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Thursday, March 8, 2018

I'm writing a novel

Well. I'm sort of writing a novel.

I'm actually still in the world building stages currently and have yet to write my first scene, but I've been given advice suggesting I should start creating “buzz” now. So here I go:

Basically, this started out as a gaming campaign idea, over ten years ago. I've been calling it The Pilgrimage almost that entire time, as far as I can recall. The gaming campaign has since evolved into an idea for a novel, and the more I flesh it out, the more I realize it will likely take more than one book to tell it.

Yarina Webster is a weaver in a small town on the edge of the Barrens in the Solar Hierchy of Kadri. Life in Kadri more or less revolves around the Solar Hierarchy and its tenets, observing festivals and attending service and what have you. It is expected that everyone will go on pilgrimage to the capital of Kadri at least once in their lifetimes. Yarina, though, was always a sickly child, and still has good and bad days now that she's grown. So she’s put off making the pilgrimage until her childhood best friend, Velian, now a priest, comes and cajoles her into making the journey with him.

On the way there, their little group of travelers is attacked by the Misbegotten, monsters that aren't supposed to exist outside of fairy tales. When the survivors try to report what happened, the Solar Hierarchy, eager to cover up the attack, sentences Yarina and the other pilgrims to death for heresy. Velian either smuggles them out, or is able to get their sentence commuted, I haven't decided which yet, but either way they end up in the Barrens, the dead wasteland that surrounded Kadri on all sides. There they meet Shan, a fellow exile who almost certainly can't be trusted, who tells them that the only way they'll survive is to make it to the Storm Wall, a mythical, magical boundary that provides the only source of water for the entire Barrens.

What follows is a tale of adventure, exile, betrayal, and trust, that tests not only their faith, but everything Shan, Velian, and Yarina thought they ever knew. There will be magic, and gods, new lands not seen in centuries, and old tales not heard in just as long.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I've been world building for this story for the past several days, trying to pin down character arcs, paint the broad strokes of a plot, and map all the places they'll go. At some point, though, I'll have to stop fretting over these details and actually get to putting words on the page.

So, does this sound like something you would be interested in hearing more about? If it is, drop me a comment!
And of course, if you're willing, I'd love it if you could show your support for my work by buying me a "coffee" on No obligation, though! It's just sort of a tip jar for people who have said they want to thank me with more than just kudos and comments.

Hope you're having a great week!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

I'm a terrible weaver

...but I have fun with it, when I can be bothered to set up the loom.

Here is the loom, with my kid as a size reference. I built and then modified the loom using directions found in the book Kids Weaving by Sarah Swett. She's apparently a renowned tapestry weaver with a webpage of her own, and her original instructions give you a slightly smaller loom that is set up to manage plain weave (the basic over-under-over-under weave that you learn in art class in school). I wanted to be able to make larger projects and also to do twill, so I modified the construction after a while so that I would be able to use three shafts instead of just one.

Here is the loom, all dressed up for one of my first projects. Annoyingly, these are some of the only pictures I can find, even though I've done two projects since this one. This little thing was meant to be a proof-of-concept scarf, but it shrank and became more of a belt by the time it was done.

The white string that you see coming off the horizontal cross bars are called "heddles" and they are one of those little inventions, like the wheel, that are now ubiquitous but which completely revolutionized human culture. Without heddles, fast, complex weaving simply isn't possible. Making enough fabric to clothe a human being would be possible without them. And you can make them with string!

And finally here is the project underway. In the middle you can see an error I discovered after it was too late, that altered the twill pattern. Lucky it didn't hurt the weave, just made it look weird.

So this was 2015. If I can find more pictures, I'll be sure to post them. I'm still a pretty terrible beginning weaver, but I enjoy it as a way to pass time when I don't have anything else going on. I've bought far too much yarn considering how little I actually use the loom right now, but I'm hoping to get back to it before too much longer. In 2017 I took the loom with me to Pennsic and attracted a little bit of (favorable) attention from people who were curious about the loom itself, rather than any skill I myself might have had. I finished off another belt while I was there that has a lovely zigzag pattern in the weave. Three shafts, man. You can do all kinds of nifty things with three shafts.


