A place for Drachenwald's scribes to hang out, learn, discuss and critique each others work.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Parchment and shell gold: QoC for Duncan Kerr and Lindquistringes for Jasper Rose

Finished pieces, before trimming off excess parchment. Click to embiggen, or go to the Flickr album for more process pictures.

Queen's order of Courtesy: Duncan Kerr


From Adamastor to the south, and north
To Aarnimetsa, there is no virtue
Valued more than courtesy. Go ye forth,
Proclaim it to the mountains and seek you
One who hath this in greater measure than
Lord Duncan Kerr. You will find not one, nor
Any who come close. Since our lands began
The Queen has marked out courtesy, a corps
Of honoured folk who have this virtue strong.
And to it now, we add this Duncan Kerr.
Let now ye all rise up, and call it long,
His name, and celebrate him, without bar,
Nor let, nor yet surcease. Make sure he knows
That's known about his duties how he goes.
So says Isabetta, the red queen of Drachenwald, this 18 of June, AS LII from Nova Grangia in Dun in Mara.

Lindquistringes: Jasper Rose


Come one, come all, and heed these words!
Let the trumpets sound their call!
For Lindquistringes set forth thy birds,
Stand forth ye, of service all!
Spare him now no blush or stutter,
Spare him now no dark shadow.
He'll demur or quiet mutter,
Just as soon his fame let go.
Now bring ye forth that Jasper Rose,
Despite that he be nervous.
Let him stand forth among all those
Who do good loyal service!
So say We Siridean Šah (SHAH) and Jahanara Bambišn (BAMBISHN) of Drachenwald this 18 of June, AS 52 from our ancient seat of Nova Grangia.
These pieces were both commissioned with less than a week's notice (kingdom signet lost some messages to email hacking).

While I'd hoped to tailor each writ more, in the end I chose to do both in the same style to save myself time and performance stress. They were handed out by 2 different sets of royals over 2 days.

Design choices

I went hunting for late 15th to early 16th c styles in small format (good for both recipients), to suit A6 or smaller pieces of parchment.
I settled on the Hastings Hours, c 1480: Add MS 54782 in the British Library (whole book).

Why A6? because I'm keen on recipients being able to find a standard frame and put their writs on a wall, rather than storing them waiting for a custom frame. So I've marked all my parchment for standard sizes, use the excess to test paint and ink, and trim it off before handing the work in.

The features I wanted to copy:
- small size, where original is 16.5 x 12cm - A6 format is 14.8 x 10.5 cm
- layout w/ broad margins and calligraphy 'floating' between scored lines (rather than 'sat' on bottom line)
- modest illumination with an unusual colour scheme of gray/white capitals on red-brown ocher background
- batarde hand

Sample image from original to show colour scheme and hand.

Hastings Hours f24v

Text source

Both texts are courtesy of Lord Aodh O Siadhail, who rose to the challenge of composition on short notice. One is a sonnet, a known renaissance format. The other is is 3 verses of 8/7 syllables, which 'just seemed to work', says Aodh.


Parchment, scored with a hardpoint tool
Oak gall ink with metal nib dip pen for calligraphy
Gouache and watercolour with watercolour brushes
Shell gold (appears in first photo)

Illumination sequence:
- paint capital blocks a plain red ocher
- paint in the letters with a middle gray
- highlight the letters with permanent white, using my finest brush - I did not manage to copy the rich variations of white on these letters
- dot and outline the letter background with shell gold
- outline letters gently with black watercolour

White highlights and black outlining require the same steps:
- start with a dry blob of pigment (see first photo)
- wet a fine brush with clean water and 'roll out' most of the water: unlike usual process, do not add water to the pigment
- run the damp brush over the surface of the pigment til it picks up a very concentrated dose of colour
- test, and apply to the piece

Keeping the pigment dry except for contact with the damp brush means you avoid flooding an already-painted surface with water and making the pigment run.

Good stuff

I love parchment: love prepping it, laying it out, writing on it, painting it. 'Nuff said.

I was pleased with getting the calligraphy to 'float' between the lines. This is always a work in progress but has been a long-term goal of mine, to get closer to the original calligraphy layout for most of our time period.

I got to try shell gold for the first time, and it's always cool to play with new matreials.

The two pieces were presented well. In Drachenwald, the Queen's order of courtesy comes with its own tale. Master Alexandre d'Avigne told it with flair, which built the tension before the recipient heard his name and approached her Majesty Isabetta.

In the first court of Siridean and Jahanara, Siridean Šah made a point of asking the recipient to close his eyes to hear the acclaim of the court, which promptly cheered for him. Lyonet Schwarzdrachen then read the verses boldly giving them the charming emphasis they needed.

Lessons learned

I wanted a small exemplar. I think I tried to make it too small for my own skill level. To get the look right, I need to try it slightly larger than original, and work my way down to the original's size.

Calligraphy: the batarde hand I do is ok, though it's not exactly like this one. This fine a hand with the crispness of the hairlines still eludes me, and I think I need to return to cutting quills, a lot, to get it right.

Shell gold is a funny thing. It's real gold pressed into a tiny block and held together with gum arabic. You add a drop of water and wait for it to penetrate the block, and then mix while you have a window of opportunity. Wait too long and the water is fully absorbed and your gold goes hard again. SIGH.

It's fussier to work with than the Schminke gold gouache and will definitely take more practice.

Labour tally

As I did both pieces at the same time, this count applies to both works.

Artwork by Genevieve:
Research: 3 hr
Layout: 2 hr
Practice: 2 hr
Calligraphy: 1 hr
Illumination: 4 hr incl drying time

Wording by Aodh:
QoC 1 hour
Lindquistringe: inspired 1/2 hour

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A writ for the ladies of House Green

One charming aspect of the Society is that we make our own stories and histories over the time we spend together, and gain renown for our own actions. This is different from reenactors who are interpreting history where the outcome is already known.

This writ is part of an ongoing story for House Green, who live in Lough Devnaree and its shires in Insulae Draconis.

Some in the Society call this 'schtick'; a presentation in court that makes people laugh. I consider this a gift done in a medieval style that shows my affection and care of House Green and at the same time supports their story in the history of the Isles.


Writ on the slope.


Writ finished on my kitchen counter with my own seal in beeswax, and a small seal pouch. Extra beeswax sits in a silicone muffin cup. Robert de Canterbury made the seal for me and I've only had occasion to use it a handful of times, so this was a treat.

