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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Kingdom of Calontir's Arts and Sciences Competitions 2017

Saturday Calontir held it's annual Kingdom Arts and Sciences' Competitions in my local group, Barony of the Lonely Tower. After greeting people at the gate and signing them in I had time in the afternoon to view entries and take pictures.

You can see the room's one-third here.

With Easter the next day, we had more attend than expected. A great turn out actually.

The attendance was elevated by 13 Championship entries. The highest number to compete for the honor. I think that's a record.

Each person entering must have three separate entries with different skill sets. Each requires three experts to judge them. That's 39 judges needed just for the Championship part alone, although those judges may also judge Tri-Level entries as well. There were 44 Tri-Level entries. A total of 83 people volunteered to talk with entrants and comment on their work.

Judging Ysabel de la Oya's Pottage Research Entry

Judging is a conversation guided by topics set by each item's criteria with points given for the accomplishment. The judges look forward to the challenge learning from any unique entries or information. 


Natalya patiently waiting to be judged.

Entering is not an all day thing unless you judge too. It's possible to find time for other things like HL Natalya. She shows her "Sweet Spinach Pie" cooking entry and works on a weaving project.

The 44 Tri-level entries had four in calligraphy and illumination.  

Lady Beatrix music page entry.
Lady Beatrix Bogenschutz from Axed Root recreated a music page from the Copenhagen Chansonnier. She entered at the advanced level. Entering that level is the best way to receive broad-based information. The judges give all the information they know relating to the entry and stringently count possible points.   

Lord Hug's cartography entry.
Lord Hugo van Harlo created a map of his local group, the Barony of Forgotten Sea and its environs. Done in the late 16th - very early 17th-century style Mercator and John Speed used. While researching cartography Lord Hugo learned this style was a "standard" and the initial step in map printmaking. His creation won Judges' Choice.

My intent was to photograph all the "C and I" entries. As you see, entering means at least four people sitting around a table, that temporarily blocks viewing the entry. Sadly I did not photograph the following two.

Lady Ameline de Coity from Oak Heart showcased her Medieval calligraphy and its use for event prizes. She looked at how calligraphy was used during the medieval period and recreated its aesthetic on event prizes. 

Lord Hirakawa Kagetora from Aston Tor lettered an Uncial script exemplar based on a circa 8th century Latin manuscript at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.

Mistress Aidan Cocrinn valiantly entered Championship with three projects based on the Morgan Black Hours Manuscript

Her first entry created three black pigments produced from one stacked burn experiment. These pigments were historically used for illumination, calligraphy, painting, writing, and staining wood, etc. Their final use depended on the medium/binder in which they are placed. This entry is considered a science because it takes a black pigment period "recipe", creating and compares them.

Black Hours manuscripts are rare because they are both expensive and fragile. M. Aidan indicates it is due to the Ferrous Sulphate acidity used to dye the parchment/vellum. Her second entry attempted to neutralize that acidity. It was the process necessary to create a Black Hours illuminated manuscript and "fixed" the acid problem developed by the dying step. 

Her third entry was a backlog Laurel scroll created as several pages of the Morgan Black Hours Manuscript. Using the prior steps she black dyed and stabilized the vellum, then lettered and illuminated it. In my last picture, you can see it over the recipient's shoulder as she holds it. 

Their Royal Majesties begin court.

The members of the Order of the Chalice are called
and include His Highness Damien.

The Calontir Championship winner was--------> HL Viga-Valr Viligisl, also known as Vels inn Viggladi. His three entries were:
  • A metal point and ink scale design drawing of a Sgabello chair and carved elements. 
  • SA gabello chair; form, joinery, and turned elements based on extant examples from an identifiable workshop in 16th century Venice.  
  • Floral and geometric low relief carving panels following examples from carved furniture pieces from post-1550 Venice. 
I was surprised M. Aidan did not win, because I thought her entry was over the top. But I didn't judge it so I don't know. I'm also biased.

