Blog Archive

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