Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Why Is Scribal Art Under Appreciated?

Dollars to donuts the scribe is the least appreciated SCA artisan. That doesn't mean the person receiving the award doesn't appreciate receiving it and its kudos. But many recipients do not understand or appreciate the work done by the scribe. 

Award Scroll Presentation
Sometimes when a scroll leaves the scribe's hands and is given in court it's never seen again. Depending on the award's type or level it may go into a file or binder rather than displayed. People in the SCA will seldom see that piece of art again.

Why do so few people appreciate the time, effort, and creativity a scribe puts into their work? Where is the motivation for excellence if the recipient doesn't treasure it?

People don't know the time that goes into a scribe's learning and scroll production. It’s more time-consuming, complex, and costly than you think. Award Scrolls are original pieces of art, that take many hours of work and the supplies and skills to make them. Even a Calontir predesigned preprint scroll takes 10 hours or so. Using the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour makes just the labor for the painting of that 8"x10" award worth $72.50.  

A more elegant scroll, created by an experienced scribe with high-quality materials could be considered as being done by a fine artist. They receive an average of $20 per hour, according to That same size scroll now would cost $200 in labor, and go up from there depending on the size and execution time.

Lonely Tower Scribal  Class
There's more to a scroll creation than effort and supplies. There's love. Most scribes crave the creative experience, experimentation, education and exploration. They are captivated by each pen mark or brush stroke. They don't understand why non-scribes don't have the same interest and drive for their inspiration. 

Scribes also enjoy serving their Kingdom and scribal community. It's a way to give back to what brings them joy.

It's recognition to have a scroll shown high in court and have the calligrapher, illuminator, and wordsmith's names read. For that to happen you, the scribe, must put your name on the scroll's back and possibly your email address too. It makes it easier to recognize your work when you sign the back than if you include a simple maker's mark within the illumination.

Sadly, it’s rare when a scribe receives a thank you. I am pleased to have received a few thank you cards and even a small gift of vellum once.

Next time you receive an award scroll, remember it’s a gift of time and love as well as beauty. It is a quiet art, done at home, and given away. Sometimes we scribes have to learn to pat ourselves on the back and be our own advocates. Tell your friends when they see a scroll the effort it took to make.

Related Prior Posts:
The Making An SCA Scroll, Part 1
The Making An SCA Scroll, Part 2

Related External Blog Post:
The Making of an SCA Scroll by Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope

Sunday, May 21, 2017

5 Scribal Tips I Learned From Taking A Scribal Break

Me teaching paint making.
I had changes in my life two years ago so I drifted away from creating scrolls. Then M. Elynor of Glastonbury asked me to teach my paint making class. That sparked my interest and return to scribal art and teaching it.  

I've learned a few things returning from my scribal pause and thought they might interest you.  
  • Experimenting with materials and techniques both new and old is intriguing. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy and missed learning and testing things scribal. Revisiting this has given me new awareness and inspiration. 
  • I'm more consistent about scanning and photographing my work. I make notes on materials, techniques and process for this blog. But this helps me learn and be more aware of my efforts. 
  • I now place my palette and water as close as possible to my work. When doing numerous tiny strokes this controls blobs or splashes. It's a time and motion thing I learned as a hygienist.
Aged paint pallet.
  • Supplies don't last forever. - Duh- Since my return I found warn, bent, or separated tines on some nibs. An ink separated, and even when I shook it well it feathered on the page. Long dried pallet paint didn't reconstitute. A quality scroll is influenced by quality materials and tools, so I've gradually replenished my stash.
  • I also use a yeti-type covered beverage vessel to assure I rinse my brushes in water not my tea. 
You can probably tell from my comments I've made a few missteps and am relearning things. My students are my teachers now.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Why Is The Ramsey Psalter Important To Modern Calligraphers?

Re-reading a modern calligraphy book, I noticed a comment about the Ramsey Psalter. I thought it was a strange place for the comment and possibly an error. So I went looking. 

The Ramsey Psalter is now in the British Library. It is an Anglo-Saxon illuminated book including the Book of Psalms and other devotional material. It's script is the elegant English Carolingian or Caroline minuscule used between 800 and 1200 A.D.

So what does this thousand-year-old illuminated manuscript have to do with modern calligraphy?

British Library's Ramsey Psalter
showing it's Caroline minuscule script.
According to the British Library:
"The script of the Ramsey Psalter formed the basis of Edward Johnston's 'foundational hand' which inspired a renewal in 20th-century calligraphy."

