Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Barony of the Lonely Tower's Arts and Sciences' Revel

My SCA Selfie

The Barony of the Lonely Tower held their Arts and Sciences Championship Revel last Sunday. My favorite local event, designed to select the person who represents those activities to the Kingdom for the coming year.

It was held in the Hillcrest Mable Rose adult daycare facility, unused by them on Sundays. A free site for us, because one of our members works there.

While I'm taking pictures most people are sharing experiences, making plans for future events, and asking questions.

Lady Michelle brought this colorful indoor tent for the very young to play in.

While the populace members socialized and worked on projects, Baroness 
Giulia Isabella da Venezia and Lady Aleit de la Thomme, our former Arts and Sciences Champion, looked at each arts and sciences entry and read their brief documentation. They told me their selection was difficult to make.

There were more entries than expected, in a mixed variety of materials and techniques. So many I was unable to photograph each individually.

We shared a rich, tasty, and plentiful pot-luck meal...

...before the Baroness requested our presence at her court.

Lady Cristina la Ambeler turned her postion as Arts and Sciences Minister over to Mistress Thora Sigurdardottir.

Baroness Giulia announced HL Nikolai Kolpachnik Spinachev's Italian Renaissance food entry made him the next Arts and Sciences' Champion.

HL Nikolai's Italian Renaissance Entry

Nikolai's entry included boiled egg whites stuffed with a paste of egg yolk, cream cheese, sour cream, and spices. The large plate held cold roast beef under sour orange and lemon slices. The small plate over the oranges offered cold sliced pork sausage poached in red wine and spices. The sauces are a sour cherry sauce for the white torte, and two mustards--one called "amiable" and the other a peach mustard. Whole fruits accompanied the cold remove.

Related Prior Post:
Barony of the Lonely Tower's Arts and Sciences Revel 2016

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Rethinking My SCA Experience

Winter War Maneuvers 2016
Yesterday was Calontir's Winter War Maneuvers event held by the Barony of Mag Mor about this time each year. It is a time when Calontir's army thrashes each other in melee skill practice, for the learning experience. It is a delight for attending SCA fighters. It's even important if you plan to fight with Calontir at Gulf Wars XXVI, a huge camping and fighting event hosted by the Kingdoms of Gleann Abhann and Meridies.

The Barony of Mag Mor is Lonely Tower's closest neighbor and friend. We share many activities, fighter practices, event staffing, classes,  demos, and friends. But, this year I didn't attend. 

My absence has me rethinking my SCA life. I've been a member since the early 90s. I've learned volumes, as much as any college history or art degree, just not as organized. I've chased uncounted shiny metals and been diverted by them too. 

Today my life is nothing like it has been through my earlier SCA years. I am not able to be away from home for more than 4 hours. I no longer have a live-in dog watcher, but I have three dogs. Planning around them is trying.

There are other considerations too. 

I have many SCA acquaintances, but now have difficulty making friends. Lonely Tower's remote location, without travel, limits my connections. After participating 20+ years I'm practically anonymous outside the region. 

My semi-anonymity limits my scroll assignments. This is sad. Calligraphy and illumination are my passion, but their shine is dimming from lack of use. Outside new sparkling attractions are more distracting. Something I never thought could happen.

My new SCA direction emphasizes Baronial participation. Business meetings, revels, hosted events, and scribal classes. This blog is my way to reach beyond Lonely Tower, until the time I travel to more distant events. 

Related Prior Posts:
Melee Skills Practice at Winter War Maneuvers 2016

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Is Tracing Period?

Years ago I entered my first competition with an illumination. In my documentation, I wrote about using tracing paper to transfer the image. One judge commented on my lack. I still remember how down it made me feel. 

