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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Big Awesome Calligraphy, Part 1

So, I made this amazing scroll* a couple weeks back, and ever since I've been promising I'd upload pictures of the entire project from start to finished, and have repeatedly, y'know, not done that.  I realized part of the reason I've been delaying is that, just as the process itself was involved, time-consuming, and quite a bit of work, posting the story of that entire process is likewise going to take a lot of time.  And I simply haven't had both the time and the energy in one place all at once in order to be able to do it.

However.  I do have time to put part of it up.  So here we go.

*Note to all those people who don't actually participate in the SCA.  A "scroll" is our term for an award certificate, given to one of our members for any number of reasons but usually related to skill in fighting, skill in the arts, or service on any scale.  It's worded like a Victorian/modern romanticized version of medieval legalese or proclamations, decorated to look like a page from a medieval manuscript - usually something pretty like a bestiary, Book of Hours, psalter or Bible - and referred to as a scroll.   Yes, we know none of those pieces fit together to make anything truly authentic to the time period.  We kinda don't care.

In this case, the recipient was known to have an Irish persona - in other words, when he dresses up in funny clothes on the weekends, he pretends to be someone who might plausibly have lived in medieval Ireland - but his chosen time period turned out to be a few centuries after the creation of the Book of Kells, Lindisfarne Gospels, or any other obvious choice for gorgeous Irish manuscript art.  Hunting around for stuff in his century led me to a 12th century artifact called the Cross of Cong.  This is a processional cross - the kind you put on the end of a long staff and march through the streets on holy days, then remove to use on the altar - and was also at one time a reliquary.  A piece of polished, clear quartz on the cross's body once sheltered a little sliver of wood believed to have come from the True Cross.  The thing is absolutely gorgeous:

Public domain image imported from Wikipedia

And, as has been established before, I can get absolutely carried away by things that are absolutely gorgeous, so this became the inspiration and basis of the entire piece.  It was made of gold, silver, copper, bronze, and something called niello, which is a metal alloy that comes out black, all laid over oak.  In addition to the piece of crystal I mentioned above, it had colored glass and and semiprecious stones, enamel work, and probably more that has since been lost or damaged.  The thing is 900 year old, it's going to have a little wear and tear, okay?

Manuscript pages very rarely used silver leaf, and so far as I know they never utilized copper.  Speaking personally, I've only used more than one metal twice, the first time being gold and "silver" (actually 12K white gold, likely a 50/50 blend with silver) and the second time being gold and copper.

I have to confess something to you here, whether you are actually surprised or not: part of my joy in making these pieces comes from knowing that I'm doing something a little crazy.  Having people look at me and suggest I need professional help (or to quote one friend, "OCD much?") is, in fact, a source of delight when I'm sinking my teeth into a new project.  What can I say? Cackling madly is fun.


Further research gave me some insights into which alphabet style (aka script or ductus) to use; even though I've described our scrolls as being built out of a handful of disparate elements, I personally do like to at least try and match the time period of the words to the time period of the decoration.  So I test-drove a few. 
Testing different alphabets, line spacing, letter sizes, and so on

The script being used most often at that time was actually meant to be a quick-and-dirty system, built for speed rather than elegance, but the scribes also had a more formal style, and would "hybridize" the two pretty much at will, so I got to have some fun creating a hybrid that I liked and was readable be people besides me.

Believe it or not, though, the alphabet studies didn't come first.  First was a round of concept sketches for the entire piece, getting an idea for what layout would look best, figuring out how much space the text would be allowed to fill, where my margins would be, and all the other kinds of decisions that underlay a piece but are generally invisible once it is finished.

I have those.  I didn't scan them.  You'll be able to see the final layout yourself once I upload the thing.  If you like, I can give you the measurements and other such, but I have this feeling I'd only be boring you.  I mean, do you really care that I originally hoped to have the measurements of the paper match the measurements - or at least proportions - of the Cross of Cong?  Does exposing that much of my geekery leave you concerned, or entertained?


And now it's 11:24 and we're done with part 1 because I don't want to stay up till 2am going further with it.  And I would.  I know me.

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