Eventually, M. Aidan's lengthy project and unique Black Hours scroll was presented to Mistress Katrei Grunenburg at court Saturday evening. 

M. Katrei with her Black Hours Laurel scroll.

Related Prior Posts:

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Searching for Easter Week in Illuminated Manuscripts

Happy Easter Everyone.

With Easter and the Holy Week before it I wondered what medieval images I could find about them. I expected there to be an illuminated manuscripts image bonanza and nerdy trivia, but first I needed find how to search for them. As usual, Wikipedia provides a place to start

Holy Week is Lent's fifth and last week and the week before Christian Easter. It also includes Friday of Sorrows, a solemn remembrance day for the Virgin Mary, and the Friday before Palm Sunday. It is memorable for Jesus crucifixion.

While this information is known by many, when searching Google for anything it is important to have proper terms to avoid unrelated, possibly even offensive items.

I began with "Friday of Sorrows in illuminated manuscripts" because I did not know that phrase and was curious. I found nothing by Google. That's rare, but it happens.

Moving on and changing topics I used Google and found numerous beautiful examples of "crucifixion in illuminated manuscripts." (Of course, I found some extraneous items too.)
Crucifixion by Meister des Rabula-Evangeliums 

That netted me the earliest illuminated crucifixion. Intriguing because it is a long lasting first. It is in the Rabbula Gospels, a 6th-century Syriac Gospel Book and one of the finest Byzantine illuminated manuscripts.

I also searched for "Holy Week Illuminated Manuscripts" and found Thomas Stone's book collectors blog "The Books in My Life" posting in 2011 about Holy Week-Collecting Books of Hours. A relevant post for scribes on Books of Hours.  
British Library's
 Arundel Psalter
f. 116 v.
Using the British Library's illuminated manuscripts' advanced search and entered "crucifixion" in the contents square. I use the advanced search tool at least monthly. From that I found the English 14th century Arundel Psalter that includes a crucifixion miniature showing the nails being hammered in.

The Netherlands National Library has a similar Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts advanced search tool . 

Besides Google and Wikipedia, the advance search tools at the British Library and the Netherlands National Library are my favorite illumination search tools. 

British Library's
Harley 2855 f. 3v
German, S. 15th C.

I continued searching after finding the term Ecce Homo. Wikipedia says it is a standard illustration cycles' section. The cycles also include "the Passion and Life of Christ in art. It follows the Flagellation of Christ, the Crowning with thorns and the Mocking of Christ, the last two often being combined". These common phrases give me even more ways to search.  

Googling "Christ's Passion Illuminated Manuscripts" I found much more. You can click and see the results.

So far, for a single source, I have not been able to top Sexy Codicology's blog post about The Holy Week In Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts,  April 22, 2014 In it I found Prayer Book of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg by my favorite Simon Bening (Flemish, about 1483 - 1561). His beautiful creations are why my persona's last name is Bening.

Finding your inspiration or information sometimes takes searching for terms so you know what to plug into Google. Be open to using new phrases, take different paths. You never know what exciting manuscript illumination or detail you'll find. It's surprising and interesting that Easter is not included in Holy Week.

Related Prior Post:

Finding Sexy Codicology
How to Google for Illuminated Manuscript Inspirations

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How To Layout A Scroll

Scroll creation is like cooking. You begin the creative process knowing for whom you want to cook and when you want to serve it. You collect the essential ingredients you want to use, calligraphy, paint, and support. Using medieval sources, you add a pinch of intuition, a dash of inspiration, stir them together hoping for a tasty result. The best scroll art harmonizes flavors to create an effective dish, sometimes with spices of surprise or humor.

The backbone ingredient of cooking an SCA scroll is the layout. A thorough layout plan saves preparing the dish by ruling, and lettering, only to realize you have insufficient space for illumination and standard framing. With a thorough layout, you know the space the text and illumination will occupy and even plan wiggle-room. You may also change ingredients to enhance the scroll’s visual impact.