Pergamenata, about 11x14"(?), oak gall ink, metal nibs.
Text reads: 
Genevieve la flechiere, viscountess of Insulae Draconis and peer by letters patent, to the most dear Lady Gytha Ui Bhanain, and her gracious and noble Sustren the ladies of house green, I greet you Well
To all right thinkers it is clear that the providence of God has so provided for certain rich persons that, by means of their transitory possessions, if they use them well, they may be able to merit everlasting rewards.
I, Genevieve, desiring to provide for my own safety while I am still able, have considered it advisable to give some little portion for the gain of my soul.
Following the ancient precepts of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and making the act not a temporary but a lasting one, I should support at my own expense a congregation of holy women, committed to the study of the arts of war and of peace, for the betterment of Drachenwald.
Therefore, to the support and maintenance of these said holy women, do I give and grant, with a sincere heart, to them this donation of 1 English shilling and three ells of good cloth, and in perpetuity from my estate, 1 shilling per annum, and 2 ells of good linen upon michaelmas.
I will, further, that in my time and in those of my descendants, according as the opportunities and possibilities that place shall allow, that they shall regularly with the greatest zeal perform works of mercy such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and welcoming the stranger and the pilgrim.
Wherefore, our right trusty and wellbeloved Lady Gytha, as we have entire confidence in your discretion and devotion, we are resolved that the bestowal of these should be committed to your charge; begging you with all earnestness, that with sober thought and quiet contemplation, you will fulfil this task as you shall best judge it to be according to the Divine Will, and apt and profitable for the utility of the kingdom, and the advantage of the ladies aforesaid.
And we promise, as far as in us lies, to ratify and approve, in all and through all, whatever you shall decide to order, do, change, and provide, concerning the business of the said ladies.
And by the tenor of these presents, we signify all and each of these things afore-said, to all the members of house green and the people of Drachenwald. In witness of which I have sent you these my letter, sealed with my seal.
Given at the Althing, on the 11th Kalends of Allsaints, AS 51.


Last year, when I took Lord Aodh as a dependent, I took his hands in homage and made clear that he still, as paterfamilias of his own House Green, had responsibilities that our indenture would not change...but that I was available to advise him on dependants, suitable placements for children or orphans, or places in convents for those who were unsuited to marriage.

This raised a small laugh, but apparently struck shock and terror in the Catholic hearts of the ladies of House Green - particularly single ladies, or whose other halves don't play - who all assumed I was referring to them directly.

I found this out later, as Lady Agnes passed it on, and it now has common currency that at least one lady of House Green is destined to a nunnery.

The story grew in the telling, as stories do, that Lady Gytha Ui Bhanain was the most likely convent candidate.

One year on, I decided to build on this, and take the opportunity to bestow patronage, as a medieval noble lady would do: patronage that would be good for her own reputation, good for her soul, and good for the members of a household.

I went in search of example texts of women founding convents and monasteries. I could find some examples of royal foundations such as for Cluny (used as model for the writ introduction), but the individual women patrons were harder to find.

At Lyonet Schwarzdrachen's suggestion, looked up Lady Devorgilla de Balliol, a 13th c patroness of Balliol College Oxford. I struck gold when I found 'Early history of Balliol College', compiled by the splendidly named Mrs Frances de Paravicini, a 19th c historian.

It contains both Latin and English versions of the 13th c documents where the lady instructs a trusted friar to take her alms for the already-founded community of poor scholars, and continue to do the good work of teaching and caring for the group (p 66 of archive.org book).

I left out most of the explicit religious language of the original letter but called on the ladies to perform 'acts of mercy' which broadly fit the service many people invest in the Society: making clothing, cooking food and making newcomers welcome.

The best parts were the lines that said effectively, 'please think carefully - I trust your judgement to use this money well, and will support you wherever I can'.

At court, I presented the writ, 3 ells of good cloth (black wool) and equivalent of 1 shilling to Lady Gytha and Lady Órlaith who stood to represent the ladies.

It falls to the ladies of the house to name their foundation and decide which direction to take the endowment to continue the story.

An indenture for Genevieve and Sela


Indenture on the slope


Indenture after cutting.
A3 pergamenata, oak gall ink, metal nib pens.

Text reads:

This indenture being made between Genevieve la flechiere, Viscountess of Insulae Draconis and peer by letters patent on the one part and Lady Sela de la Rosa on the other part, testifies that the said Lady Sela shall stand in service to the said viscountess for peace and for war for the term of one year and one day following the date of this document.
The Lady Sela having the estate of pursuivant, and being retained with the said viscountess of the ancient house of Sylveaston for the said term by indenture without fraud or evil device, shall be accorded all the customary rights and privileges, vis of livery, maintenance, counsel, instruction, advancement and defense against unjust harm.
Whensoever the viscountess shall command Lady Sela to give any message to person of whatever state, condition, or degree they be of within the same, Lady Sela shall do it as honorably and truly as will and reason can serve, always keeping to herself secret for any manner motion, save to such persons as she be commanded to utter her charge unto.
The lady Sela shall commit to learning the secrets and mysteries of her office, to be every day more cunning than others in the office of arms, so as she may be better furnished to teach others, and execute with more wisdom and more eloquence such charges as her lady, or of her realm any noble person shall lay unto her by the virtue of the office.
She shall dispose herself to be discreet and sober in her appearance; to be not too busy in language, ready to commend and loth to blame, and diligent in service.
She shall promise to forsake all vices, and take to all virtues, and to be no common goer to taverns, the which might cause unvirtuousness and unclean language, and she be neither a dice player nor a gambler, and that she flee places of debate and unhonest places, and the company of knavish men and women unhonest.
Should the Lady Sela be in any error or found in any detestable crime, as soon as Viscountess Genevieve knows it she must admonish the lady Sela charitably that she may gain from it.
Done before noble witnesses this 10 Kalends of All SaintsAS 51, at the fall althing.
This indenture is for Genevieve as Pelican (and Rouge Maunche extraordinary, though I completely forgot to include it as a title) and Sela as a dependent, with Sela taking the role of pursuivant (novice herald) for the house.

I'd previously written up the first indenture I made for Aodh and me with him taking the role of dalta  ('student of the bard'). This text was in turn modelled on one assembled by Visc Robert de Canterbury for Sir Vitus to use with his squires.

Since then, I've seen more examples of original indentures, and noted that they were not signed, but had CIROGRAPHUM written through the area that was indented and cut apart. So I did likewise for Sela's indenture.

The text follows Aodh's closely for its initial conditions, and then identifies some specific tasks for Sela as pursuivant. These tasks are taken from late-medieval heralds' oaths.

The original heralds' oaths require different commitments from different levels of office. If you think of heralds as public servants, in modern terms you'd expect different job descriptions or 'terms and conditions' for a school-leaver starting in the public service, a middle manager, and a department head.

I particularly liked the emphasis on leadership and teaching for the department head; the diligence and discretion and good reputation required of the middle rank; and the humility, obedience and 'don't be a smartass'-ness for the pursuivant.

I used text from all three 'levels' of herald (king at arms, herald and pursuivant), choosing the phrases that were most apt for Sela's role. And I could not leave out the injunctions to flee places of debate, avoid dice and gambling, and low company - that's really the best part.

With the indenture, I provided her livery: a belt woven for her (yellow with red borders, following the model of red squires' belt with yellow borders used in House Sylveastan), 3 ells of good cloth (wool) and 2 ells of linen for veils and headdresses.

I calligraphed this work after not scribing for some months, and I felt rusty. I struggled to get the line spacing right. Changing pens for the second half helped a lot, resulting in a larger space at the bottom of the page than the top.

Aside from those technical issues, I'm happy with the result, and was very happy holding the ceremony at the Althing in Ireland.

Monday, July 04, 2016

PCS for Marie de Monte

Receiving the Popular Company of Sojourners is a mixed blessing in Drachenwald.

It's the recognition that you've contributed to the kingdom, and that people around you value your presence and participation.

It's also the award given for those people who are leaving the kingdom.

Because Drachenwald was founded by travellers from other lands, the Crown gives them the PCS, modelled on the US service families' 'Permanent Change of Station', which was at one time a common occurrence.