Advancing the finished fabric around the frame of the loom as I progress some more.

The finished belt thingy! Very soft and pretty; not too bad for a first project.

Let me know if you want to see more; I finally found all my weaving photos and I'll probably upload them even if I don't get any comments here. I'm trying to catch up from my lack of blogging for th past little while. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A little bit of ancient history

Okay, not really. But I've spent the past few days going back and organizing my photos from my phone so that it would be easier for me to post here, and going back through old blog posts to see what all I've talked about, and I discovered so many things that I never told you or showed you! Holy goldfish, it's been a lot.

I mean, in 2015, I taught myself how to weave. I'm still pretty terrible at it, but I enjoy it when I can motivate myself to dress the loom. Weaving is like sewing, or like cooking or painting a room: they call it "painting", but 90% of your time is spent preparing to paint, not actually painting. With weaving, most of your time is spent putting the string onto the loom and making sure you don't have any tangles in it, and that the pattern is set into the loom (I'm trying to avoid technical talk here), before you can actually sit down and do any real weaving. But yeah. I learned weaving, and there are no pics or posts or even a tag on this blog for it. For shame!

In 2016, I participated in a project called "Calf to Codex". If you're a knitter, you may have heard the phrase "Sheep to Sweater" or "Sheep to Shawl". It's where someone starts with the raw wool, cards it, spins it into yarn, dyes it, then knits it, start to finish, every step of the process. Calf to Codex was like that. People took donated animal skins (actually mostly deer, but "deer to codex" doesn't have the same ring to it) and turned them into parchment; the organizer collected poems and songs pertinent to the SCA Middle Kingdom's history and origins (because of course this was an SCA project, no one else is quite that insane); we used ink made from a period recipe and goose quills for pens, hand-ground pigments and binders for paint, genuine gold leaf for the gilding and period binders to stick it to the page. Then the pages were gathered and stitched together using linen thread that was spun from flax grown by SCA gardeners; the silk thread used for the decorative stitching at top and bottom was gathered from an SCA silkworm expert who grew the caterpillars herself; the cover was made from hand-planed oak boards covered with leather that was no only hand-tooled, the guy who did it, built his own leather-working tools from wood and brass.

The idea was to show that we have the skill sets and craft know-how within the SCA to set up an industry like this, or at least to recreate it, from start to finish. Between flax growers, chicken farmers (two of the paint binders were egg yolk and egg white which came from period breeds of chickens, because, again, we're insane that way), the silkworm lady, parchment makers, various poets and minstrels, calligraphers, illuminators, the bookbinding team, and the leather-worker, we totaled about 75 people on a project that took five years to complete. It's beautiful, though. A little smelly, because the parchment makers were still perfecting their craft--but the end result should last a few hundred years and is an excellent example of just what we're capable of when we put our minds to it.

My daughter assisted me with some of the illumination. I did calligraphy and illumination, and also took a course on medieval music notation, to write the first song of the book out as music rather than only lyrics. I also got to write a translation of a period book curse: basically, "Don't steal this book OR ELSE".

So that was 2016.

In 2017, I made scrolls, including several to meet our then-king's demand (request) to help get us caught up on a number of overdue awards that had been missed due to a glitch in our award recommendation database. I also got to see one of my close friends from years ago elevated to the highest honor we have for arts, the Order of the Laurel, and got to make her scroll for her. There are, of course, many pictures.

Throughout the past two or three years, I've been doing henna, but recently joined an online "club" for henna artists and discovered that, wow, my skills are not what I thought they were. My confidence in that area is a little shaky, but then, as one of the phenomenal artists said to me, it's not a race. We're not competing with one another. We're all making henna and adding beauty to the world. If I worked 40 hours a week on henna the way a lot of these ladies do, I'd definitely be more skilled than I am presently. As it is, I get about eight hours of practice in, once a month, for five months out of the year. And people still like my work! So instead of being ashamed, I should maybe consider just practicing and using up old henna.