Scroll layout--design element’s page placement--can come from a recipe. However great scrolls happen when the scribe cooks with quality ingredients, experience, intuition, and planning.

Scroll size, format, level of sophistication in calligraphy and illumination, and style are left to the scribe. There is no hierarchy of scroll sizes or calligraphy and illumination sophistication required by the award's level. I try to include real gold and vellum when provided to me for peerage scrolls. I use pergamenata and gold gouache for lower level awards. Those are my options. I would change them if I were tapped to do a scroll for a close friend.

While my first love is illumination, the text is always the primary motif ingredient. I plan any art around the text. When I plan ahead there are times the text arrives too late or too lengthy for my intended design. That can be handled by doing a small picture first and lettering a mostly unilluminated writ when the text arrives. 

Layout of a simple scroll
A simple page layout, like the one to the right, is a basic recipe for lettering a couple of lines, a current certificate or calligraphy art. But scrolls are different than modern certificates. They use layout and design differently than today's graphic art. An SCA scroll's purpose is to emulate a medieval manuscript or legal page. Many graphic art "rules" don't apply. Scroll layout is based on page design found in medieval manuscripts.  

The best way to learn about SCA scroll layout is to look at a huge number of historic resources from all period times and places. And continue looking at them. Also look at as many other scribe's scrolls as possible. Notice the paper size, letter size, lettering position and how illumination elements such as drawings, painting, color, lights and darks create a feeling of unity and balance. Look at the amount and depth of the details. I never get over looking at the enormous skill and detail displayed in the best medieval manuscripts. 

The next step is to experience the process yourself.  Stir your curiosity, creativity, and skills together and cook some medieval style manuscript art or a tasty SCA scroll.

Related Prior Post:
What's an Award Scroll's Purpose?
6 Scroll Design Tips

My Related Pinterest Board:
Manuscript: Layout

Related Class Handout:
Scroll Layout a detailed outline

Related External Webpage:
Calontir Scribes' Handbook

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Response to M. Eleanor Deyson's Post

Is Calontir's Kingdom Arts and Science Champion the best artisan in the Kingdom? Is that the competition's intent?

In her May 2, 2010 post M. Eleanor Deyeson stated she believes the entrants must aspire to that before they enter. I disagree with my respected compeer.

Calontir's Kingdom Arts and Science FAQ page states:
This is the competition that determines the Kingdom of Calontir’s Arts and Sciences Champion for the year. This person will champion the arts and sciences in Calontir and will represent the Kingdom to the Known World in foreign competitions and wars. For the next year the Champion will wear the Champion’s baldric and will get to keep the Champion’s Scroll on which the names of all prior Champions are written. 
This competition is held in conjunction with Tri-Levels and is open to all artisans. Each hopeful must enter three advanced level arts and/or sciences in three separate categories (no one can enter more than one of any one thing). The judging is face-to-face with three judges and is stricter than Tri-Levels judging. The entrants compete against each other.
No mention is made of the Champion being the best Kingdom artisan. It does say the winner will represent the Kingdom's arts and sciences to others, especially to foreign Kingdoms. 

I believe it is possible to represent Calontir's arts and sciences without being the best. Having passed the strenuous judging gauntlet the Champion knows well its process. The Champion knows how to make three items well, write detailed documentation for each one, and answer experts' questions. These are not easily done. 
My entries the year I lost.

My challenge with entering has been having three well-done entries with unrelated skill sets. I easily have calligraphy and illumination. They can have separate skill sets, depending on how they are created. The third entry was always my test, especially documenting it and describing reasonable alternatives I used in its recreation.

My third entry would also probably be a new craft for me and possibly others in Calontir. If you are the only person recreating that craft in the kingdom, you would then be the best. That makes it difficult to have three knowledgeable judges to evaluate your work.