I've  noted "Johnston" in other calligraphy books, but never paid attention to the reason. He is often called a "father of modern calligraphy" because he re-instituted the use of the broad-edged pen and developed a modern script useful for it. His teaching and practice revived the formal penmanship art dormant for centuries. His major work Writing and Illuminating, and Lettering, first published in 1906, created new interest and new excellent scribes. 

My ductus for early Gothic script.
While I'm an SCA trained calligrapher, I've read 'Johnston's Foundational Hand is often the first script a modern beginning calligrapher learns. I see why, with its upright, rounded letter-forms and comfortable 30 degree pen angle. Caroline minuscule or early Gothic, from which Johnston's script came, is a beginner script for many SCA scribes too.

From a dusty old Anglo-Saxon manuscript's writing to one person's turn of the 20th century interest, life was breathed again into this ancient skill. It continues today in even our hi-tech world and our SCA scribes. 

External Resources:
Handout for the Foundational Hand by Allesandro Segalini, Typographer
Writing and Illuminating, and Lettering pdf

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Unique Bibliocraft Book Find

Yesterday I went to my favorite bookstore, Half Price Books. It's so close to home, I've walked to it. I always check out their $2 sale section. 

This time I found something unique. BiblioCraft: A Modern Crafter's Guide to Jumpstart Creative Projects, by Jessica Pigza. I bought it just for giggles, without looking it over. Was I surprised.

As a SCAdian and a scribe, I'm well aware there's amazing wealth in libraries. I thought I'd become an expert in searching them and online. This book's author is a librarian and she beats my ability hands down. 

Pigza's book tells how to develop projects based on library resources, just like we do in the SCA. It's intended for all creatives whether hobbyist or professional, basicly anyone in the SCA. 

For us Part I may be the most important. In it Pigza tells how to find and use what libraries' have to offer, online or in person. From the library's branch, research, or special collections; to how to find the right library for you; to how to plan a library visit the proper way; and how to search. There's amazing information there.

Part II includes 20 projects inspired by library resources. While these projects are not historic recreations, the resource information within them is relevant. I was excited to read Pigza even includes stuff on illuminated manuscripts, penmanship, the history of type design, bookplates, decorative book bindings and the art of heraldry. Topics a scribe might enjoy.

This book is a great way to learn what today's librarians know about libraries and research, in a way normal people can understand. I see it particularly useful for a newcomer or Chatelaine. I can't wait to access the scribal related details. 

Related Prior Post:
Wow! Scribal Research Has Changed

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Posting Scroll Work-In-Process Pictures Online

I've shared my creation process online after finishing a scroll. And many seamsters show their work-in-process as it progresses, from early stages to detailed completion. But is it a good idea to post unfinished scroll images online? 

There are both plusses and minuses to this.


  1. Interested people see my work as I progress. 
  2. Scribal students may learn from the process.
  3. Both my challenges and successes are seen as they develop.

Prior posted image
mistaken as finished.

  1. If the honor has not yet been given I must hide the name, accompanying heraldry and other identifying details.
  2. I lose any first impression impact. Unless my process is uniquely intriguing there's no reason viewers can't wait for it.
  3. My scroll creation process includes several unphotogenic steps useless for progressive sharing. I bet yours has some too.
  4. Importantly, I've found standalone individual images of my unfinished work on Pinterest, and when searching on Google. They could be misinterpreted as poor quality rather than incomplete. 
Letting people know you're scribal passions, development, and what you're doing is interesting for the community, and maybe to the world. Today, more than ever, it is important to safeguard your work to be seen as a valuable resource.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Ink Feathering Tip

Higgins Eternal Ink after adding
gum Arabic. Done on Bristol board.
Recently I had trouble with my Higgins Eternal Black Ink feathering on paper. I thought it was past its use. When I realized I had been working on Bristol board and typing paper, not my usual Pergamenata, I blamed the support. 

So I did an experiment. I added a little gum Arabic to my 3/4 empty ink bottle. It helped, although I could have added a little more. Next time I'll test it before I use it. The good news is the ink flowed well from my dip pen and didn't turn it funky.

This trick will expand my Higgins Eternal Black use. I'll be able to use it on Bristol board and practice papers. Besides controlling my ink's feathering gum Arabic adds a little gloss to ink or paints. I've heard of scribes adding it to their clean paint water to increase gouache's shine. Something I plan to try in the future.