My home shire of Thamesreach remains a transient place. People come through the city of London for lots of reasons - work, school, European walkabout, and eventually, often have to keep going.

Recently a fine lady and craftswoman, originally from An Tir, Marie de Monte, spent almost 2 years in our shire, and we'll miss her very much.

At Coronet, TRM convened a very brief court in the 'low hall' where many folks of Thamesreach were dining to present Marie with her PCS token. Appropriate shire members were dragged in from the kitchen in to witness, including the recipient.

It had been a long, full day in the kitchens for many folks, including Marie. When she received the token, she said, 'Wow, it's stripy like my socks!' which is the first time I've heard someone remark on its design in such a way. Indeed the badge has 'stripes' of barry wavy in it.

So some of the text of this writ (which I did shortly after the event, so Marie could take it with her) is squeezed into a foot-shape below the stripes...and it says in tiny letters 'Sicut pedules striatos' which is (Google-)Latin for 'stripy like my socks'.

It's on parchment, about 9x14cm, so needs trimming for framing. The ink is my own, plus gouache and commercial ink for the initial and redwork.

Main body of the text, with sigils from Vitus Polonius and Isabel Peregrinus:

PCS for Marie de Monte: text only

Finished piece, with badge that is 'stripy like my socks', and date and event fitted into a foot-ish shape.

PCS for Marie de Monte

Text is one developed by Robert de Canterbury for PCS.

To all present & to come Ys presentes lres reding hering or seeing know by writ and fiat of Yr majesties of drachenwald yt Marie de Monte  is honourably admitted, renowned, accounted, numbered and received in ye number and in ye Popular company of sojourners entitled and enjoyned to bear ye token of armes thereof, viz - Barry wavy Ar et Az Flaunched Vert;  & is ordained and assigned of All rights, duties, & Customary obligations pertaining to that Company. Loquere mirabilibus ultra mare.

Sicut pedules striatos

done by o(ur) hands xxviij May LI at Buckden Palace

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Award of arms, James Waltham

This award of arms writ is on parchment, written in oak gall ink I made myself (following excellent instructions by Lady Órlaith Caomhánach, Dame Melisende's 'prentice).

Initial is in gouache and commercial red ink.

The finished piece is 9x14cm. The borders are indented into the parchment - it needs trimming before framing.

Click to embiggen.

Arms for James Waltham


We, Alexandre and Eularia, mighty prince and gracious princess of Insulae Draconis, finding Ourselves in receipt of good reports on the work of Our noble servant  James Waltham
to wit his service at shire events, his work in our kitchens, and his commitment to the defense of our lands, do award him Arms, viz -
Gules, a ship Or issuant from a ford proper and in chief 3 mullets of 8 points Or.
In witness whereof We have set our hand this 28th day of May, AS LI , at the tourney of succession at Buckden Palace.
The exemplar is the Manesse Codex, from early 14th c.

Most people know of the wonderful heraldry-rich illumination from the Manesse, but inbetween every beautiful 'picture' page is a full page, sometimes two, of poetry in German, ornamented with puzzle caps and penwork.

The great part of using a German exemplar is that it has lots and lots of Ws to model on - something you have to hunt for in Latin manuscripts. Ws are important for DrachenWald.

Original is available from the facsimile site.

Silver Guard for Alexandre d'Avignon

The joy of scribing in a relatively small kingdom is that you can tailor a commission to the recipient.

The recipient has handled original manuscripts through his studies, and is familiar with the many shortcuts, abbreviations, acronyms and contractions that historic scribes used to fit text to the space given.

So this piece compresses a longish and wordy text (based on a late 15th c example in English) into the smallest space available - about A5 or half a sheet of standard printer paper - using short forms, symbols and Latin equivalents that are current in early modern English.

For most Society scrolls, you wouldn't dream of shortening the name of the king, the recipient, and the award itself. In this writ I did all these things.

Click to embiggen.

Silver Guard for Alexandre d'Avignon

Text only, within its borders.

Silver Guard for Master Alexandre: text only

Text, in regular English:

Vitus, by the grace of might, King of Drachenwald, and Isabel our queen, at the Glen Rathlin Flaming Arrow on the vigil of SS Philip and James the Just AS50, in the first year of our reign the forty-sixth after the foundation.

To the pleasure of our Crown, the surety of this realm and defense of our kingdom, to the singular comfort of all our subjects of the same and in avoiding of all ambiguities and questions,

it is ordained, established and enacted by authority of these witnesses that Alexandre d'Avignon with all the permanence and dignity to the same pertaining be, rest, remain and abide as companion of the Silver Guard, perpetually with the grace of God so to endure and in none other.

Done by our signs manual.


Writ by Genevieve rougemaunche; parchment w/ oakgall ink
Text taken from:  Recognition of the Title of Henry VII (1485)
1485. 1 Henry VII. c. 1. 2 S. R. 499.) (Adams & Stephens)
Formatting advice: Arianhwy Wen, called Mala

I consulted HE Arianhwy Wen, who studied early modern English, on these short forms and abbreviations. She wrote out the text by hand and posted it to me. Most keyboards don't have Latin abbreviation symbols on them!

(A few years ago Ari wrote up and taught a class on early modern English and its spellings, posted to Master Robert's Forsooth wiki - you'll see a few of those spellings in this text.)

Thanks to a generous gift from Lady Victoria Alcon de Castile, I now have an ample supply of small pieces of parchment, and get both the joy of using parchment with the challenge of very fine calligraphy.

On parchment, I use a pointed tool (piece of hard wire stuck in the end of a broken arrow shaft, since you ask) rather than a pencil, for marking lines. Many lines you see marked in medieval manuscripts are like this - indentations, rather than surface ones.

To get the text small enough I used a pointed nib rather than a 'round hand' one (which has a flat nib end). After testing several nibs, and a couple of practice runs, I found one that gave 'thicks and thins' in the lines through pressure on the nib, rather than nib angle. I'm really pleased with this find.

The finished piece looks a bit lopsided in the first photo - partly camera angle, partly because the edges of the parchment piece aren't cut straight. I've marked out lines where a framer can trim to finish the piece.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Dragon's Pride, Alexandra af Gotvik

Other people find small change stuck down the back of the sofa.

I find penwork blanks lurking in my scroll folder. This one is based on an item in the BL (cover sheet went w/ recipient), and had a gothic/secretary hand.

Blessedly, it was available for doing a scroll for Double Wars 29.

The Dragon's pride is the arts recognition for young people. I debated about trying to emphasise that the person receiving it was young, and finally decided that she merited the same kind of text that I'd write for an adult.

So this text, originally drafted by Robert de Canterbury, is similar to one I've used for people receiving arts awards in Insulae Draconis. You can tailor it a bit for the recipient.

The recipient came up with her dad and he translated most of the proceedings, and everyone seemed happy with the result.

Text reads:

Make known our royal will
Forasmuch as Artisans Artificers Scholars Craftsmen Cooks Hatters Hosiers Dyers Weavers Broiderers Silkwomen Taylors and all others of fruitfull and creative profession are greatly necessary to the prosperity of our realm;
And that the increase of craft mysteries and secrets amongst the aforesaid Artisans et Alia being likewyse necessary to their continuance;
Vitus et Isabel, dread king and gracious queen of Drachenwald do require our Order of the Dragon's Pride to admit Alexandra af Gotvik as a member of they aforesaid Order;
that the said Alexandra may lawfully share the mysteries & secrets of her arts under the laws articles & customs of the Order;
Done by our hands this VJ day of May as XLI in our host at Double Wars in Attemark.

