Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Changes a-comin'

 Hello all,

I wanted to let you all know that I have set up a small shop and commissions page over on - you may have noticed the button off to the right of my posts (only visible in web view, not mobile view). Ko-fi was originally designed to serve as a sort of "tip jar" for creators and their supporters, who might wish to show appreciation from time to time even if they couldn't afford a large donation or purchase. Ko-fi has since expanded their services to allow me to sell work through their site. With my free membership,  they take a small commission from every purchase, but it's really minor and I don't mind paying it to support them. There are no ads and they don't collect your data in any way, as far as I know.

I also wanted to get feedback from you about the possibility of moving this blog over to Wordpress. I've never used Wordpress before, but I've heard good things; most importantly, I've heard that it's really easy to subscribe to a Wordpress blog and be notified when a new post comes out. It's my hope that I could have a little bit cleaner look to the blog, with a little more ease in finding things in mobile view (on my current blog, post tags are only visible in web view, for example), and also build something of a subscriber base.

Is that something that people might be interested in?

In the meantime, we are well, the new house construction is coming along steadily, and I've been hired but not yet started at a new job. I'm writing lots and making art that makes me happy, so all in all, life is pretty good.

I hope you are well, too. Be safe, and be kind.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

A commission for a friend

I was busy enough teaching online classes this summer that I forgot to update my blog. I was also posting to other sites and social media locations, so unfortunately I treated this space as a lower priority. Let's fix that. 

Earlier in the year I was approached by a lady who wanted to commission me to make four matching cards for herself and three lifelong friends of hers. The cards would have their names, a bird associated with each name, and the word "Love" in the middle. 

Experiments with the treatment of "love"

After that it was time to cut my cards to size and lay them out. Centering text is always a challenge for me, but I got it right eventually. Thank goodness for mockups. 

The cards, all laid out

Then it was time to actually write the words: probably the easiest calligraphy assignment I've ever had, this commission was going to be ALL about the illumination.

After that, it was time to pencil in all the illustration; the challenge here was that once I had one card done, I couldn't simply copy it for the others. If you look closely, you'll note that the names on the cards above "rotate", which means that the birds associated with each name also rotate and are in a different corner on each card.

What I ended up doing was laying out one card completely, then since the ground I used here was translucent, I either traced the birds directly, or flipped the card over and traced the reverse side to get the "backwards" version of the bird. The picture below shows all the cards laid out finally, as well as my cluttered workspace and a bit of the photocopied manuscript page I used for inspiration.

I had just gotten some new gilding adhesives -- a gesso for raised gilding, as well as a flat size -- and I couldn't wait to try them out. You saw the results in my previous post, but those leaves and dots were much larger than what I ended up needing for this commission.

Because I was feeling impatient, there were places where the gesso didn't go down as smoothly as it could have on this first card, but I was able to correct that for the second one. The only trouble I really found was that raised gilding is a slow process no matter what you do, and the repetition of so much gilding on four cards really got to me. 

Problems with gilding are not an issue if you're not in a hurry, but they're still annoying. And this was with a really good gesso that ordinarily worked very well.

The first card, halfway through gilding

Second card, gilding almost complete

Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy gilding, but this was a LOT of gold. And a lot of repetition.

So I only did two cards with the gesso, and the latter two cards were done with flat size. MUCH faster, and a cure for the procrastination that was plaguing me throughout this project.

If you look closely you can see the light shining on the flat size, here on the third card

Where the gesso took anywhere between a few hours and overnight to cure and be ready to work with, the flat size was ready in about ten minutes. It also didn't require the extra step of breathing to "activate" the gesso so that it would be tacky enough to hold the gold. Not to sound like an advertisement or anything, but "Jerry Tresser's Pink Stuff" is a really great material to work with. The gold stayed put and didn't need a second application to cover any bare spots.

A closeup of the hawk in one corner of the third card

You know how I love my before and after pictures of gilding...

After the mess is cleared away and it's all sharp and crisp

The flat gilding is always a different look from the raised, but it's so much easier to work with when you don't want to take forever.

Anyway, after I finally finished gilding all four cards, it was time to start painting! These pieces were a little weird in that they are very light on calligraphy and actual painting, and very very heavy on gilding and then ink/outlining. You'll see in a minute, here...

Really not a lot at all, but just enough color to give accent to the piece.

A closeup of one of my owls, just to give an idea of the fine brush strokes needed

A closeup of my first dove, which I was quite proud of

Learning experience time: I'm not someone who ordinarily does a lot of shading or paint-mixing when I do illuminations. I prefer to work with a simple, limited palette and not have to blend anything, because I either don't get enough contrast between my high, mid, and low tones, OR I don't mix enough of a particular color and have to keep remixing it, and never getting the color quite right. It's a personal hurdle in my development that I just... need to work on, whether I like it or not, if I want to move forward as an artist.

