Imagine it: it’s the end of July. I have just completed a blank border and another scroll (that I still can’t talk about) and no sooner do I finish the blank border, I get a wha-ping from an instant message from a kingdom I don’t even live in.
Turns out, that was a “hey, do you have time/spoons/ability to do a scroll for a friend’s knighting to take place at the end of August?” After calculating how much time I’d need, plus budgeting how much it would take me to mail the scroll, accounting for time and the like, I say “yes” and get to work.
My friend Gwen, who is herself a quite accomplished calligraphy and illumination Laurel, was getting elevated to the Chivalry in Northshield, and she asked through both the Northshield kingdom signet and her knight (so, yes, two wha-pings from instant messages) if I’d be interested. I was given carte blanche to kind of play around, and the biggest request was that I “show my best work.” So, for me, I’ve spent a lot of time working with trompe-l’œil, whether it be the two scrolls I did for Lilies, Gawin’s Cross, or the two blank borders I did while in exile due to the pandemic. It wasn’t period for Gwen, but it’s a style I really like doing and I like that it stretches my abilities. So, I settled on this page from the Almugavar Hours, featuring Saints Onuphrius and Mary of Egypt and decorative border with flowers, angels, and faunal motifs. It had roses (she’s a Countess), and while the page that was the primary influence did not have the laurel wreath, another page in the Almugavar Hours did. (Also, yes, there are parts in the prayerbook that were cannibalized for the art. I’m not happy about that, but it’s one of those things scribes get to work around.)
Oh, did I mention that this was my second ever peerage scroll? And that it was going to a kingdom I’ve been to once? The bar was set pretty high, and yes, I was nervous. So, working with this, I knew that I had to really go big. The text was provided to me from Sofonisba, Northshield’s current kingdom Signet, and it was cool going through the interkingdom anthropology between kingdom scribal ideals.
I definitely wanted to use my handmade paints for this, so I looked at what I had, and realized that it was doable. The main colours that I ended up using were Italian golden ochre, azurite, malachite, vine black, alizarin crimson, titanium white (a substitute for lead white), gamboge, ultramarine, a combo of ultramarine and alizarin to make purple, cadmium red (a substitute for realgar), indigo, raw sienna, burnt sienna, Bohemian green earth, and burnt umber. The piece also called for gold, which I priced at $127 for a book of 25 leaves and therefore out of my budget, so I ended up using my ever-trusty FineTec (square pan) in the shade of Olympic Gold.
When I start with scrolls, I generally start with the pencil outlines first, then launch into calligraphy. This, not surprisingly, was no exception. While the extant is a fairly small book at 5 in by 7.5 in (12.9 cm wide by 18.9 cm high), I went larger. I typically don’t – I like my tiny scrolls. I like staying as close as I can to the size of the extant, however, because I felt that her peerage needed something bigger and bolder, I worked with a 11 x 14 inch piece of pergamenata. I generally also use a 0.3mm mechanical pencil, as it forces me to sketch lightly and the pencil lines are much lighter than if I used a pencil with a thicker lead. Sketching and calligraphy took me the better part of a couple of days. Once the calligraphy was down and dried, with any mistakes carefully scraped off, I proceeded with painting, using a method where I started with light colours first and moved to darker colours.
The next bits are boring – it’s mostly painting, which I have a hard time talking through. I will, however, be glad to share the process through photos.
Of note, the Italian gold ochre was the underpinning for the gold paint, which was lightly stippled on, which provided texture, and a sense of shadow and light-play across the rest of the scroll. Also, not surprisingly, my 20/0s still got a workout with this scroll, especially as I ended up doing a sort of watercolour technique of glazing colours over others (seen especially in the leaves, the shadows, and the little African Grey parrot’s wings). With glazing, I watered my paint down as far as I could without it losing all colour, worked it as dryly as I could, and carefully added details, sometimes layering paint on top of paint. This is risky from an archival perspective, as some paints chemically do not play nicely with others, however, most of the paints that I have are pretty stable and won’t react chemically with one another.
All told, it took me about thirty hours from beginning to end. The next part was mailing it. I ended up Macguyvering foamcore, sandwiching the scroll between two sheets of glassine paper taped to the foamcore with low-tack artist tape, and then taping the foamcore together. I once entered a blank border contest and because the scroll had gotten damaged in travel meant that I couldn’t provide something that I had worked hard on, and I didn’t want that horror story to happen to this. Once it was all sandwiched together, it was off to the UPS Store for mailing and with a wave farewell, I waited to hear if it had gotten to the site okay (it did) and then for photos to see it presented in court.
It is really hard waiting for a scroll that has been done for a couple of weeks to be presented. But, it was worth it, and I’m glad to hear that Gwen loved it. Absolutely worth it, and I look forward to my next peerage scroll assignment at some point.