Now that things are starting to kick back into gear, courts are happening again, and life is slowly starting to return to a new sense of “normal,” it also means that my scribal slate is starting to fill with activities and assignments again.
Back around the very end of last year, I got asked “hey, do you know John Bowyer?” by the incoming Royal Scribe. And I replied that I did (John and I are a terrible twosome in a lot of ways. He and I have travelled to events together, have schemed about shenanigans, and let’s just say that he and I are emphatically not allowed to serve feasts together unless you don’t want a staid feast). John has a primary persona of a 14th century English archer, which informed a lot of what I wanted to use for the aesthetic of his scroll. English grants and charters were (and in many ways are still) used in a way to convey royal assent that an activity is lawful and legal, and in the case of letters patent, literally grant a title to an individual (among other activities that they can also grant). They are, in my opinion, one of the best forms to use for award scrolls in the SCA, though they are perhaps not as pretty as manuscript pages.
So, I did what any other scribe would do looking for grants of arms to get inspired by. I noodled around on the internet. By doing this, I discovered that Queen’s College, Oxford had a grant from exactly John’s primary time period. The ascenders on the top line were my brand of crazy, with outrageous forms, and so, even if I didn’t use this for John, I did make sure that I had it saved for another scroll. That said, this was perfect, so I waited on the scroll text.
Once I had gotten a glorious scroll text from Chiara di Paxiti, who writes absolutely gorgeous texts, I got to work making paint. One of the things that I wanted to do to stretch my abilities was to start using my own paint on scrolls to get a deeper understanding of what a scribe might use in period. That said, unlike a scribe in period, I did not make the binder. The pigments were sourced from a friend who dropped off a veritable treasure trove of samples. I was even given a new muller and seashells to store paint in by a friend in Atlantia. Sometimes, it takes a village to make a scroll.
So, I set to work at a workshop night hosted by a friend, where I made several different paints not only for my project, but also for another friend’s project so she could use period (or good, safe analogs to) paints. As I am also incapable of making small batches of just about everything, I was also able to make at least one demonstration set of paints for another friend out of the paints that I made that night. It was a good shop night.
That said, I also am prone to shenanigans and malarkey, especially when I’m allowed to be a giant goofball. This scroll allowed me to be that giant goofball (when you know the recipient that well, sometimes you get some liberties). A few months before I was assigned the scroll, I purchased some LIT powder from Stuart Semple. It’s a relatively stable set of glow-in-the-dark pigments meant to mix in with everything from acrylic paint base to resin and all things in between. I wasn’t entirely sure I could mix it in as gouache, as some glow pigments react poorly with water, but this is why one experiments. That same shop night, I made a very small batch of blue LIT gouache with commercial binder (yes, I know I could make my own binder, but when the commercial stuff is already pretty close to a period recipe and saves me time in making my own. . . ) to see if it would work and it did. Honestly, the only difference between the period paints and the not-so-period glow paint is the pigment – the binder and the storage methods were period. A plan began to form.
So, given that I now had glow paint, in addition to fairly period and close-to-period paints, I could get to work.
I started with the calligraphy first. I fell hard on my secretary hand for this scroll, which was a “close enough” for the exemplar. I did try to use as many of the cool capitals as I could in John’s scroll, but also, calligraphy is not as much of a strength of mine as illumination is. I went with what I could do and get done, hence, secretary hand. As part of the scroll was going to be folded to account for a pendant seal, I had to make things fit right, and that meant using my Brause .75 nib. I sadly could not make all of the really cool ascenders that the extant had work with the text, but I did as many as I could fit in. I also had to make room for the decorative letter at the top left of the document. Once the calligraphy was laid in, I then could get to work on the details of the decorative letter B which started the entire thing.
The extant has a human representation, which Queen’s College suspects is a representation of Queen Philippa, complete with an escutcheon featuring three sets of arms – the arms of the king of England (Arms of France quartered with the arms of England, blazoned as “Quarterly, I and IV, azure semy of fleurs-de-lys Or, II and III gules, three lions passant guardant in pale Or, armed and langued azure”), the arms of Philippa of Hainault (Arms of Flanders quartered with the Counts of Holland arms, blazoned as “Quarterly, I and IV Or a lion rampant sable, armed and langued gules; II and III Or a lion rampant gules, armed and langued azure.”) and the arms of Queen’s College, Oxford at the base of the letter (“Argent, three eagles displayed, two and one, gules and each beaked and legged Or.”) The extant may have been painted with a paint that may have contained silver, as it now appears blackened, so it is possible that the silver has tarnished.