So for this piece, I actually did mix and blend and play with colors, and while I still ran out of color here and there, I was actually pretty happy with how the various birds came out, starting with this dove.

After laying in color, there was room for a little bit of whitework on each "LOVE" in the center of the page:

And then it was time to outline. Lots and lots of outlining. I used a brush and paint for this, rather than ink, because the surface was being resistant again, similar to un-pounced vellum. I'm a bit cranky about this. I know a lot of people who love to work with pergamenata, but I am not one of them. If it's paper, it should behave like paper and not require special preparation to use. If it's animal-skin vellum, I expect that to be a necessary step. I do not expect that to be the case for something that is essentially a fancy paper. Yes, I know, this is me being contrary. Yes, I know I need to get over it. But man, having the painting take three times as long as it should because I had to keep going over each line two or three or MORE times, to get the line to show up smoothly and not ragged, was really, really irritating.

Even with the difficulties, look at what an immense difference the outlining and "inking" makes compared to the relative openness of the left half of the card. The density of the vine work really makes itself known and the border finally distinguishes itself from the open space in the middle with the text.

The first finished card

This is one of the raised-gilding pages, so you can see the glimmer of the three-dimensional gold in the bottom left corner, where my hand has created a little bit of shadow on the page.

After that, it's just... more of the same: procrastinate, paint, procrastinate more, outline, admire the finished result, move on to the next card...

Closeup of one of the hawks

Closeup of a cardinal

Here we are with three of the cards done...

Third card

Closeup of another owl, and a look at the different look the flat gilding has compared to the raised

And finally, at long last, all four cards were finished, taken off the table, and laid out for this pretty picture.

I really need to go to the print shop and get some of these run off to try and fill in my new portfolio. The old one of course was destroyed, but I still have a number of pictures of my older work. I want to get those reprinted sometime so I can have something to show off.

Closeup of one of the cardinals

And that's pretty much it! I took a LOT of pictures of this project, so if anyone wants to see more shots of various hawks, owls, cardinals or doves, or a closer look at the white work on each "LOVE", just let me know. But for now, this post is complete! The project took most of the spring and summer to complete, thanks to my procrastination and a few other factors, but it was completed and sent to the client on September 1 and she tells me she really loved them. She's going to have them framed and delivered as gifts to three of her friends, and keep the fourth for herself.

I've been busier than just this over the summer, I promise, and in the next couple of weeks I hope to post a little more of what I've been up to. In the meantime, take care, one and all, and leave a comment if you liked what you saw here. Cheers!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Gilding experiments

Re-establishing my scribal kit after the fire is going to take time, but I've been doing it in stages, bit by bit, over the past several weeks. Some of the parts I've replaced have been my gilding supplies. I've always enjoyed gilding, as I know you've read if you follow this blog at all, but most of the materials I've used have been fairly modern. I have had varying degrees of luck using anything period, but I think I may have finally hit the jackpot on a material that's as close to period as I want to get.

This stuff is a recipe for gilding gesso (not the same thing as painter's gesso) made by Jerry Tresser and available either at his website or through John Neal, Bookseller. It is based off the period recipe in Cennini's "Il Libro dell' Arte", but replaces the highly toxic white lead of that recipe with non-toxic titanium white. It goes on nice and thick and dries raised, as it is supposed to. However, in the teardrop above (less so in the leaf below), if you look at the center you can see a bit of a dimple where it shrank somewhat as it dried. Sigh. With a lot of gilding materials, this is a flaw in the material itself, but I will confess that it's also a flaw in my own technique. I tend to "glop first" and put all the gesso down at once, and hope for the best. This is not the best. Still pretty good though! Apart from the dimple, this gesso did dry smooth and not wrinkly like you might recall the miniatum does that I used in my last big raised-gilding project. Gold leaf is thin enough that it will show every flaw and texture in the surface below it, which can be fun when you're flat gilding on paper and the grain shows through, but less so on raised gilding where you're hoping for a mirror-like finish.

Even so, I do like how I'm able to tease the gesso into corners and sharp points, as on the leaf above.

Here's a picture of the teardop and a dot after gilding; the flaw in my technique meant that I didn't wait long enough for the gesso to dry, and had to burnish very gently and carefully. The edges of the gesso were dryer than the center, and would not take the gold as well. Another probable cause of the problem was my refusal to paint a thin layer down first, allow that to dry a bit, then paint the thick layer over it. Again, this is more of a flaw in my technique than with the material.

