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

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.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

More Romanesque inspiration

I can always rely on 12th century manuscripts to lift my spirits and make me say, 'Yes, that's what I want my work to look like'.

Recent AoA given at Coronet tourney in Insulae Draconis:

The original is part of Arundel 91, one of my go-to sources.

The original is f.145.

I'm still searching for The Perfect Red(tm); the red that matches the red in the manuscript, which is bright without being vermilion, and is slightly translucent.

I've shopped around...and am still trying to find my perfect match.

It was these recent AoAs that prompted me to ask if scribes would be happy filling in armory and blazons in existing scrolls, and the response so far is overwhelmingly yes. I'm heartily glad of it.


BE IT KNOWN that We, Leif and Morrigan King and Queen of Drachenwald, finding Ourselves in receipt of good reports on the work of Our noble servant
Mícheál of Dun in Mara

concerning his service at shire events, his work in our kitchens, and his commitment to the defense of our lands, do award him Arms.

In witness whereof We have set our hand this 29th day of November, Anno Societatis XLIX  in the second year of our reign, at Insulae Draconis tournament of succession and Yuletide University.


Beautiful series of Romanesque capitals

The Bibliotheque nationale de France's online resources have improved greatly since I started surfing the intawebs.

Courtesy of Manuscript Art blog: some lovely fluid Romanesque capital letters in Greek and Latin. For the hard-to-find Ks, Ws, Xs, Ys and Zs in your life.

Pontificale Senonsense, dated 1175-1300.

In Greek:

Pontificale Senonense.

...and in Latin

Pontificale Senonense.

Monday, December 01, 2014

AoA for Sela de la Rosa

A favourite style, with new touches

This is an AoA given this past weekend at Insulae Draconis Coronet tourney.

I've done several scrolls modelled on the same manuscript, a copy of Chaucer's translation of Roman de la Rose Hunter 409, at UGlasgow.

I love it because it is mostly calligraphy, the illumination is very light, and there's lots of white space.

Example of original, f 19:
Manuscript - full page

For this scroll, I used a quill throughout for the calligraphy. The quill softened a bit through the work, so the lettering isn't as crisp at the bottom as at the top.

I also gilded the initials rather than using gold gouache.  I'm (still) using a modern gesso, so it is not mirror-polished as it should be, but it held up well.

I'm more comfortable handling gold than I was when I started using this MS as an example; it doesn't scare me anymore.

The grubbiness in the image is from the scanner, not the scroll!

I'm also happy with the whitework and penwork: saving it til the morning, and doing it before my coffee, really does make a difference.

Here's the text of the scroll, based on one of my favourite sources, Castiglione's book of the courtier: his appendix includes a list of virtues in a courtier and in a waiting gentlewoman, explaining what a literate Renaissance man thought were important character traits. In the text, letter Y stands in for the 'thorn' letter.

From ye prince and princess to whom these presents show God grant you good health & peace be upon you.  
Having heard ye goodly reports of ye gentlewoman Sela de la Rosa, to wit – being well born, of a good house and wel brought up, having the vertues of the minde, being learned and havinge a sweetenesse in language and a good uttrance to entertein all kinde of men with communicacion woorth the hearing, devisinge verses and poesie to the joy of the companie, she apparail herself so in meete garmentes that best become her of some darkish and sad colour, not garish. 
In our sight she hath made her self beloved for her desertes, amiablenesse, and good grace, not with anie uncomelie or dishonest behaviour, or flickeringe enticement with wanton lookes, but with vertue and honest condicions.  
Therefore that alle these facions, skills & virtues may be commune to a greate many we Nasr and Eleanor, prince & princess of Insulae Draconis, do award her armes with Alle rights and priveleges, etc.  
Done this xxix day of Novembre AS XLIX at Yuletide University.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

lots of flowers

This scroll was done ages ago as a blank and then the Signet of ID asked for scribes. I thought this would be a good scroll to use.

Gouache and oak -gall ink on pergamenata. Took about 40 hours to do this scroll which was way over my initial estimate but the tiny shading takes a log time especially as it is all layers upon layers.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Macclesfield Fun!

After my first attempt copying from the Macclesfield alphabet, I was hooked. Now I want to do All The Macclesfields! But for a recent project, I restricted myself to nine, seven of which are here:


Friday, June 06, 2014

Making of Baron Marcus' Stormarn Court Barony and Mistress Bridget's Sigilum Coronae

Hello fellow scribes,

For Double Wars XXVII I had the honor and worry to do two scrolls for two people very dear to my heart! Mistress Bridget's Sigilum Coronae and Baron Marucs Court Barony.

It was quite challenging to do both of them for different reasons. you can read and see more of the making of on my blog http://kunst-stueckchen-kalligrafie.blogspot.de/.

Please feel free to chritique either here or on my blog!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A new year

I would like to remind all scribes that as of May1st we are welcoming in a new Anno Societatis year. It is now AS 49 or XLIX.

Happy New AS Year!

Monday, April 28, 2014


Because it's always good to be reminded of just how much whitework improves a piece:

pre post

You can read more about this scroll here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Books for free from the Getty

Getty Publications Virtual Library

Free digital backlist titles from the Getty Publications Archives


Lots of titles can be downloaded as pdf files for free. Have fun!

Margaret de Mey's Pelican scroll.

Margaret de Mey is one of Drachenwald's treasures. This past weekend she was elevated to the Order of the pelican. this was the scroll. If you wish to see a WHOLE lot more pictures and read up about the making of then hop on over to my other blog and check it out but be warned it's super image intensive.