While liquid gum Arabic is pricey--about $12--for 75ml you can often buy it on eBay for much less. It lasts a long time. I've had mine years and even diluted it with water when it thickened. 

Here's a Youtube video showing this trick by ElisaAnne Calligraphy pPublished on Jun 26, 2016Mixing Gum Arabic With Ink - Calligraphy Tips & Tricks. So much good information can be found on Youtube, although it takes testing to be sure. Make sure you stay safe too.  

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

How-to Begin Left-handed Calligraphy

I am not a leftie, so I'm challenged by coaching calligraphy for people who are. Even so, interested left-hand writers want to know what to expect if they try calligraphy. What should a left-handed person learn?

Left-handed calligraphers use various writing styles. They approach the text line with their hand from above and below it. They write uphill, horizontally, and downhill with results that vary from a right-handed writer in quality thick-thin stroke results. And often different from other lefties.

Most calligraphy books, articles, and Youtube videos only have a small section for lefties. There's only limited published information on how lefties hold the nib to the writing line and the angle required to make a pen stroke. What can you do about that? Where can you go for help? 

Unless you find a left-handed instructor, most answers will come from within you. Since each calligraphy style has a specific nib-to-writing-line angle that controls its thick-thin stroke production, anyone using a different angle won't make letters appear as intended. Since you approach the page from a different direction than a rightie, you must find your own best writing angle. The way you comfortably hold the pen and its nib to create the appropriate angle for your intended calligraphy style. 

Also, don't be afraid to change the way you letter from that described for right-handed students by right-handed teachers. Cramping your hand and arm for lengthy periods to get the nib to make the correct angle, as do a few leftie professional calligraphers, is difficult and may be painful for your hand, arm or back. Experiment with changing your paper's position so you have a comfortable proper nib angle for your intended script. 

Beautiful lettering requires fine, exacting muscle control and memory that is only learned by hours of repetition. That means you have to be dedicated, courageous and willing to experiment and practice to let your skill emerge and attain a successful technique.

Knowing the challenges beforehand may help you focus on adjustments to overcome them. Instead of a small leftie dedicated book section, you might read Vance Studley's $8 book for Left-Handed Calligraphy. Goodreads website posts:

Studley, an award-winning calligrapher and well-known arts educator and author, shows left-handers how to select appropriate tools and materials, learn correct hand, pen and nib positions, master composition and page layout, and much more. Four model alphabets are introduced — Italic Hand, Chancery Cursive, Uncial Hand, and the Foundation Hand — each providing valuable lessons in the mastery of left-handed calligraphy.
The International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting (IAMPETH) has a group of posts about and for left-handed letterers. Their information is great for all calligraphy areas, but especially helpful for the leftie.
Here are three Youtube videos I found by lefties on left-handed calligraphy. 
  • Lefty Calligraphy Published on Jun 9, 2014, by lsbussell, shows the method but there's no narration. Even so, I like this video because it shows a leftie doing broad-pen classic calligraphy. 
  • I did find one training video: Can a Lefty do Calligraphy? narrated and demonstrated by Jacqueline Shuler. Published on Feb 11, 2014. This video shows the pen's placement, its control, and the paper angel. 
Calligraphy is a skill that involves touch, pressure, hand movement and a concept of beauty. Used harmoniously these lead to beautiful lettering. If you feel your left-handedness bothers your learning, your uncertainty increases over that we all experience when acquiring a new skill. I hope these tips help you overcome uncertainty and you let your skill emerge.  

External Blog Post:
The Sinister Scribe--Lefty Calligrapher by Ian the Green

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Finding the Perfect Dip Pen Nibs

For years, I used a cartridge pen, because I hated dipping to write each letter. But then I realized my work looked better when I used a dip pen. So I switched. But how do you find the perfect nib?

I asked other scribes what they used. Several brands were offered, especially Mitchell and the easily found Speedball nibs. Nibs are relatively inexpensive and easy to test, once you have the holder. I compared Speedball and Mitchell round hand nibs. I've been using Mitchell nibs ever since.

My Mitchell Nib Set
Mitchell nibs are straight cut, even though listed as “round hand nibs”. These chisel edge nibs are good for many alphabets including Carolingian, Italic, Uncials, and Gothic. They come in several sizes and lefties too. 

While I love these English made nibs, some scribes have trouble with their flexibility. It is probably the reason I use a smaller nib than I expected. When I began using these nibs the only place I found them was at John Neal BooksellersToday I found them online at Paper and Ink Arts.  

Because I was looking into nibs at Paper and Ink for this post I decided to replace my old Mitchell nibs. I also bought Speedball, Brause, and Tape brands, the same C6/.5mm size for all. I'd never heard of the Tape brand, so I was curious. Paper and Ink Arts says the Tape nibs are "extremely sharp, more rigid than Mitchells, but not as still as Brause." The only way to know is to perform a Goldilocks test.

Nib Test on Bristol Board

Well, well. It looks like I should have repeated this little experiment years ago. Just about anything other than what I've been using would have been an improvement. Even the Speedball. I doubt my touch was lighter then; maybe even heavier. Wonder what my thinking was. Or maybe I just took another scribes word.

You will also want to test the nibs with the supports and inks you plan to use. After getting all excited about the Tape nibs I found their slight oblique slant made them difficult to use on pergamenata. Sad. I really like them. 

Whatever nibs you prefer, the only way to find the perfect one is the Goldilocks test. Try an assortment; they're not expensive. It's worth it to find the perfect one. 

Related Prior Post:

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Update on Tracing Light Box

Recently I posted about my lightbox setup. This has changed slightly. I now have an LED light pad and I'm very excited about it.

I wouldn't have bought this but M. Rolf came to Lonely Tower's scribes' class and showed us his. I was so thrilled about it I went on Amazon to look for it. 

Unfortunately, M. Rolf didn't have its name or other specifics. It's a bit weird; the label only says where it's made and its electronic specifics. There's no brand name on it. 

But, I did know its size, its basic appearance, and M. Rolf's approximate cost. So I went hunting on Amazon. I think I found it. 

It's a Holidayli. Very reasonably priced.   
My new Holidayli lightpad.

Its A3 12.5" x 16.5" size, 24.5 ounces and USB power connection make it very portable. So portable that with a battery pack I could even take it camping at Lilies War.

It is made from a wear-resistant acrylic material with a bright uniform light that has 3 settings. The medium setting seems about what my old lightbox gave off. The brightest setting allows me to leave the room lights on while I use it. That makes hunting for a different nib, pencil, or paint color easier.  

It meets all the criteria I listed in my prior post, plus the work area is larger. I can also turn it for portrait or landscape orientation. Something my Light Tracer II couldn't do.

I already had a lightbox, but this was too outstanding a deal to miss. And I'm not disappointed. I love it. So I'm telling everyone.

Prior Related Post.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

How To Design Calligraphy Versals

 "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight",
from the 
Cotton Nero A.x manuscript
1400s. Via Wikimedia commons
One of my favorite scribal books is The Illuminated Alphabet by Patricia Seligman with calligraphy by Timothy Noad. I value it for its 12 oversized illuminated letter projects taken from five historic eras. These versal letters are used to teach illumination techniques that make images of beauty. 

Versals, similar to today's drop-cap, are large capital letters used to draw attention to the beginning of a line, paragraph or chapter. Any letter style can be refined to be a versal and add decoration. In medieval times, versals were often ornate and had tiny illustrations that referred to the text.

These letters are "built-up" line by line creating an outline. They can be left in that form or filled in and decorated.

To create a versal first determine the area you plan for it to fill, the number of lines and the width's space. This will take up scroll text space, so consider your total text amount too. 

You might want to design this on a separate paper to get the angles and proportions correct and then transfer it to your scroll. You may even create several options if your deadline isn't looming shortly.
Vaterunser, Initial P. In: Albani-Psalter
12th century. Via Wikimedia commons

To create your versal, 
  1. Use a pencil to lightly sketch the letter beginning with its inner lines, so the enclosed spaces within the letter are well proportioned. 
  2. The outer edges of curved strokes are added next, followed by serifs and decorative flourishes. 
  3. Transfer your chosen design to your scroll, at this step using a 4H pencil and light strokes.
  4. Next, using a small nib and ink or a .005 black Pigma Micron pen outline over the pencil marks and then erase them. 
  5. Fill in the center with ink, gilding, or paint. 
  6. Add decoration such as whitework after the paint is well dried, perhaps overnight. Continue as with any other illumination.

While versals were intended as decoration to go with a text paragraph or page, today many artists elaborately decorate them for stand alone art. They also include them as part of one meaningful word or a proper name. I like to give them for SCA competition prizes or largess.

Related Prior Post:
Why Lay A Scroll's Groundwork With Permanent Ink?
The Making Of An SCA Scroll, Part 1
The Making Of An SCA Scroll, Part 2