The way I handled that, as I often did, was to go to the library and research. In June 1997 I wrote "Medieval Clipped Art?" which was published in the Lonely Tower newsletter, The Banner

The best detail regarding period tracing, not reusing motifs, is Christopher de Hamel's comment in Medieval Craftsmen: 
...there is good evidence that compositions of miniatures could be literally traced from one copy to another using carta lustra [tracing paper]...or could be duplicated by 'pouncing' in which the outlines of the original were pricked with rows of holes and placed over the new page and dabbed with a bag of colour, such as charcoal dust, to produce a dotted line. (p.57)
De Hamel also comments on it in The British Library Guide To Manuscript Illumination (p. 62) He believes there is tracing evidence as early as the 9th century, even having both the model and its copy.

James Farquahr in Creation and Imitation describes four tracing techniques used by 15th-century artists. They are: 
  • Direct tracing, where a model is held to a glass with light passing through it, similar to a lightbox.
  • Pressure tracing, where a page is placed under a master and a stylus is drug its lines leaving indentations on the copy.
  • Moisture tracing, where the master's lines are redrawn on the back and pressed to the copy.
Farquahr gives two recipes for carta lustra, also writing it could be bought ready-made. He mentions the use of linseed coated paper. But he thought the best period "tracing paper" was exceedingly thin vellum. 

Cennini's 15th century Il Libro dell' Arte gives three ways to make tracing paper "should you not find any ready made." (p.13) 

The first is to have a stationer scrape “kid parchment...until it barely holds together" is even and transparent, then thoroughly rub it with cotton soaked in linseed oil. Let it dry several days. (p.13)

The second is to “get fish glue and some leaf glue, which the druggist sells”, soak and boil them, and strain. Then brush this onto a clean marble slab and let it dry.Then peel it off as a sheet like we did with dried Elmer's glue as kids. Then use it for tracing.(p.14)

Cennini's third tracing option is very thin, smooth, white paper that he greases with linseed oil. (p.14)

With many tracing options recommended for budding artists in the Middle Ages, what is the best criteria to judge a scribe's work today? 

In my Calontir Kingdom Arts and Sciences comparative study entry, I used multiple design methods on purpose. I used pricking and pouncing, tracing, copying with a grid, and drawing. Each work was documented individually and displayed side-by-side to compare styles and results. I am confident using any method. They each serve a purpose.

My lightbox setup.
Today my scribal works are award scrolls. I use a combination of lightbox and free hand drawing. As a production scribe, the goal is to get a well done, period style scroll that relates to the recipient's award and persona by the deadline. 

I agree with Cynric of Bedwyn (Robert Ferrell). He aptly posted on the SCA Scribes FaceBook Group December 22, 2016 "Art comes from your heart and your spirit. It has nothing whatever to do with your chosen technique."

Related Prior Posts:
Constructive Criticism

External Related Post:
The Pensive Pen/Tracing

P. S. Fortunately those old newsletters have recently been put online in pdf. To find it, if you choose, click here. Next click on June, Arts and Sciences. It's on page 19.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Scribal Yin Yang Puzzle

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang describe how complementary, connected, separate influences compel and connect. I know many such twosomes that exist. Fire and water, expansion and contraction to name two. The SCA has its own. Current creation methods and historic recreation efforts.

As a scribal production Laurel, I am drawn to Medieval illuminated manuscript techniques and style yet creating award scrolls commonly is done with modern materials and techniques. The scribal yin and yang.

It is possible to work with both influences.
M. Fionghuala inghean Fhearghuis of Calontir has done so. M. Sir RanthulfR AsparlundR of the Middle Kingdom has made it his life's work. But melding them is an effort. 
Two  approaches to a scribal project,
melding them together is difficult.

When talking with scribes I comment on the creative and historic dual existence. I encourage them to consider their goals for themselves and for each thing they make. My general classes cover current scribal techniques, but I mention historic equivalents. I teach and talk about pigment production, but prefer to use tube gouache for scroll creation. 

These influences affect judges at SCA competitions too. In Calontir it was seen in the creativity versus historic research duality. High points in one may result in low points for the other. 

Is switching between the two influences enough? What else might I do?

I don't have the answer to those questions. And, I have given it much thought. I would appreciate any suggestions you have.

Knowing that both manuscript history research and scroll production influences exist frees you to choose how you want to progress. Combining them into one creation is daunting, especially under a looming deadline. 