But yeah. I've been busy, I just haven't had much motivation to show it here. There's a blogging app on my phone that works okay, but not great, and getting all those photos organized was definitely an obstacle to posting anything here. However, I hope to post a little at a time over the next few weeks and get caught up to present day, and maybe motivate myself to get something else started again; I'm looking at getting back to my mosaics here in the winter months, or starting a new weaving project. We'll see what happens.

Let me know what you're interested in seeing, and I'll try to post that first!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Various and sundry

I have done so much in the past year that I've forgotten to blog about (or been too inconvenienced, or whatever), I hardly know where to start to cover it all. I mostly want to boast about the calligraphy I've done since my "finishing touches" post from back in January. You see, the recipient of that work was so pleased with what I did that they decided to thank me with a gift of art supplies.

MANY art supplies. EXPENSIVE art supplies.

It's been a year and I'm still flabbergasted, and grateful every time I open my new tool chest and pull out one of my new tubes of really high-quality paint. Friends, I am here to tell you that with art supplies, you truly do get what you pay for, and good paint is worth its weight in gold. I couldn't believe how handicapped I'd been just by having poor supplies in the past and not realizing how poor they were.

Just as an example, look at the white work in the detail photos from the previous post. See how translucent it is? You can see through it in places, and getting good coverage might mean doing the same step two or three times to get enough paint to stick; and of course every repetition is another chance for a mistake or an accident to happen.

No more. I have got some stuff called Doc Martin's Bleed-Proof White, and holy goldfish does it cover.

....annnnd, I'm trying to get my photos off my phone and onto my computer so I can include them in this post, and of course they're not coming. Here's one, though:

Text is just "Gloris in excelsis deo", "Glory to God in the highest". But zoom in, if it will let you, and LOOK at the white and how crisp it is on this piece. Bleed Proof White. I'm never going back to anything else. And the quantity I got, just a one-ounce jar I think (?), should last me for over a decade, easily.

If I can get my photos off my phone and into my blog more easily, I will be able to post more often. This is something I did early last year for a Catholic supply store that provides books, figurines, rosaries, that kind of thing. The owner thought her clients might like something like this.

If you like my work, considering "buying me a coffee" with the button to the right of this post.

Coming up, hopefully, a few pictures of the weaving I started teaching myself last year and the year prior. I can't believe I have no pictures of it here on this blog! Weird.


Monday, December 18, 2017

Where have I been?

Oh dear.

I've been busy, or tired, or just generally neglectful. But I have at least been making art and writing stories, and once the holidays are over perhaps I will get back into the habit of posting here regularly. That's a good New Year's resolution to make, isn't it?

Some highlights:

  • A Laurel scroll (very high award in the SCA) for an old friend of mine, well deserved and long overdue.
  • Taking up a challenge and producing eight or nine other scrolls as part of a massive effort to get overdue awards to people. If I remember right, nearly 200 people produced something like 600 scrolls in 20 weeks.
  • Writing even more fan fiction, including the completion of my first series, which includes two novels and three novellas, as well as a collection of deleted scenes.
  • Plenty of henna at various street festivals in town.
  • Plenty of singing for the Lafayette Chamber Singers.
But yes, I'm feeling a bit tired and it's been hard to motivate to blog about all the stuff I've been up to. Sorry for leaving my readers hanging (all two of you). Facebook and Tumblr are probably to blame as well, heh.

In other news, I'm setting up a Ko-fi page, sort of like a tip jar for online creators. If you like what I've done for you, and if you're the sort of person who might buy me a coffee if we were in person, consider dropping by my Ko-fi page instead.

Hope you have a great holiday season no matter what you celebrate (or if you celebrate), and I'll do my best to get you some pretty pictures soon.


