Saturday, June 16, 2012

Calligraphy & Illumination - Latest Project

The finished product

Occasionally I'll make noises about how I'm into calligraphy and illumination. Medieval books are some of the most inspiring pieces of art in the world.  The skill, resources, time, cleverness, and sheer,staggering amount of work that went into the making of a single book are astonishing.  The books can range from two inches from top to bottom with letters a 1/16 of an inch high, to a full-size lectern book almost two feet tall.

Love the irises!

I've made a study of the arts of calligraphy, and the illumination techniques used to make books before Gutenberg came along.  The way calligraphy hands changed from the round and space-hogging Uncial hand used by Irish monks, to the compressed blocks of Gothic text used by the Normans, to the tall, anorexic humanist hand of Petrarch, because of societal changes, the upheaval of cultural centers shifting about the continent, and even the religious schisms that dot the timeline of humanity is seriously cool stuff. What's even more impressive is the amazing way they mined the natural world for pigments and paints, and the sophisticated way they had to treat their paints because of chemical reactivity and different opacities.

I'm a much better calligrapher than painter. I've never taken a single formal art class, but calligraphy seems to come more naturally to me. I never have to do a calligraphy layout to make sure my text will fit. I can just "see" how much space I'll need, and I pick the nib size without checking more than a letter or two for proportions. This is an unusual gift, from what other people into the art tell me, but I'll be grateful for it, as I really love the zen nature of each stroke.

This is my latest piece, done over a period of about two weeks, in approximately 50 hours or so.  It's based off a German alchemical treatise, dated from 1531, found in the British Library's collection. The ink is my own mix of carbon black, gum Arabic, and water, using a Brause nib. The goldwork on the versal letter (that big capital D) was done with mica powder mixed with gum Arabic.  The miniature was based off an illumination from the same manuscript, and done in gouache, watercolor, and some hand-mixed paints like malachite green, alazarin crimson, and yellow ochre.

*sigh* I love me some calligraphy.
This was done in one shot, no
measuring ahead of time.
The piece was a double Court Baronage award scroll being given in the SCA, to two lovely people, who tend to dress in late period German, so I decided to pick one from that time period and location.

The miniature (the name for the painted picture part) was made up mostly out of my brain. I cobbled together a few of their family portraits, their heraldry, and the border/frame was outright snitched from the original manuscript.  I am a little sorry my time constraint was so tight. I have this sneaking evil suspicion that if I'd had more time, I might have managed to do something really wonderful.

As it is, I am pleased with it.  The flowers in the border are definitely an improvement on my previous attempts at the trompe l'oiell style.  And I'm currently in LOVE with Germany's many fancy gothic hands. They got so creative with serifs, accents, and letter shapes, and their capital letters are SO unique to German books.

So, when I say I do calligraphy and illumination, THIS is what I mean.  :) Love me some book-art goodness.

And for those who follow me on twitter, that's why my avatar is a picture of Christine de Pisan, illuminated in HER book. She was a medieval authoress who wrote and illuminated her own books. And bonus points, she was a feminist when being a feminist got you burned at the stake! She's my heroine.

1 comment:

  1. Really lovely! I wish I could write like that. I've tried and tried, and inevitably failed every time. Sigh.