Calligraphy by Genevieve la flechiere
Illumination by Lady Arianhwy Wen
Text wording drafted by Robert of Canterbury, after 15th c London guild documents

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Women's hands in medieval MSs

The other day on twitter, someone commented: "Have you noticed how many images of women conceal their hands? Silencing body language...", and my immediate response was, I can think of plenty of women in medieval MSs whose hands are visible! In reply to that, the suggestion was made that they were all either (a) praying or (b) doing feminine tasks like spinning or baking. So I went to the Manesse codex and pulled out images of women playing chess, women handing out tournament wreaths, women watching tournaments, and then to the British Library and found women holding swords, hitting men, dancing, playing musical instruments, and more.

So I decided this was something that needed some systematic research, and the result of that research is available here. It is incomplete but will be updated as I have time. I've started with the British Library, and so far, I haven't found a single woman whose hands weren't visible -- which means that this collection is going to end up being a pretty extensive one of not only women's hands but women as well. So if you're looking for other information about medieval women -- what they did, what they wore -- check it out, you'll probably find something interesting.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Arabic scroll for Society use

Second attempt completed Oct 2015

This is the documentation I submitted to accompany my second attempt at an Arabic scroll, for Drachenwald A&S competition, October AS 50.

Credits: The goodwill and thoughtful, creative help of Sir Garick von Kopke, OP, OL, made this scroll possible.


I do not speak or write Arabic, but aspired to write an Arabic scroll for Sir Nasr' ibn Isa's viscounty. I hoped to obtain an Arabic text, and copy it, if it was printed in a passable 'medieval Arabic' font. As it worked out, it was more complicated than that.

His Grace Sir Garick von Kopke, 6th king of Drachenwald, speaks and writes Arabic. He agreed to help me with a text. With some details of the reign of Nasr' & Eleanor Sir Garick created a beautiful history, modelled on the style of early Arabic histories. (NB See previous blog post for the full text.)

He provided me with printable versions in both standard Arabic font (equivalent of Arial in English) and in a font modelled on early medieval Arabic hands - sort of the equivalent of printing a text in a 9th c Uncial Latin font.

In the end I did this scroll twice. I learned so much in the first attempt, that I wanted to do it again, better. The first one is now a promissory note. This second version is better, but still didn't meet my artistic hopes.

Calligraphy research

Arab calligraphers train for decades in their art and I knew I could not reproduce these efforts. My research necessarily focused on resources available in English, intended for novices.

Like European Latin scripts, Arabic had developed several distinct 'hands' over time. My interest was in very early Arabic: something compatible for an early Andalusian knight. My research indicated the Kufic hand was the most likely read by Sir Nasr's persona.

Kufic, compared to later cursive scripts, looks stiff, crisp and blocky. It's a contemporary for Roman capitals, and served much the same purpose - it began as a script for carving text in stone, and is thus angular and full of edges and corners.

Like Roman capitals, Kufic is associated with formal texts. Like Roman caps in medieval manuscripts, Kufic remained as the hand for headings and titles of texts, even when the rest of the text was in a cursive hand.

Kufic varies widely in letter height and proportions, its main characteristic being its angular nature. Kufic examples on vellum (very early Q'rans) have fluid corners of letters showing the scribe using the reed to its full capacity, but still emphasises strong uprights and long flat lengths.

Figure 1 Sample Kufic script with gold Surah (chapter) heading

Written Arabic

  • like Hebrew, Arabic is written from right to left
  • traditional Arabic 'alphabet' has 28 letters but just 18 'forms' - some letters use the same shape, but add dots to distinguish one from another, called letter pointing
  • certain letters are written differently depending on their position in a word, with initial, medial and final forms
  • Arabic letters have distinctive ligatures; some letters never join their neighbours but are always 'standalone' letters even in the middle of a word; if 2 letters look similar it is their ligatures that tell you what they are
  • early written Arabic, like Hebrew, does not include vowels; the diacritic marks (coloured dots) to indicate vowels, that appear on many Arab manuscripts, were added later, sometimes centuries later, to help readers' pronunciation
  • modern Arabic now includes adapted letters for 'loan' sounds that aren't native to Arabic (like P in the name Prothal), and also many additional orthographic signs to modify pronunciation
Arabic does not have hyphens to split words over 2 lines: you must complete a word on a line. Instead letters are sometimes stretched to 'justify' the text and fill lines (kashida) and make the text beautiful. You can stretch a single letter (mashq), or stretch the space between them (tatwîl).
The pronunciation can also influence where to apply kashida; long vowels encourage stretched letters to represent the long sound. Knowing where and when to stretch a word attractively is a skill unto itself.

Scroll design features from exemplar: choices and limitations

The features I wanted to include in Sir Nasr’s scroll, from the 12th c example, were:
  • the full text in Arabic with comperable spacing and kashida
  • the gold dots that marked the end of sentences (distributed as evenly and attractively as possible)
  • one line in gold to feature a highlight in the story (when King Prothal rewards Sir Nasr’ with the King’s order of Albion) – a parallel to a Surah heading
Examining the photo of the original examplar closely, I think the gold used is shell gold: gold flakes painted in with gum arabic. I don’t own any real shell gold, so I used transfer gold with gum arabic binding. (Unfortunately my gum arabic binding was too thick, and gives the effect is of raised gold where I didn't actually want this.)

One limitation in recreating this look is that I cannot place the diacritic marks (coloured dots), at all; I do not speak Arabic, and Sir Garick’s text didn’t include them. Similarly, I cannot use pronunciation to guide my use of kashida (stretching letters and words for effect). I can only use the visual placement to balance words across the scroll, and follow the exemplar where possible (eg. seeing which letters were stretched and which were not).

Sir Garick's text included modern orthographic marks. Most of these were not known in early Arabic so while I included them in my first attempt, I dropped them in the second.

Tools and materials

My choice of tools are a necessary comprimise of materials, time and preparation.
  • reed pen: traditional tool for Arabic calligraphy, shaped and sharpened with my pen-knife
  • Higgins India non-waterproof ink
  • pergamenata: A3 sheet, landscape, ruled with 3mm writing line and 4mm space between
  • layout tools: ruler, slope, T-square, 2H pencil, eraser, Linex
  • gum arabic binder, transfer gold for flat gilding
I read up on 'traditional' Arab tools, and did the calligraphy with a reed pen, but stuck to familiar pergamenata and a commercial ink.

I tested both flat and the sloped writing surfaces for this work, then used my 30 degree slope, as my reed retained ink and wrote for much longer on a slope. I did the flat gilding on a flat surface.

Looking at medieval examples, I cannot see any layout marks like writing lines and borders that are so important for European manuscripts. I don't know how Arabic calligraphers learned to write so evenly and consistently without them. I ruled and lined my page because I could not have created a consistent result without it.

Methods, mistakes and observations

I started by reading and learning the basics of the Naskh hand, using the British Museum's 'Arabic calligraphy: Naskh script for beginners'.