Monday, February 6, 2017

My most recent project

A local gallery owner has offered to hang one of my pieces in her shop with the promise that if it doesn't sell, she'll buy it herself! That's not the kind of offer that comes along every day, so I've finally gotten off the couch and done something about it.

Step one is gilding, as always. I wanted to do raised gold but ran into several problems and ultimately had to scrap the piece and start over.

Base colors are next, followed by shading, highlighting, and outlining. Here's the finished piece.

And a detail shot of one of the flowers.

I'm pretty happy with how it came out!

posted from Bloggeroid

Monday, January 23, 2017

Finishing touches

I actually handed off the finished scroll this weekend! Here's what I did after the water was cleaned up.

All the work I'd put in on diapering was actually just base coat, believe it or not, and it was necessary to finish it with detail work in white.

Step one. Add a curvy square shape inside each colored square. I've heard these called "pillow shapes".

Step two. Insert a little loop on each side of the pillow, so it looks like you drew pointy leaves.

And step three, insert a little flick of the brush to look like a vein in each leaf.

You'll do this in white on the blue squares and yellow on green. White on green was rarely done, because the usual pigments used would react with one another chemically and turn black.

The images above should show that the red squares are simply "chained together" with connecting diagonal lines. This was a common motif but by no means the only one. Diapering was really popular throughout the Middle Ages and there were probably hundreds if not thousands of different styles used.

The images should also show some of the white work done in the borders of the miniatures.

I also did a little white highlighting of the vines, but by this point I was getting pretty tired of painting, and I didn't take any pics of that. I completely skipped outlining the vines because I was feeling really lazy by that point.

What else did I do, let's see... I outlined capitals and initials, but I think I already showed you that. Here's a before-and-after version of the initial D.

The lighting probably isn't the best to show it off, but the outline really wakes up the entire letter against the paper.

One last image: the finished piece.

The recipient should get it in their hands within a week or so. They've already seen pictures and are very happy with the work and already talking about how to repay me. I tried to discourage them, but they weren't having it. Making scrolls is my hobby just as fighting is theirs; I don't do it to get a reward, I do it because it is rewarding in and of itself. Still, if someone really wants to say "thank you", I've learned that it's not really my place to deny them that... within reason.

And that's the scroll! I'll be settling back down to regular assignments for now, and getting back to writing and editing now that this big project is off my plate. As always, I learned a lot to carry with me into the next project whenever it comes along.

posted from Bloggeroid

Friday, January 20, 2017

Montessori demo

On Wednesday I went to the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette at the request of teacher Emily Frazier to discuss life in the Middle Ages with her mixed class of 1st- through 3rd-graders. I didn't have much of a talk prepared, figuring that the kids would end up leading the topic wherever it wanted to go whether I had a speech planned or not. I planned to talk a little about how books were made ("imagine having to copy out your own school book instead of just buying one or having one at the school"), and then a little about calligraphy and illumination in general. I mean, they're fairly young kids, getting too deep just wasn't going to work.

Letting them lead the discussion was definitely the way to go, once they got warmed up.

Favorite question: "Are you a real life pirate?"

I passed around some of my art supplies, and they thought it was cool that I kept my paint in seashells, and also that I could paint with dirt. (Yellow ochre, burnt umber, and a number of other colors are derived from clay or stone.)

Of course, they also thought it was cool that I knew real blacksmiths, and I discovered that way too many of these kids own their own bows and arrows.

I also had photocopies from my portfolio to pass around for the kids to look at.

Eventually the class split in half, with one group going to Spanish and the other staying with me. I wrote each kid's name in a different alphabet that I could remember, and illuminated a single capital for each group. We did an H for me, and an E for their teacher, Miss Emily. The kids thought it was really cool that I could paint with such small brushes, and write with quills. I was asked if this ink was homemade (because I'd told them that I had made my own ink in the past), and they seemed a smidge disappointed that it wasn't.

Illuminated capitals with some simple white work.