I know people who enter for the ultimate judging challenge, which it is in Calontir. Some enter different crafts than they have before, also for the challenge. If my Laurel, M. Agnes de Lanvallei, hadn't encouraged me to enter my artisan prowess would have remained untested.

I didn't think I was the best when I entered--I've entered twice and won once--because I am my harshest critic. In my opinion, my entries were better the time I lost than when I won, and both years had five entrants. That shows winning depends greatly on your competitors' entries.

Entering Calontir's Kingdom Arts and Sciences Championship Competition has a different meaning to each entrant. The whole Championship experience, from items created through the following year, is greater than anyone's internal vision and worth taking on the challenge.

Prior Related Post:
TBTh: 2000 Championship Entry

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Finding Sexy Codicology

I'm a Medieval manuscript search addict. I'll admit it. This time I found the sexy way to find inspiration and information on digitized manuscripts. It's Sexy Codicology 

I'm nuts about its enlightening blog posts and newsletters, which is how I first discovered Sexy

SC is an independent project that dives into digitized manuscript collections to find beautiful or intriguing illuminated manuscripts to share on social media. SC has over a thousand followers on its Pinterest board, a Sexy Codicology Youtube channel, a Twitter account, and an SC Facebook page with over 11,000 likes. They are also on Google+ and Tumblr.

Sexy was started in July of 2013, by  Giulio Menna and Marjolein de Vos. Their team is spreading interest and access to the world's illuminated manuscripts. They are also working with the collectors to make high resolution viewing technology operate consistently between digital collections. This will improve remote research between sites and provide artists greater access.
Giulio Menna is dedicated to western medieval manuscripts and the challenges of digital humanities to develop new ways to access digitized material. He began the handy searchable digitized manuscript map (DMMapp) linking over 300 digital libraries with 20,000+ medieval manuscripts that can be browsed for free. It can also be accessed via an app.

If you love medieval manuscripts as I do and also have my passion for new technologies to access them you'll love Sexy Codicology. It is spreading the illuminated manuscript word around the digital world and bringing the dusty old manuscripts into today's light. 

Prior Related Post:

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Working in Tandem

As I grew as a scribe there was a time my illumination skills outpaced my calligraphy skills. In fact, they still do. Back then I wouldn't do the calligraphy on a scroll. Fortunately for me my friend HL Astrid, a talented calligrapher, preferred lettering. So we worked together.

To begin we understood the work would be done by both of us and both of us would receive attention for its creation, along with the text writer. That meant we respected each other's abilities and efforts. We would do our best so we all "looked good".

But not all scroll collaborations are the same. It is vital to know exactly what you are getting into, what each scribe expects from the venture. Maybe even write things down.

Working in tandem requires an equal open idea exchange and communication on the scroll's intended design, motifs, and processes. Terms may require a shared definition. And debate over a scroll's design or process may arise due to collaboration reality. 

For the scroll to work, each participant must know what's expected of them, sometimes down to each detail. Besides the common persona and deadline questions there will be more. How much space will be allowed for the calligraphy or for the illumination? Will there be a 1" or 2" external margin?Who will do the general design and what will it be? Will the calligraphy be done first, as is common, or the illumination? How many times will collaborators meet or the scroll transported between them?  

Working in tandem also requires mutual respect and setting aside egos. Those collaborating should strive to reduce confusion to the task at hand and how its later presentation. Avoid hardships and hard feelings during and after the scroll's creation. 

Open suggestions like "Maybe you should try this." or "This might work better." may seem as an attack to a scribe's ability. To create the best scroll for the recipient, idea exchange and their communication surmount artistic ego's needs.

This may test your ability to work toward a common idea. Not every scribe is open to sharing or including others into their process. 

Working in tandem on a scroll was a powerful learning experience for me, but takes courage for those involved. The key in a tandem scroll is a joint, mutual effort that needs a shared vision.