As you read this blog, the important point is that you become keenly aware there are two forces that influence an SCA scribe. Two forces with which to become comfortable. Like the yin and yang, the more you acquire of each and meld them the better for you. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

How to Select a Calligraphy Guide Book?

I've collected numerous calligraphy manuals over the years, searching for tips and tricks to improve my lettering. As an SCA scribe, my book criteria differ from calligraphy books for modern works. Here are my preferences.
Traditional Calligraphy Guides
  • The book should focus on the nib-lettering technique I want to learn. For most of us in the SCA that is lettering with a broad-nib pen, rather than a pointed nib. I have enough projects to letter without learning a Spencerian script.
  • The scripts included should be those we commonly use. While your choices may be different, my option list includes: Roman, Half Uncial, Uncial, Caroline minuscule, Foundation hand, Insular majuscule, Protogothic minuscule, Gothic textura quadrata, Gothic quadrata prescisus, Lombardic capitals, Secretary hand, Secretary capitals, Frakture minuscule, Frakture capitals and Cadels.
  • The book should focus on basic, formal lettering strokes rather than stylized art forms.
  • The more facsimile reproduced images included the better. If the image is actual size and I have a pen nib that matches it I can practice using my lightbox and tracing over the letters, especially the serifs.
  • The pen angle, nib width count, and ductus should be clearly shown for each calligraphy style.
  • The more period photographs the better.
These criteria cut out books which detail using a brush or oblique pen and cursive or artist designed letter styles. 

If you don't already have these books, they are widely recommended for today's SCA scribes:
For its size, I also like The Calligrapher's Bible by David Harris. ISBN-13: 978-0764156151 It has the broad-nib styles I use and shows their ductus and pen angle. Its 7"x 8" spiral size allows me to use it open by my work space. But it does not have photographs. Its historic information is appropriate, but not detailed. Still it is handy and may be a book you want to add later.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

7 Sins of Gouache

Like the seven deadly sins, art media have behaviors that are a challenge to overcome. The key to dealing with them is avoiding or limiting their effects. 

As a scribe, I've messed up work every way possible. Those were my gouache learning experiences while detecting its sins. Let me tell you what I've found.

An upper gouache layer may re-moisten my underpainting.
--When possible, I let my work dry overnight before adding a stroke to an upper layer.
--I make sure my strokes are what I want before I make them and leave them alone when they're done. Over-working gouache mixes and blends the layer's colors.

The scroll or picture surface is easily damaged.

--Gouache paintings are brittle. After being almost done with a picture my cat walked across it during the night, leaving marks to for me to correct. I now take precautions to protect my work. I've used several options: plastic sleeves, frames with glass, cloth covered cardboard scroll covers, and double clear plastic display "books". You probably have other ideas to try. 

The opaque gouache hides my underdrawing.
--I keep track of key points as I build my layers, particularly when painting fabric drapery. Repeating patterns are less a problem.
--Sometimes I lightly redraw lines.

The underdrawing shows through my underpainting.
--Opacity varies between gouache colors and brands, especially student paints that have less pigment in their binder.
--When I don't want to change paint, I cover the area with titanium white.
--I keep plenty of paint in my well, so I don't run near empty, causing less pigment in the binder.

There are infinite color options.
--The enormous gouache color variety makes it difficult to know which is the most practical paint to buy. It's like limiting yourself to one Christmas cookie at Grandma's.
--You can paint almost anything with six colors, including black and white. I switch colors when I empty a tube, often due to price.

Gouache changes value when dry.
--Dark colors lighten and light values darken. I noticed this more in a large, flat area. In that case, I make sure I have plenty of paint to cover my chosen area, especially if I've mixed colors. This became easier with practice. 

The "periodness" of gouache is debatable.
Modern gouache has similarities to some late period paint recipes. Those period paints seem more used for highlights. Without broad scientific study over eras and locations the reality remains fuzzy. I use gouache paints for my SCA scrolls because they are convenient, not because they are exceptionally period. 