The joy of using a reed, compared to a quill or metal pen, is that you can push a reed nib as well as pull it. It felt almost naughty to push a pen! but the Naskh hand requires push, pull, twist and sometimes just plain filling in corners.

This Naskh introduction made Sir Garick's printed texts comprehensible, particularly the ligatures. However, the letterforms in Kufic are very different from the Naskh hand. So I ended up learning two Arab alphabets: one Naskh and one Kufic.

For practice, I copied out several pages of Kufic letter for letter. It helped me see small differences between letters that weren't obvious at first. I wrote out a ductus for the alphabet (see ductus page included with scroll) based on one exemplar, and tried to identify the order of pen strokes to use, based on how dark the ink was, which direction the line went.

After this practice, process was:
  • print all copies in large font
  • on printed copy, mark out texts with English letter names
  • mark out sentence endings, orthogaphic marks (though not used), ligatures
  • measure line spacing in original and do some test lines for letter height and number of words per line
  • rule a page with a best-guess line spacing based on these measurements
  • start calligraphy, letter by letter
At the highlight of the story, I drew in a line of text and filled it with flat gilding, then inked the outline.

My noticeable mistakes came from looking back and forth between my work and the text, and jumping a line of text. I've scraped a lot of mistakes because of confusing a line of text.

My other struggle was with my reed. One risk of using natural materials is that they're not perfectly consistent, and neither is my reed-cutting. As a result I wrote the second half of the scroll with a finer nib point than the first half.


US Library of Congress, African and Middle Eastern Division: selections of Arabic, Persian and Ottoman calligraphy http://memory.loc.gov/intldl/apochtml/apochome.html

LoC exemplar: fragment of Koran, 11th to 12th century, Kufic hand (Fig 1)

Joumana Medlej's tutorials about learning Arabic letterforms: excellent, accessible introduction to Kufic lettering http://design.tutsplus.com/series/arabic-calligraphy-for-beginners--cms-737

Wikipedia: basic intro to Arab calligraphy. I wish I'd read this at the start.

Calligraphy qalam: a site about Arab calligraphy, in English http://calligraphyqalam.com/index.html

Calligrapher: How to write Arabic letters. Dr. Khalifa Al-Sheemy. TV series, 1/2 hour episodes.

Arabic calligraphy: Naskh script for beginners. Mustafa Jafar, British Museum Press, 2002.

The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin. Baha' al-Din Ibn Shaddad, translated by D.S. Richards (2002). Ashgate. ISBN 978-0-7546-3381-5.

An Arab-Syrian gentleman and warrior in the period of the Crusades: memoirs of Usamah ibn Munqidh. Usamah ibn Munqidh, translated by Phillip K. Hitti. 1927, 1957, 200.. Columbia UP. ISBN 0-231-12125-3.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Catlin le Mareschale's ffraid

This scroll had several firsts, for me:
  • creating an illumination drawing on several examples from one source, the Manesse codex
  • paying close attention to shading, and the order of colour layers
  • asking Ladies Agnes des Iles and Sela de la Rosa to provide a scroll text


For the figure I wanted a lady on a horse, and ideally a dog too; a tree to carry the acorns and oak leaves (badge of the order), and a border that had gold, blue and black for Insulae Draconis.

The lady on the horse came from Manesse Codex 69r. I looked very carefully at her tack and bridle, because Lady Catlin is a rider and would notice the details.

There are a couple of horses modelled like this in the codex - the figures for both humans and animals are very consistent through the codex. The horses' faces are wonderful.

The dog in the lady's arms came from 178r.

The border and tree is courtesy 194r.

For advice on painting I looked at Yates Thompson 49 with its unfinished minatures, which I posted years ago, that showed a piece in progress. 

What I noticed is that the blue, the pure white and the 'flesh' colour and the gray, were done first - other than blue, they were 'pale' colours. So I followed this order as well as I could, after gilding.

I also noticed that the figures' hands were basically mittens - the details (and there are lots of details in the finished pieces elsewhere in the MS) all come later. But it's ok to start with mittens.

For guidance on painting medieval faces, I've long referred to On Visage, an article written by Dame Merouda Pendray, back when the internet was young, hence the Wayback Machine reference. Her article meant painting faces, for me, went from impossible to do-able, if still requiring care.

Pope Felix

Some steps...

Sketching and transferring:


Gilding, white, flesh and gray:


Other colours

Shading, outlining and face finished


For this text I contacted a couple of poets, Lady Agnes and Lady Sela, who agreed to work on a text compatible with the early 14th c image, to celebrate a lady's virtues. I didn't expect them to write it in middle English but sometimes you take a gamble...Agnes sent me the finished piece, and I hope I did it justice.

Ichot a byrde in bourë bryght
Gentil maide that lemëth light
Hire name is Catlin le Mareschale
She is trewë frovringe flour of alle
This stedfast styward is mercie of mede
Rekene as Regnas resoun to rede.
Of every kinnë foul in frith
As faucon she is fyn and swift.
This lufsom lady is leflich in londe
For ryghtfulnesse and beuté
Prowesse, largesse and leauté
Menskful maide, fre to fonde.
I wolde nempnë hyre to-day
Ffraid is the name of that fairestë may.


I know a lady in a bower bright
Gentle maiden who shines light
Her name is Catlin le Mareschale
She is a true comforting flower of all
This steadfast steward is gracious in favours
Ready as Ragna to give advice
Of every kind of bird in the woods
As a falcon she is fine and swift
This lovely lady is beloved everywhere
for uprightness and beauty
excellence, generosity and loyalty,
A noble lady, gracious to know.
I would name her today
Ffraid is the name of that fairest maid.


The text is adapted from several lyrics dedicated to adoration of ladies, found in section I of Medieval English Lyrics and Carols, ed. by Thomas G. Duncan (D.S. Brewer, Cambridge, 2013). The spelling follows the practice of late 14th-century London English. To retain the flavour of the originals I have tried to preserve alliteration where possible, as well as the original conventions and vocabulary.  

Ragna: the early-twelfth-century wise woman who appears in the Orkneyinga Saga, c. 1200. (http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~wpwt/harl2253/ichot/ichotnn.htm, n.42)


Usually my favourite part, but this time I struggled to reproduce the Manesse Codex mix of Gothic angles and curves. 

I was happy with the initial though - it worked up quickly compared to the main illumination.

Overall, I'm pleased with the finished work. I can see all the mistakes, but I'll have a chance to improve in future Manesse-inspired pieces. 

More process pictures are in my Flickr album.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

An indenture for Genevieve and Aodh

I entered this in the Michaelmas muster A&S display, so I wrote up some documentation for it.

Document research and calligraphy: an indenture between a peer and a dependent for Society use

Full indenture

Some pics on Flickr of the top half of the indenture: it was written out twice then cut in half, at our ceremony at Raglan.

Medieval originals

An indenture is a legal agreement between 2 people, written in duplicate, and cut in 2 pieces so each person gets a copy. The earliest form of this type of document is a chirograph, where the space between the two copied texts has 'CIROGRAPHUM' written in large letters, then cut through, showing that any 1 piece was 1 of 2 copies.i The earliest surviving English example dates to 9th century.