In this case, I used John’s arms in the part where Queen’s College’s arms are, and then the badge of the order where Philippa’s arms are. As I didn’t have a third set of arms to use, and the extant used the letter E to fill the space, not B, I went ahead and moved my representation of John over to the side and made do with two bits of heraldry, not one. I also wanted to make sure that the people that John was close to were also in the scroll, so I took a major element from his wife’s heraldry (a kingfisher), and perched it on one of the branches of the vines. Does anything of the like exist on the extant? Nope. But also, this is a clear case of not everything having to match the extant. That said, trying to paint a tiny lion on an escutcheon smaller than a dime? I should probably considering buying stock in the company that makes my 20/0s. They got a major workout on this project.
So, remember that bit about “shenanigans and malarkey”? Once the main layout of the initial B was done, I set to work filling in the part where I wanted to hide the badge of the order elsewhere in the scroll. Using glow paint, of course, because the thought of people receiving a scroll that they don’t realize is glow-in-the-dark until much much later amuses me. I carefully painted around the letters that I had calligraphed (pro tip: make sure that if you’re going to do something like this, please make sure that your ink is waterproof. I had to do quite a bit of cleanup where the paint was a little too wet and came into contact with the inked portions). If one looks closely, one might be able to see the almost watermark effect on the natural perg (a very happy accident). (Of note, at the event, about 45 minutes before court, I showed John that I had made glow paint, and he suggested it would be funny to use it on a scroll. Of course, he had no idea what was coming, but I did!)
Lastly, the finishing touch I needed was scroll cord. I had asked John’s wife (without him knowing, of course) if she would be glad to provide some short lengths, and she obliged, making it in his colours out of some glorious woollen threads, which I then pierced the sections of perg that would hold it, and attached them. Once the cords were on, it was time to deliver to Their Majesties. (Of note, when you tell Their retinue that the scroll you’re turning in glows, don’t be surprised to see the scroll spontaneously leave your hands and be transported to a place where one can see the glowing action.)
John was properly gobsmacked, I think. When he was called into court, he was definitely surprised, and moreso when I think he realized or was told that I did the scroll. Totally worth it – I love seeing the reaction of surprise and mirth when my friends are given awards that they so richly deserved.
Speaking of surprises, though – I was also surprised at this event as well! There I was, explaining the ongoings of court to my significant other (this was event #4 for him), when I found that my name had been called. Now, of note to all people in the SCA: if you are called up into court, it is never for bad things – even if you think it is. Courts are a time to celebrate good things and good accomplishments. I didn’t think, though, that we would be celebrating mine.
So, I heard my name, and knelt before Their Majesties. Her Majesty Magda went on to talk about the three scrolls that I had painted being used in that day’s court (two AoAs and John’s Silver Hammer), the blank borders I had painted, the paints that I had made and shared and brought with me, and the little manuscript page from the Nelson-Atkins that won the A&S competition at Gryphon’s Fest the prior October. She mentioned that while They had planned to grant me this particular award at Queen’s Prize (which was somewhat up in the air for me to attend), They also noted that I was at this event, and that They had waited more than enough time and they wouldn’t wait any longer. And that’s when the Order of the Calon Lily (Calontir’s grant level award for the arts) was called in. (The Royal Scribe, Violet appeared on my right side and told me I wasn’t allowed to cry on the scroll. I almost did.) I’m still a little in shock. The scroll I received is absolutely stunning – and while it doesn’t contain the badge of the Order, I’m kind of a bit scared to attempt to paint it, because it’s absolutely amazing. That said, I’m just as surprised as anyone else (seriously, I never thought this day would come), but I am so grateful to the Order and to Their Majesties for making me a part of it. I love that the text for my scroll is full of hate and spite and yet love. I love the intense beauty of it. And I love that my friends are all just as tricksy as me.
I’m here to also say: even if you’re discouraged, keep making. Keep doing. Keep pressing forward. And most importantly, be patient. It’s hard, and I certainly had days (ha, more like weeks and months) where the work just didn’t seem to line up. It can feel lonely, but also we can also directly recognize the people far better than the Crown can at times. Give those tokens and those bits of help where you can. Write your award recommendations. Tell your Crown, your Principality and Baronial coronets, and just about anyone who will listen about your friends who do amazing stuff. It makes our lives as scribes much easier, as well as creating bright spots for others who need that light.
Glow, dear friends, glow.