems to be more of a problem with pergamenata and real vellum and less so with bristol board and hot press water color paper.

If you aren’t using a glove, remember to wash your hands often while working on a scroll from layout to finishing (but make sure your hands are really truly completely dry before working on your scroll.)  You can also put a scrap piece of paper under your hand to keep the paper clean.

If you do get hand oils on pergamenta or vellum, you can use pounce as a fix.  Pounce can be one of a number of things (or combinations of things), but it’s some kind of powder that will absorb the hand oils.  Some things used for pounce are calcium carbonate, which you can get from cuttlefish bone, pumice powder and gum sandarac. You can buy pounce commercially or buy the ingredients and make your own by putting it in a linen bag.  The pounce is dusted on to the paper and then lightly wiped in to the paper. Then brush the remainer off into a trash can.

On pergamenta paper you can also go over the entire surface with a white eraser, and that will also pick up some hand oils.

Or you can try wearing a glove.  I generally only wear one on my painting/calligraphy hand and try to keep my off hand off the paper or only on the edges.


You can buy gloves in a variety of places, Amazon has them as well as many drugs stores, but they aren’t cheap.  Or you can look for stretchy gloves in dollar shows and use them.  The third glove above is actually a toe sock I found in a dollar store.  I tend to cut all the fingers off and use them that way, some people prefer to cut only certain fingers off the gloves.  Experiment to find out what suits you best.

Getting ready to paint


After painting the gold in the inhabited letter and the first letters of Alexander’s name, I started painting the rest of the scroll.  First I took a piece of tracing paper and covered up the calligraphy.  I didn’t want any splashes of ink (or anything) getting on the calligraphy while I worked.

I took some of my iron gall ink (Old World Ink from John Neal Booksellers which I love!) and diluted it with water.  I wanted something very thin.  I then outlined everything on the page with a crowquill pen.  I’m not sure I remember exactly, but I think that was about an hours worth of work.  More or less.

You can see on the lion’s mane where the ink blobbed a little bit. I found that I had to be careful how much ink was on the crowquill.  I usually tested it on a piece scratch paper before putting anything on the scroll.  I also found that I had to be carefull not to let the crowquill sit in one place on the scroll for too long as that caused blobs as well.