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

Thursday, September 18, 2008

making it look more medieval

Because my artistic skills lie in copy and rearranging rather than coming up with things out of my head, I pretty much always have an exemplar which I follow as closely as I can (though usually simplified) whenever I'm making a scroll or other illuminated piece. And each time when my result doesn't come out looking like my exemplar, part of me is disappointed (but it doesn't bother me too much, because the other part of me is marveling in slavish awe, "Wow, you did that? That's amazing! Isn't it pretty! Oooh, shiny..." -- this is connected to one of my personal hints for scroll making: gold paint is always a good addition), and the impartial observer in me always wants to know why. If I can isolate why my C&I projects don't look like medieval ones, then I can work towards fixing that.

In the last year, I've come up with a number of reasons, all of which I've been working at addressing one step at a time:

  • Paper. My first illuminated pieces were done on watercolor paper, which works for thank-you cards, but doesn't really work for scrolls. So my next scroll I did on parchment, which was amazing; not only did the end product look so much nicer, it was so much nicer to work with! Unfortunately, I cannot afford real parchment for every scroll, but pergamenta isn't so bad.

  • Whitework. The presence or absence of whitework really makes a tremendous difference. My first forays left me with much to be desired. And then I started looking more closely at digitized MSs online where you can really zoom in, and realized, you know, when you look that closely, it doesn't look that much different than mine. So if it's a choice between bad whitework and no whitework, definitely go for the former, if you want the medieval look.

  • Layout. Every single grant or confirmation of arms that I saw at the London Guildhall Library two weeks ago was oriented in landscape. Funnily enough, even before I saw all those examples and I'd decided to make all future AoA scrolls in layout format, I'd already done my most recent scroll in that format.

  • Text. Calligraphy is definitely my strong point; there are some hands that I feel very comfortable with and feel like I can mimic my exemplars quite closely. But even when I use those, the overall visual effect doesn't seem right. I figured out the reason some years ago: the visual effect of a text is based on the distribution of the letters used, and that distribution is simply different if the text is in Latin vs. if it is in English; we see so many medieval MSs that are done in Latin, but we make so many of our own in English. So I've started doing my scroll texts in Latin.

I do the latter partly for the visual affect, and partly because it allows me to make more authentic scrolls for people who have non-English personas (since Latin is appropriate for most of the period and locations that the SCA covers, and it's the only non-English language I have any comfort translating into). One of the things I enjoy most about Latin-language scroll texts is something that excites the herald, not the scribe, in me, and that's getting the right Latin form of the recipient's and bestowers' names. In most cases this is fairly straight forward, but sometimes in developing the right Latin form of the name I find out something I didn't know before, which allows me to be sure that my choice of Latinization is authentic. Normally if the wording I'm using contains a blazon, either of the recipient's arms or of the badge of the order/award, I leave the blazon in "blazonese" rather than translating it, but when I was doing my translation for the Lindquistringes scroll, I found that keeping the blazon in there untranslated really looked poor, in part because the Lindquistringe's badge isn't really a badge, it's an actual piece of regalia and the blazon reflects this. So it seemed natural to also describe the physical ring in Latin terms, rather than putting the blazon in.

My most recent scroll takes into account all of these things that I've learned, and I'm really pretty happy with how it turned out. I'm constantly looking out for more points where what I'm doing differs from what is in my exemplars, in hopes that eventually I can do something about them as well.

What about the rest of you? What are the things that you've isolated and changed about your own work to make it look more medieval?


Ysabella-Maria said...
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Trinite Ducalon said...

I most certainly agree with your observations, and add one more...
Size is a big thing for me. I used to work rather large because it seemed right... I mean, this was an award... going on a wall... but the smaller I started working, the better the layouts worked and the proportions were better. I don't do anything larger than 8x11... usually smaller... but even on the 8x11 the actual piece is smaller. I have not gone tiny yet, but that is coming...

Genevieve la flechiere said...

My changes are much like Ary's:

- move from paper to pergamenata; parchment on the shopping list once I'm rich again
- use dip pens vs cartridge pens, and learning to use quills, though not quite ready to use a quill for a scroll to give away
- use good quality non-waterproof ink; I've just tried out an oakgall ink from Corneilssen, and it's lovely!
- do 'working documents' style wherever possible, with texts based on period wordings when I can. My lord Robert is good at such wordings!
- learning ornamental penwork (slowly). Penwork is a cheap and cheerful ornament on all sorts of docs and books. Not all of it is the mad glory of the puzzle initials that Bridget and Emma do so beautifully. Some is much more achieveable, and even appears on the 'working documents' I like.
- using a slope! :-) :-)

Aryanhwy merch Catmael said...

Genevieve, what type of pen do you use for your penwork? Or, if you're using a dip-pen, what kind of nib? I love the way pen work looks and would liek to learn how to do it myself, but I don't know where to begin.