Even with those flaws, the gold is still smooth and shiny, where it did stick.

So above, here's the same card a day later. I wrote dates next to each of the samples, and made a second attempt at gilding the older ones, labeled 4-28. Taking more time to allow the gesso to dry completely, burnishing a little harder, and taking a little more care gave me good results! There are still dimples, but with this particular gesso I likely would have been able to smooth them out with a scalpel if I had tried it. For the 4-29 samples, however, I painted a thin layer of gesso, let it dry for an hour (it darkens somewhat as it dries and goes matte instead of shiny), then went ahead and painted the thicker layer over the top. This is probably still a little impatient on my part, because the advice I've heard is to allow many thin layers to build up, rather than glop it all on as I prefer... but darn it, the technique this time worked beautifully. No dimples, although for some reason my second dot dried less as a rounded dome and more as a disk with raised edges. I'm still happy with it. The teardrop was great and the leaf made me happy as well.

Now for the magic part of this material:

You can burnish the gesso. Look at the teardrop above, which I burnished, compared to the dot and leaf which I didn't. Just look at how shiny that thing is! Can you guess how amazing that finish is going to look with gold on it? I got very very excited, and had to show the picture to everyone on Facebook, and the card to everyone in the house, here in quarantine lockdown.

Gilding all three new areas turned out to work better than the first attempts, too. I let them all sit overnight to dry, at least twelve hours I think, but less than twenty-four, and had zero problems with the gold not sticking to the edges. Whether that's because it was a rainy day, because I had painted a thin layer down first, or because I was able to press the gold down a little harder, I'm not sure. 

I still want to obtain a hollow reed "breathing tube" so I don't risk dripping saliva on the page or touching my lips (and their greasy lip balm) to the artwork. But that's for later.

And now for the comparison. Look at the drop on the left, which was burnished, and contrast it with the one on the right, which was not. They're both shiny and satisfying, I'm not at all unhappy with either of them! But the one on the right has an ever-so-slight grainy look to it, a bit like velvet almost, while the one on the left is extremely smooth. That's the difference that burnishing makes. Ideally, you should be able to see your reflection (albeit distorted) in a finished piece of gilding. You're also supposed to be able to burnish the gold directly rather than through glassine paper, to achieve the highest polish possible. 

I've never achieved either of those until the day I did these. I could literally see my face in the upper leaf on the left. Of course, something like that doesn't photograph well, so you'll just have to take my word for it, but it was amazing and I was thrilled.

Finally, I had one last experiment I wanted to try. I've done tooled gilding before, but that was over miniatum. That medium dries sort of soft, and was relatively easy to poke dimples into with a stylus. I wanted to see if it would be possible to tool gesso that had dried for two days and was hard, or if I would need to work it while it was still soft (and then have to figure out when was the right level of softness so as not to ruin it). I haven't replaced my styluses yet, but I did have a mechanical pencil that I decided to use to test the effect. The drop on the right got a row of dots courtesy of the end of the pencil (no lead), and they took surprisingly well. The gesso seems to require harder pressure to get the dots to go, which was about what I expected, but it did not crack or flake off the page as I feared it might.

All in all, this entire experiment was a success at every step. I learned a lot about how the gesso behaves, and got better results with it than I have with any modern recipe raised gilding medium, ever. I did also buy some of Mr. Tresser's flat gilding size, but I haven't tested it yet. I look forward to seeing how it behaves! In the meantime, it's been a week and I'm still glowing with how well this all turned out.

I hope you're all enjoying your quarantine, or the relaxing of restrictions depending where you live. Be safe, and be creative!

Friday, April 10, 2020

Online calligraphy and illumination class

It's been a bit since I posted. A house fire will do that, disrupt your routine a bit until you can get your feet back under you again.

But! I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to talk about a thing that is happening now that my feet are mostly back under me again. I've restocked my art supplies, I have a little table space, and with the COVID quarantine, I have an excuse to teach an online class. In a way, if all goes well, this should work even better than an in-person class, since you all will get to watch over my shoulder while I work.

On Saturday, April 18, 2020, starting at 2pm Eastern time (US), I will be hosted on the Facebook page "RUM Community" in a three-hour demonstration of how to lay out an SCA scroll from start to finish. If all goes well, I'll actually manage to mostly finish the scroll in the allotted time frame! (Odds are actually slim, but I'm going to try!)