The British Library has a cirograph example from 13th century, and indentures continued throughout the period of Society studyii. There's a copy of a chirograph viewable online (an irony, since the point of a chirograph is that the 2 people concerned have their own copies...)

The 2 copies are sometimes cut with a wavy or 'indented' edge to deter forgery, hence the term 'indenture'.

Text research

This indenture is a contract between 2 Society members covering the conditions of service and patronage between a Pelican and a dependent. Robert de Canterbury drafted a very similar document for a knight and squire, which served as modeliii.

The original sources for the text are:
  • a 14th c indentureiv between 2 noblemen that covered their term of services, rate of pay, and benefits - essentially their terms and conditions for going to war.
  • a late 14th c statutev that controlled who can give livery (clothing identifying their followers), in an attempt to prevent certain nobles raising private armies; and requiring that those dependents would not then pursue nuisance court cases against their patron's opponents.
  • a 14th c gild ordinancevi that states that gild brothers and sisters must admonish each other charitably (possibly suggesting they keep internal grievances between themselves rather than going to the courts).

Tailoring text to recipients

While based on medieval examples, the terms and conditions of work for a Society peer and dependent accommodate the kinds of work Genevieve and Aodh do. The details written for them include:
  • 'dalta' is an Old Irish term for 'student of the bard' chosen as suitable for Aodh's early Irish persona. A dalta might (or might not) eventually become a bard, but at minimum got a solid education.
  • 'in peace and in war' means that Genevieve expects Aodh to continue to shoot, and to authorise in armoured combat, for the defense of the principality, just as she trains in art of defence
  • 'charity and hospitality' refers to the typical work of a Pelican: making people welcome, ensuring everyone is fed and clothed, organising activities, building community
  • 'admonishing charitably' refers to the role Genevieve plays as the patron for Aodh

Indenture text

This indenture being made between Genevieve la flechiere, Viscountess and peer of Drachenwald by letters patent on the one part and Lord Aodh O Siadhail on the other part, testifies that the said Lord Aodh stall stand in service to the said viscountess for peace and for war for the term of one year and one day following the date of this document
The lord Aodh having the estate of dalta, and being retained with the said viscountess of the ancient house of Sylveaston for the said term by indenture without fraud or evil device, shall be accorded all the customary rights and privileges, vis of livery, maintenance, counsel, instruction, advancement and defense against unjust harm.
The lord Aodh shall in turn accord the said visountess with service in matters of charity and hospitality at such occasions and tourneys as they shall be mutually conveniently present therat.
The lord Aodh shall also afford the viscountess Genevieve support in matters touching court, law and custom, and the management of her estate as are within his normal competence.
He is bound not to be a maintainor, instigator, barrator, procuror or embraceor of quarrels and inquests in the country in any manner, and shall not know or understand of any manner thing to be attempted, done or spoken against Viscountess Genevieve's person or honour but he shall let and withstand the same to the uttermost of his power.
Should the lord Aodh be in any error or found in any detestable crime, as soon as Viscountess Genevieve knows it she must admonish the lord Aodh charitably that he may gain from it.
Done before noble witnesses this nones of August AS 50, at ffair Raglan.

Document and calligraphy

  • Base: heavy pergamenata, 10”x14”, landscape orientation, pounced with cuttlefish bone, gum sandarac, and pumice powder, then ruled 3mm writing line & 4mm spacing.
  • Ink: Roberson's logwood black
  • Pen: dip pen with gold plated nib, sized for the line height
  • Hand: proto-Gothic, known in England from 11th to 14th c, the hand I find easy and fast for long texts.
The pergamenata, pounce, ink and pen are my typical choices for Society writs and all produce reliable results for me.

I buy pergamenata in large sheets, and then cut it to standard paper sizes, to make them easy to frame.

The biggest challenge of this project was spacing, because it was a long text I had to write twice. I'm accustomed to long texts, but usually only write them once. I'm so used to this that I didn't do a test piece to measure my spacing.

A careful calligrapher takes a small test piece, rules it with the selected spacing and sees how many words fit into a few lines, and then calculates how many lines the text will take. In this case I needed 2 copies of text plus a large space in the middle for the indented cut.

Without a test piece, I made 2 false starts before choosing the spacing that would allow all the text and a space for the indent.

Lesson learned: don't be lazy. Do a test piece and save time.


i. Lowe, K.A., 'Lay Literacy in Anglo-Saxon England: the Development of the Chirograph' in Anglo Saxon Manuscripts and their Heritage, ed. by P. Pulsiano and E. Treharne (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997), pp. 161–204. Courtesy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chirograph

ii Brown, M.P., A Guide To Western Historical Scripts From Antiquity to 1600, British Library, 1990, pp. 78-9.

iii Indenture by Robert de Canterbury: http://forsooth.pbworks.com/w/page/34953753/Vitus%20and%20Katherine
From Clifford J. Rogers (ed.), The Wars of Edward III: Sources and Interpretations (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1999).

v Statute of maintenance and liveries, dating 1390. Select documents of English constitutional history; by Adams, George Burton; Stephens, H. Morse, McMillan & Co, 1901.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Viscounty promissory for Nasr ibn 'Isa

This post is a stopgap, til I get a chance to write more fully about this project.

Short version: I delivered 2 promissory notes at Raglan ffair last weekend.

One was on a wax tablet: a promissory text for Countess Eleanor d'Autun, for her viscounty scroll. When it's actually done, I can reclaim the tablet. :-)

One was a scroll, long planned in collaboration with HG Sir Garick von Kopke, 6th king of Drachenwald; he wrote the beautiful text, and translated it into Arabic so I could copy it, based on a 12th c exemplar.

Because I learned a lot in the process, by the time I finishe the work, I wasn't happy with it and wanted to start all over...but of course, was up against a deadline and could not take the time to do so.

So I offered the first work as a promissory; committing to do the clean copy by Crown, hopefully to submit in A&S at the same time.

In the meantime, I can summarise the project as:

  • get bright idea
  • get help with bright idea
  • do initial research on bright idea
  • discover just how much work bright idea entails, what was I thinking??
  • be too stubborn to give up bright idea
  • get brilliant text that deserves writing and beautiful 12th c exemplar to work from
  • start practicing text and get feel for it, realise why Arab calligraphers are rare and cherished
  • start scroll because of self-imposed deadline
  • finish scroll within self-imposed deadline but unhappy with finished work, now that I know more about how to do it better
  • decide it's a promissory because I can do better

I've put some pictures together on Flickr. I'm not a very good photographer-in-process, so this isn't complete - just some highlights.

Parsing Arabic into mostly-equivalent-Latin letters, in 2 different fonts...with some help:

Helping me study

My desk, with copies of exemplar, my ductus, my text...and a long G&T:
Creating a ductus

Desk view: the calligraphy, the text with parsing, and the ductus:
Layout of text, ductus and work

The finished piece, with flash:
Finished promissory with flash

What I want to share most, though, is the text that HG Sir Garick composed, as a tale of Sir Nasr's time as prince. It's written in the style of the early Arab histories (comperable to tales about Saladin, for instance) and took a bare list of events and turned it into something beautiful.

HLady Lyonet SanzMerci read it in court with all the flair I expected.

It is as follows: what Robert called The most excellent History of the Deeds of the Emir Nasr Ibn Isa Abu Haroun, May he rest always upon the Divan of Peace.