When creating scrolls, the benefits of gouache paint exceed its detriments. Purposeful scribes work with its quirks.  
Related Prior Post:

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Why Lay a Scroll's Groundwork with Permanent Ink?

Pencil sketch and start of inking.shown.
In my post The Making of a Scroll, Part 1, I briefly comment about roughing in the border with a 4H pencil then going over those lines with a permanent .005 Pigma Micron pen. I've been asked, wh I do that?

When I start a scroll I research and develop a mental design concept. Sometimes I make a mock-up of my intended illumination as well as the calligraphy layout. Those are both tentative visual aids. 

Before I begin painting, but after the lettering, I use a 4H pencil to sketch my design. Referring back to my inspirations, planned motifs, and possible assignment requests I double check my expectations. Sometimes I make a change because I feel the spacing is unbalanced. Sometimes I make several changes. 

Prior to inking it's easy to erase with a white eraser, and redo it. You can see the difference between my two pictures. Once I'm sure I have what I want, I permanently ink over the pencil lines.

I use the black Pigma Micron pen because it is permanent. Using a permanent ink keeps the outline from blurring as I apply the water-based paint. I use the very small .005 size, because it works better for tiny motifs. It also gives me options for my final outlining. 

Design change seen in upper left.
Earlier manuscripts had wider black outlines than later Medieval illuminations. The outlines may also vary by workshop. Using a narrow ball pen, I have the permanent line designed and will go over it with a wider ball pen, if indicated by the style. It's also possible to use a different color ink or a dip pen for the final outlining. If black edges in my resources are narrow I leave the design line as it is. In Renaissance styles, I may cover over the outline with paint, as they commonly show.

But there's more to it than that. 

After the ink is well dried, I use my trusty white eraser to remove all pencil lines carefully and well. This includes going over the lettering too. That gives a background surface as clean as I can make it.

Besides removing obvious pencil lines, erasing also removes oils and dirt. Many times the next step is gilding. Removing surface oil cuts down on gold flecks attaching in unwanted places. Controlling outlying gold flecks gives you a cleaner looking finished scroll.

Attention to detail is important when creating a scroll. Clean, well thought out and neatly worked efforts make a treasured award. Permanent crisp, black motif outlines are the groundwork for you design.

Related Prior Post:
The Making of a Scroll

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Illuminating Color Mixing

Iluminators were known to layer paints more than mix them. Yet there are written notes and illuminations that show they mixed colors too, especially later in the Middle Ages. 

Mixing colors makes its own problems. The more colors you combine, eventually ends with mud. 
Over-mixing also dulls the paint combination. 

Learn by doing: mix two gouache primary colors

Which colors should you use for your primary paints? See how different these gouache mixtures appear when I use different paint colors to mix for my primary colors. 

I used Bristol board, Artist Loft paints, and a 10 broad flat brush. For each sample, I began with the lighter color on the left, added the color on the right end and expected to end with it. 
Paint Mixing Explorations

With a dab of the lighter color, I added a teeny-tiny paint amount of the color at the farthest right end. I blended the paints then stroked the Bristol board with the mixed color. Then I added another small amount of the farthest right color to my previous mix. I repeated this until I reached the color on the right, my darker color. I gradually mixed the paints and stroked them across the paper's space. 

Exploring your paints this way develops your mixology skills so you make the color combination you want every time. It also helps you learn in case your paint collection misses a tube color you want.

Learn by doing: color swatch challenge

Down-load an illuminated manuscript picture and cut out a limited color swatch from one area. With the paints you own mix colors until placing your downloaded sample on top of your painted swatch seems to make it vanish into your mixed color.

Keep a record. If your first attempt is not an exact match, keep playing with your paints. It may also take a different paint tube from the store to get it right. With perseverance, you'll be able to match any color you want. Soon you'll do this without thinking.

If you are into color mixing, keep a journal. Make a swatch of each mixture you make. Note the paints and colors you used. 

Playing with colors is fun and expands your skills. You also become more color-ware. And you avoid making mud.

Related Prior Post:

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Constructive Criticism, Giving and Receiving

I was asked by a scribal friend last week how I would critique another scribe's scroll. In Calontir we often talk about this and how to do it. 