The teachers wrote later to tell me that the kids loved the demo, and that the other teachers at the school were really jealous, which I guess is a good thing when you're a teacher? I dunno. I've also been told that they contacted our SCA group to see about arranging a larger demo in March or April. The theme at that point will be "defense", and I strongly suspect that we would end up besieged by little kids with marshmallow catapults at that point.

So that was what I did with my Wednesday afternoon. It was a blast, and I'd love to do it again sometime. Thanks again to Miss Emily, Miss Marilyn, and all the kids for a great time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fixing water

I won't actually be able to work on the scroll today very much, because I'll be preparing to speak at the local Montessori school as part of their medieval unit, and I'll need to bring some of my supplies with me. But a couple days ago, I made enough progress that I could have blogged twice and didn't, so now I get to catch you up with where I actually am.

I had a problem with the water in my battle scene. The paint didn't go on very solidly and gave a really patchy look, which I was willing to ignore except it was pointed out to me that it didn't actually look very period. It just looked messy.

So the first thing I needed to do was add another coat of the blue, and try to make it more opaque. 

It turns out that a lot of period manuscripts didn't even bother with "blue" water, making it more blue-gray, or even gray-green or brown. As Mark Calderwood put it in our conversation, "Should be a slate/miserable cold english waterway i'm not getting in that are you mad colour."  So after I got the blue down, I needed to add a thinner wash of grayish-blue to try and fix it.

A note about me: I tend to do art very cautiously. It's one reason all these fussy details come out so well for me, but it also means that when it comes to, say, mixing colors, I'll be convinced I've gone way too dark when in fact I'm only halfway there. So these pictures aren't actually gray enough, but they're still better than they were to start with.

Finally, the "waves" were added to make it look recognizably like water. Bear in mind that the effect here wasn't to be lifelike so much as symbolic and, again, recognizable. A five-year-old could look at this blue wavy stuff and go, "That's water!" and that was the effect I was going for.

If I want, I could probably go back in and add even more gray to the blue bits that are still showing, to try and dull the water even more. We don't want it to detract from the main focus of the scene, which is all these bloodthirsty people trying to kill each other, so if it's too bright, I may still go back and do that.

Once the water was taken care of, it was time to add detail to the right side panel, same as I'd done on the left yesterday. Time for highlights and shading!

So now here we are with the finished figures; I'm pretty sure I used the wrong color to shade the standing figure, but he doesn't look too horrible so I'm not going to fret about it. There wouldn't really be a good way to fix him anyway, and I've come too far to turn back now, so he's stuck the way he is.

One final step, which I have not yet repeated on the left. It's subtle, so I don't know if this picture will show it or not, but when you get ready to add detail to the diapering in the background, the first thing you do is outline every square with dark paint or ink. Every square. This is almost as tedious as it sounds.

Looking at it from a distance, it's hard to see that I've done anything, and yet if you study the two panels side by side right now, the one on the right has just a slightly more crisp look to it, in my opinion.

Tomorrow, I'll be ready for outlining the diapering on the left-side panel as well, and then it will be on to white-work detailing, whether I like it or not. It's another of those stages that is essential, but slow and fussy all the same, so you kind of wish you didn't have to do it even as you're marveling at how cool it looks when it's done.

Cheers, everyone, and thanks for following along.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Before and after: detail work

Remember how I said a few posts back that the stage with the base coats always looks terrible and that I needed to remind myself not to fret over it?

Here's the base coat stage for one of the miniatures:

And here it is, with detail work added to the figures. (The diapering in the background is still not finished.)

The shading was done with a fine brush, a darker color than the base coat, and tiny crosshatched brush strokes. I'm told this is called limning, but since I don't consider myself to be very good at limning just yet, you'll have to rely on other artists to tell you more about it. Or look up the Göttingen Model Book online and read its translation. It's a step by step illustrated guide to the technique.

Special thanks to Melbourne artist and scribe Mark Calderwood for his advice and suggestions. I may look like I know what I'm doing, but when I've felt uncertain, his patient guidance has been invaluable. I highly encourage you to check out his work.
posted from Bloggeroid