Men marvel at the deeds of ancient kings and princes.  One such was Nasr Ibn ´Isa, known among his confidants as abu Haroun.  In the ancient days the Islands of Dragons, it was held that the most powerful warrior was most fit to lead the army in time of need.  

Thus did Prince Duncan  and his Lady Eibhlin hold a great contest of combat in the far northern portion of the greatest island of his realm.  Some say that he choose this location and the time in the deep of winter that it serve as a test of will, limiting the contest to only the most hardy and worthy.  Others say that he simply choose this time and place as it was in his nature as a native of the northern lands, but god alone knows all.  What man knows is that Nasr was among those who strove in that great combat, and did great honor to the Lady Eleanor.  Thus was he named as captain of the host, and in due time he and his lady did ascend to the seat of justice when Duncan and Eibhlin retired.  

Many are the tales told of Nasr, Prince of men.  Of the epithets given him , the most apt was “far traveler.”  More lands did he visit than there are stars in the sky or sands on the beach.  Not enough for him was to roam the lands, settled and wild, of Insulae Draconis, no.  He traveled by steed and by ship, visiting far islands of his governerate and the wild island of ice and fire in the middle of the great ocean.  

He attended the great fair of Raglan, where he led his troops in mighty battles and displays of arms. Outnumbered and meeting experienced warriors on the field, his troops took heart and were loyal. They thrived under his wise guidance and were faithful to the last fighter, and together lived to fight again. At length he came even to the mighty meridian lands, where he strove in combat and in council on behalf of his King and his people.  

Yet for all this, he was best known in the heart of his holdings for his justice, and his for love of the hunt.  His skill with the noble bow and the art of falconry were on the lips of all, and those of his lady the Princess turned up in joy at the sight of him.  It was his justice that most benefited the land, for on all of his travels he held court, dispensing unto all that which was their due.  The scrolls bearing his seal of witness yet hang from the walls of the mighty to this day, in every stretch of the dragon islands.

At length Prothal, the King of Kings, noting all that Nasr had done for the land and for the people, did grant him great honor, gifting him robes and naming him Companion of the Noblest Dragon.  These gifts were among His Majesty's final act upon the great seat of rule.  Inspired by Duncan and Prothal's example, and in thankfulness to the granter of mercy, Nasr too found it right to end his time before the people and to pass on the burden of governance to another.  

Thus he too held a great combat, with his Princess by his side, and found for them most noble heirs, the true decendants of the first King and Queen to rule the lands, in the the most ancient times when the dragon island had been but a small town in the south of the great isle.  Well pleased with their heirs, Nasr and Eleanor determined to leave the seat of struggle to them and to retire to the divan of rest.

In token of all that he had done of justice and of councils and of striving in tournament and in war, Prince Elfinn and Princess Allesandra Melusine did grant unto the noble Nasr ibn 'Isa a coronet of silver and did raise him up among the exalted nobles, naming him “Viscount” after the manner of the Franks.  

It is said that at this time, twice in two weeks did stars rain down from heaven, and the astronomers did proclaim that the first of these rains was granted by god in honor of Viscount Nasr and his lady for all that they had done, and the second was in honor of Prince Elfinn and his lady in recognition of the justice of their proclamation that was in accordance with god's will.  But as for abu Haroun, done was he with the trials of such mighty signs, and he simply lifted his falcon high in salute and laughed with his lady as he rode to the hunt.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A wonderful surprise

Hello fellow scribes,

some time ago I finished one of my backlog assignment. Vrank von Attendorn's Dragon's Bowle. When it was signed by the King and Queen that handed out this award, I sent it off to the recepient. Now last week I recieved a little package and when I opened it I found a thank you note from Vrank including a personalized medieval fire starting kid. I was so wonderfully surprised I thought I would share.

And that's what I sent to him:

More pictures can be found here: http://kunst-stueckchen-kalligrafie.blogspot.de/2015/03/medieval-faces-mittelalterliche.html

Now I just have to figure out how to start a fire! ;-)

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

I've finally got around to updating my web album of scrolls - I really am lax about that! The last one (really short, "Fuit Homo") is a "thank you" for Tom McKinnell / Antonio di Rienzo's father, for help (much more than mere "translation") with the text for the scroll before, which is in Old English with a Modern English gloss.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A calligraphy set for novice scribes

At Kingdom University just past I hosted a round table show-and-tell: scribes, bring your tips and tricks, and new scribes, if you don't have any yet, bring your questions.

This proved an excellent way to spend an hour chatting about our favourite topics, and demonstrated clearly to me that when you put 3 chatty scribes together you get 4 different ways to draw a straight line.

It was delightful.

Lady Tamara asked an excellent question about 'what basic tools do I need to start?' She was interested in both calligraphy and illumination. Sure enough, she got different advice from different people, but it's still a useful starting point.

SO: I'm posting my idea of a complete novice's kit for Western European calligraphy, that you could buy online for less than £25 or around 33 Euro.

I shop in the UK, so this list relies on UK supplier examples, but I'm hoping folks in Germany, Sweden and Finland can comment on their favourite shops and any special terms in other languages to look for.

Two notes:

  1. This post doesn't cover items like rulers, pencils and erasers. They too are important tools and you can get wonderful specialist versions to make scribing easier, but you can start with whatever pencil, eraser and straight edge you have in the house. 
  2. I used a dip pen to learn calligraphy. While I've tried fountain pens, I prefer my dip pen as an adaptable flexible tool, and teach others the same way.
    It's closer to the quill, which is the ideal medieval tool but isn't for everyone. Your mileage may vary.

Nibs: lots to choose from

For starting calligraphy look for edged nibs, described in English as 'round hand' or 'Italic' nibs: these have a square end, in varying widths. Nice explanation on Scribblers blog. You can get nibs cut on an angle for left-handed scribes, but a lefty can use a square nib, and turn the page to get the correct angle.

Pointed nibs are for copperplate and 'spencerian' (18th and 19th c) calligraphy, and for medieval penwork and flourishing, but not typically for the writing-letters part.

Nibs are about 60 to 80p each. You can buy a single brand's set plus reservoir for about £8. You won't need all of them for scribing SCA scrolls, but it's easiest to learn with a wide nib and work your way 'down' to a small one.

Rerservoirs are small clips that attach to the nibs, to help the nib hold more ink. Find the ones that fit your brand of nib.

Nib holders

Strictly speaking you only need one holder and can keep changing nibs, but that's not much fun.

I do recommend buying solid plastic or wood penholders (the Speedball holder at £1.60 is the best I've found), rather than the standard round penholder, at £1.85, or a lot more) which has an insert that rusts on first use. Don't be seduced by pretty coloured handles!

If you want a holder for every nib, buy a pack of wood penholders 12 for £10.

hexagonal (£3.90) or triangular (£2.10) holder gives you 'edges' to hang onto - these can help you keep control of the angle of the nib, but cost a bit more.


Portentially very confusing because of the range available from traditional to modern.

Here's an example page from a UK shop with a range of inks.

Important terms (in English) to look for:

Inks for calligraphy, for dip pens. Drawing ink is usually thinner and runnier than calligraphy ink and doesn't give the same dense, opaque lettering. However, just to be confusing, some inks are described as suitable for both drawing and calligraphy.