Critiquing another person's work is tricky because of the personal pride held by the sharer and the hearer. Some encourage gentleness. Others recommend a quick comment like my Mom ripped off a band-aid.

What is the best way to give constructive criticism or critique another scribe's work?

I am no expert, but whether I am giving or receiving comments, I try to remember a critique is not criticism. It may include parts that are hard to hear or give, but it shouldn't bully, humiliate, or embarrass. It should include comments on what is well done and specific suggestions to improve. 

While my daughter would disagree...I often give feedback in a critique sandwich. It includes improvement suggestions within a bun of sincere positive comments. Something like:
Lady Ismeralda, your scroll is beautiful. It looks like a lost page from the Luttrell Psalter. Even your colors are exact. Your black lettering will improve with more repetition. I love the unique grotesques you made from the recipient's cats. What do you think?
Some critiques go better in private.
I see this as encouraging Ismeralda's scribal work. It is not degrading. It gives her a specific practice without deploring her background or learning abilities, whatever her age. I see it as constructive

While conversations trade comments, critiques go better when requested. How do you ask when you want help?

I prefer to ask several people their opinion, as each sees my work differently. And they may accomplish the same technique in different ways. 

I enter competitions to receive other's comments. Asking several people's opinions gives me options to try. It's even better when the "critics" are all together along with me and my work. 

When a scribe asks me about their work it helps if they ask about specific concerns. Maybe even pointing to what they mean on their scroll. If you are unsure why things don't look right to you, that is a fair question also. 

Posting a photo and asking an on-line group such as the SCA Scribes may work. However the art's image makes giving an opinion difficult or inaccurate. Also, you best information source may not want to comment on a permanent format other's read. 

Don't be shocked if comments are different than you expect. Some techniques are tricky. Take a second or third look. Ask how you can improve or what they recommend you try.

A critique is meant to help. Let negative comments roll off. They will evaporate like morning dew. 

I still struggle with critiquing. If your viewpoint disagrees with mine, please, tell me why. I want to know the reason you want to do things differently. You may have found an easier way I don't know. 

A critique is only as beneficial as you make it. It takes trying the suggestions given. Progress takes your effort.

Think positively. Revel in your skills. Constructive criticism is a useful tool for progress. A learning experience for the giver and receiver.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Do You Steal...Like An Artist?

I bought myself a present. I love the writer/artist Austin Kleon. He has a new book, Steal Like An Artist Journal. I'm flipping through the pages, seeing a little of everything. 

The first image I came across relates to scribes so well. Kleon describes simply the difference between plagiarism and creative repurposing. He calls it good theft and bad theft. And he compares the two. 

This is relevant for scribes because the way we create scrolls may come close to what he calls "Bad Theft". Bad theft to Kleon is stealing from one source, without any alteration or remixing. Or degrading the original work.

Manesse Codex Inspiration
My work. 
I've come close to this myself. I love the Manesse Codex. As I've posted before, it's a leading reason why I became an illuminator. I changed the heraldry, used different materials, reversed the image, removed the frame, but its source is obvious. 

Sure the creators are long gone. Many are even unknown to researchers. And Wikimedia says on their file "attribution not legally required." The original creators won't know. 

But...the current manuscript holders should be credited. Some care because they use the manuscripts to make books they sell currently like The Getty does. It's their income.

"Good Theft" isn't exactly theft. It's prompting you to create something new inspired by the works of others. You honor the originators' works by creating something well done in a similar manner to their art. You study their details and information, combining several motifs and remixing them to fit well together. Whatever the style, you transform them into something completely original and beautiful. 

In the book I just bought, Kleon says, 
Your job, then, becomes to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by. 

The more manuscript images you view the more motifs and inspirations you have within your head to remix into a new beautiful scroll. So, go on and steal like an artist.  

Related Prior Post:
Throwback Thursday: My 2004 Manesse Codex Inspired Scroll

Medieval image: Meister des Codex Manesse (Grundstockmaler) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons