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

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Master of Defense: Catlin MacKenzie, Raglan XIV

MoD: really truly finished, save signatures.

 Master of Defense writ for Catlin MacKenzie, by hand of Vitus and Isabel

 Calligraphy, gilding, and illumination by Genevieve la flechiere
Wording by Alexandre d'Avigne
Oak gall ink, gouache, transfer gold and water gold size on vellum

Inspired by 14th c Romance of Alexander MS, Bodleian 264

Flickr album of process photos

  MoD: otter and small hounds details.

Detail of the top half


All those who fight with sword and grace
Shall find a most exalted place.
Strong Catlin called le Maréchal
Hath virtue that surpasseth all
So her estate from this day hence
Shall be the Order of Defense
Where with her cousins she shall stand
To help protect the Crown and land.
By letters patent make this known
Say those who sit the Drachen throne,
King Vitus and Queen Isabel
Who know her worth and love her well.
In fifty-three AS, the year,
In August nones , she is a Peer.
Done at our court on Raglan Green
A fairer site has not been seen.

Design brief : 'A 13th or 14th c English scroll.'

Every Society scroll is a compromise between medieval-style artwork, techniques, and materials, and the desire to make an attractive piece of art for a modern recipient.

The original MS is an 14th c Flemish artwork, with English additions. After reviewing the MS I chose the first part of the manuscipt as exemplar (cited as Jehan de Grise & workshop, 1338-44), that showed figures in sword and buckler combat, alongside a beautiful crisp Gothic transitional hand that makes my heart sing.

I conferred discreetly and established that while Catlin can fight with a buckler, if I was going to immortalise her I should use sword and dagger. So Esbiorn her sparring partner has a buckler, in tribute to the manuscript, and she is armed and dressed as she appears on the field.

Original MS is around 41x30cm, in 2 columns. This scroll is an A4 (21x30cm approx) piece of vellum. I did not try to recreate the original's 2-column layout or line spacing. Instead, after a couple of layout experiments, I allowed myself big margins, giving me room for décor and marginal figures.

The marginalia from the original are compressed to fit in narrow spaces, and feature lots of tiny naturalistic birds. The other animals (rabbits, dogs and horses) are more stylised (ie they don't look like real-life drawings). I've added a stylised otter, some small dogs, and a hybrid, to represent Catlin's heraldry, pets, and fencing don.

Some inspirations

I started by paging through the manuscript online, looking for pieces to put together. This A suited me for size and floral features. The rabbit running along the top became an otter.

Capital A for inspiration

The combat scene, f 109, with king watching, which inspired the bas-de-page.

The musical hybrid became the basis for including HE Antonio in the margin.
Some images inspired the work, but didn't make it into the final.
Sparring in recognisable I.33 postures. These figures are smaller than mine, with beautifully modelled features.

I really wanted to work this musician in, but ran out of space.
Lord Nicholas d'Estleche found me a fine otter as model. Otters have low round ears, long strong bodies, strong back legs, and are typically shown eating a fish. 

I also lifted some photos From Another Place, so that I had references for postures, and the colours of clothing people wore. I kept all the clothing consistent with 14th c look, but used the colours they typically wore to suggest who they were (mainly for Catlin and her lord Esbiorn).

For the king and queen, I shamelessly used the medieval 'making people look like idealised figures, regardless of what they actually look like' gambit. So King Vitus bears a glorious head of blonde curls, and Queen Isabel has cascading locks to her waist, as good royalty should.

They both wear wide-necked fitted gowns with cloaks and proto-tippet sleeves, drawn from the manuscript illustrations. Adding texture to the gowns made them richer, and all the nobility in the original manuscript have patterns in their gowns.

New-to-me skills

I'm a calligrapher first and foremost, and have learned just enough gilding and illumination to accompany my texts. For this piece I chose a model that would stretch both my gilding and illumination skills.

For gilding, I've used Roberson's water gold size (a modern glue designed for gilding) and transfer gold. These are the 'mid-range' of tools for illuminators in both authenticity and skill level. I was pleased that I successfully laid 3 layers of gold (previously only managed 2 on a piece), and got good coverage throughout the piece.

Transfer gold is real gold, mounted on glassine paper, to make it easier to handle than loose leaf gold. The water gold size gives good sticking power and a nice raised shape, and you can burnish (polish) it gently. The downside is that only loose leaf gold and gesso give the smooth mirror shine of medieval raised gold, and I've not mastered that skill yet.

For the illumination, I've used 'artists' (good-quality) gouache, and some bleedproof white watercolour for highlights: the 'mid-range' materials for skill level and authenticity.  Modern gouache is made of pigment (mix of 'authentic' and artificial modern pigments), with water and gum arabic as a medium (the liquid that forms the paint paste), It also contains chalk, which makes the colours opaque. Watercolours use many of the same pigments as gouache, but stay transparent.

To make the work more authentic I could use raw pigments mixed with egg yolk (egg tempera), or mix them with gum arabic and water to make my own watercolours.

Good stuff

I enjoyed working on vellum, as always. 

This time I enjoyed working out the layout to allow not just the bas-de-page but a few other details as well. The original manuscript is a marvel, and contains a lot of inspiration for future pieces.

Areas to improve

The hardest part of the work was sketching figures freehand, and then painting them.

In previous occasional illuminations, I had traced figures from paper printouts of illuminations, sized on a photocopier. This time I had to sketch freehand, staring at my computer screen, which does not give the same results. The longer you stare at a stylised medieval figure, the more details you see, and you realise the skill of the artists in conveying so much movement and expression in such tiny faces and hands.

My flowers and initials are making progress, but the figures still have a long way to go. I still struggle with getting drapery right. I know the technique for faces, but doing them is still pretty scary. 

I had one wholehearted mistake, where I tried to gild before the size was dry. It made...a splotchy mess. And the vellum is extremely fine, so I was concerned I'd scrape right through it if I wasn't careful.

I scraped as much as I could, and then, on Lyonet Schwarzdrachen's suggestion, mixed up a very small amount of rabbit skin glue to support the area. I burnished this down, and touched up the area with a gouache mixed to match the colour of the vellum. It's not perfect, but it was an improvement on the original splotch.

Medieval scribes, and patrons, put up with actual holes in their vellum - these occur when the animal skin has flaws from injuries or insect bites. Holes are sometimes ornamented, sometimes stitched closed, sometimes just ignored and worked around. SCA scribes and patrons have higher standards!

Labour tally

This is hard to judge because I started slowly.
I reviewed 3/4 of the manuscript, to choose the perfect figures. I changed my mind about the layout, which accounts for a lot of time. I did 2 test layouts (ie writing out the whole text on a test page) before committing to the vellum. Trying new things meant I was cautious and did more testing before committing to the final piece.

Poetry composition: unknown
Research: 12 hrs
Test layout and practice pieces: 10 hrs
Layout and calligraphy: 2 hrs
Gilding: 4 hrs
Illumination: 10 hrs (whole of BBC Pride and Prejudice mini-series, plus some ST:TNG episodes)
Finishing: 2 hrs
Documentation: 4hrs