Waterproof  (sometimes called permanent) and non-waterproof: waterproof ink usually has shellac or a hardener in it. If you spill it, it will not come off your clothes, furniture, pets or children.

Non-waterproof is a water-based ink without a hardener: if you spill it you can still mop it up while it is wet. It may become permanent when it dries but you have a hope of getting it off the tiles and table if you catch it when it spills. Ask me how I know...

Personally I prefer non-waterproof inks because of this very reason. While any ink will build up on your pen nib and you need to clean the nib periodically, non-waterproof washes off with soap and water, while waterproof needs a solvent.

Indian, Chinese, or Japanese ink: these terms usually describe an opaque black ink, fine for calligraphy. But it can still vary whether they are waterproof or not, so check the bottle. Chinse and Japanese inks can come in a stick you have to grind and mix yourself, something I've not tried yet.

For beginners I recommend non-waterproof liquid ink for calligraphy, so you spend more time doing letters and less time preparing materials.

Iron gall ink or oak gall ink are excellent medieval-style inks and I use them a lot.

Cornelissen has a nice selection of 'traditional' inks that I've tried: my favourites are the Hax Ink, the Scriptorium Oak Gall, and the Roberson Logwood black.

Be aware that oak and iron gall inks are slightly acidic so they can damage your pens if you let the ink dry on them. Always clean your pens thoroughly.

Acrylic inks have beautiful colours, but acrylic is a completely modern material. I recommend using the available plausibly-period inks rather than acrylic.

If you spend about £5 on pen nibs, £2 on a holder, £5-8 on ink, you still have money for


Pergamenata is my preferred material for scribing: it's a type of artificial parchment from Fabriano that takes ink and gouache well and that I can scrape, a little, like parchment.

It comes in 2 weights (230 grams per square metre, gsm, and 160gsm). The heavier weight is good for scrolls, the light one for 'letters' or cards - it's a bit light for scribing for me.

It comes in large sheets, £2.26 each, that can make between 4-8 scrolls depending on what size you want: 3 A4 scrolls, and 3 smaller ones, plus scraps. That's a lot of scrolls.

Another good paper is heavy watercolour paper, made by Arches or Fabriano. Look for a watercolour block, where the paper is stuck together in a solid block. Watercolour artists can use this as a portable drawing board; usually scribes slice off the top page with a craft knife to use one at a time.

It's 300gsm, where typical printer paper is 75-100gsm.

The hot press (HP) paper has a smooth surface good for calligraphy; the cold press (CP or NOT, meaning 'not hot press') is rougher and while it's good for painting on, it's harder to calligraph. I can't scrape my mistakes off paper, but I can paint over them.

High-quality paper, made with linen or cotton rag not plant fibres, is more expensive than pergamenata (putting me over my ideal budget), but is easier to find.

Any craft has its own special vocabulary and scribing and fine art is no different. Part of learning an art is learning the language and terms for its special tools and materials, and these are not always explained in the shop.

Some reading: 

Please comment on the tools that you think are the most important for new calligraphers to use. These examples are my opinion and I'm happy to hear others!

Cheapest and cheerful-est guide to calligraphy I've found

I had the happy chance to visit Cornelissen & Sons art supplies this week.

This week I found a gem: a small guide to calligraphy written by William Michell Calligraphy, just 12 pages long. Mistress Bridget had shared pages of it with me before, but I'd never found the whole guide.

Reading it all I think it's the best short introduction to calligraphy in English that I've found.

There's some instructions on painting Lombardic capitals and Roman capitals 'signwriter fashion' - using a brush, not a pen, with the brush hand leaning over and supported by your off hand - which is a method I'd not seen explained really well before.

Some gaps in the text: not a lot about line heights, not a lot about layout.

But you could do a lot of calligraphy armed only with this work and a set of line height guides.

I don't know when it was written - sometime after 1925! otherwise I'm uncertain. There's no copyright date or ISBN.

It cost me £4.95.

The Wm Mitchell company has it displayed on their website, but I think this site is intended for trade, not individual shoppers.

Unfortunately I cannot find it in the Cornelissen's catalogue, but you can email them for info.

On line heights:

Scribblers.co.uk have a line-height generator, for printing out a half-page of lines at specific line heights, which is a boon. (Check your printer settings to make sure it prints as-is, and doesn't resize the page between A4 and 8.5x11".)

If you shop at Cornelissen keep your eyes open for a copy.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Great manuscript blogs and tweets

I've been a fan of the British Library for years. I'm very impressed by their digital presence with  new books now available blogs and tweets too.

Through Twitter I've found nifty other blogs and tweeters:

My new favourite, though, is someone who draws on the French national library a lot:

Today's tweet from Jesse made me deeply happy: there's something about the style, the colour and the fineness of execution of this Romanesque C that warms my heart just looking at this image:
Graduale cisterciense.
Link to original: Graduale cisterciense. XIIe s. (3e quart, avant 1174)

If there are more sources of good commentary, images and manuscript geekiness you love, please leave a comment!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Redeeming a scroll


This Coronet past I did a Fox for Constanza of Thamesreach, based on this initial here .  It started out badly:  the gilding was poor; for the first two lines of callig the ink and nib would NOT cooperate.  But then it got better and the calligraphy turned out very well, as did the sheep.  So I spent an hour with the scalpel and got it back to pasing the arm's-length test.

I made it landscape instead of portrait for focus reasons.  I wanted people to see the initial and then the sheepie as an after-reaction, which was succesful.  I used silver paint instead of silver leaf because of time constraints and because of the tarnish factor.  I think this was the wrong choice, sadly.

The hand looks like pretty standard Caroline, but the Rs and Ss look transitional from insular minuscule.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Interlinear glosses in medieval manuscripts

At ID coronet two weeks ago, my evil twin was made a member of the Orden des Lindquistringes, and I had the privilege of doing her scroll. My exemplar, Oxford Bodleian MS Auct. D.4.6., had a large font with a lot of space between the lines, which spaces were filled up with a gloss in a much smaller font. In my interpretation of this, I wrote the text in Latin and then "glossed" it in English -- a proper gloss, part translation, part commentary. I posted the scroll to the SCA Scroll Gallery group on FB, and in commentary on it, someone asked for evidence for similar bilingual interlinear glosses. In the course of rounding up examples, I decided the thing to do was the write a blog post about them.

It's easy to find monolingual interlinear glosses; my exemplar was one. Introduction to Manuscript Studies by Raymond Clemens & Timothy Graham, has a number of other examples, as well as discussion, on pp. 39-43 and pp. 182-183. It took a bit more digging to find bilingual ones, but the results are fascinating:

And while not exactly about glosses, this has some lovely examples of bilingual texts.

For further reading, consult:

  • "Latin and Vernacular Glossing", ch. 1 of Teaching and Learning Latin in Thirteenth-century England: Texts by Tony Hunt.
  • The Culture of Translation in Anglo-Saxon England, by Robert Stanton, starting at p. 34
  • "The Aldhelm Glosses" in The Intellectual Foundations of the English Benedictine Reform, by Mechthild Gretsch.
  • "Syntactical Glosses in Latin Manuscripts of Anglo-Saxon Provenance", by Fred C. Robinson, Speculum 48, No. 3 (Jul., 1973), pp. 443-475.