If you choose to follow along, we'll be creating a piece in this style:

The class will cover layout and margins, how to use a lettering guide, a bit on left-handed calligraphy, and we might go into selecting a good alphabet for your scroll. Then we'll cover this surprisingly quick illumination style from the late 1400s, some recommendations on tools and materials, and finish with the importance of outlining even though it's tedious.

If you want to follow along, you'll need:

  • Paper, any size, preferably heavy paper like "Bristol board" or heavy watercolor paper. I'll be using 11x14 inches, but a lot of scrolls are done in 9x12, or even 8x10, so don't fret too much about that.
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • If you own a lettering guide, I can show you how to use it.
  • For the calligraphy, a pen and ink; whatever size nib that is reasonable will be fine. I'll be using a Mitchell 3.5
  • Ideally also a pointy-nib pen like a crow quill or "mapping" pen for outlining stuff later.
  • For the illumination, definitely red, blue, and green paint, probably also white, a little bit of yellow might not be a bad idea, and then something gold and shiny if you have it.
  • A fine small brush, but don't go overboard. A 10/0 is overboard. You'll want something that will let you do all the fill in work as well as all the detailing. A 0 or even a 1 would work well. I'll probably try and get away with a 3 or a 4!
There are tools I still haven't replaced quite yet, so some of what I discuss will not be demonstrated, but in three hours I hope to be able to take you from start to finish on a piece this size.

The class will be hosted on Zoom, and hopefully also Facebook Live assuming the tech behaves. I'm also hoping that my setup will let people see my work and not just the top of my head while I work!

Watch this space for more information about another, shorter class to be held on Wednesday, April 29 at 7pm. That one will just talk about acanthus leaf illumination, and be done on a single Artist Trading Card.

Hope to see people in about a week's time!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

A smaller Black Hours style painting

In September, a colleague of mine in the SCA earned our highest service award, the Order of the Pelican. She received a lovely official scroll through the usual channels, but I wanted to give her a gift anyway. And since I'd been on a bit of a kick with Black Hours pieces, I decided to go with that style for her present. 

I ordered a small piece of black vellum from my supplier, only 4x6 inches, and got to work. 

The pencil marks below probably don't show up very well in this lighting, but I promise you, I did start with a sketch. 

The gold and silver Coliro paint behaved beautifully. You may notice gray smudges on the surface above; that's because I opted to pounce the vellum to remove any excess oils that it might have picked up from constant handling, and the pumice powder I used did not entirely wipe off. I was a bit disappointed, but the surface still is plenty dark enough to provide good contrast with the colors. 

I was also especially pleased with how the wings on the pelican came out. (Yes, I know it looks like a swan. Medieval depictions of pelicans often did.)

After that, it was just a matter of adding in the colored areas, bit by bit. The red is above, and below are the blue and then green. 

After that, it's time to highlight things, first with gold on the red, then with silver on the blue and green. I also added in one more blue flower that I'd missed on the first pass. 

I love the definition that the highlights give! 

And now it's time to fill in the fiddly bits, almost entirely in gold this time. 

And finally, I outlined the border in silver, then signed the piece. The back of this piece of vellum was quite fuzzy, so I opted to sign on the front.

I've mentioned before that this style actually goes surprisingly quickly once you've got any animals or hidden figures finished. Since this border really didn't have any, the total time from start to finish was less than three hours. I knew I'd be able to do it quickly, but not that quickly! 

Best of all, the recipient loved it. I was so happy to be able to make her happy. 

My next post will be, oh, possibly my artist trading cards, or maybe something else. We shall see.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Wedding gargoyles

So I was working on the piece shown in my previous post, and sending photos to the client so she could see my progress, when the lady's fiancee reached out to me with a request. She wanted to surprise my client with their combined heraldic arms in a "full achievement", which is to say the shield, supporters on either side holding up the shield, a crest on top, and a mount and motto underneath. She had a number of requests, all of which were meaningful to them as a couple, and asked if they're was any way I could pull it off. 

So I did.

First up was a mockup where I sketched everything in pencil, repeatedly, and then once I was satisfied,  outlined it all in sharpie. The circles will be flowers in the final piece, including the one where a helmet would go on the crest. 

Tracing the final design into my ground. I can't remember now whether I used vellum or perg, but I'm pretty sure it was vellum. 

Let the painting begin! What you're seeing is called "impaled arms", where you either split the two devices right down the middle and then stitch them together, as I did here, or you squish the two devices to take up half the space, but still show everything on each device. So you'd have a whole dragon and scroll instead of halves. 

I had a terrible time getting this flower to come out right, and I'm still not really happy with it even though the client loved it. This is just an in progress photo, though, so more will be added to it as we go.

I wanted to include this pic mainly to show the mixing palette in the corner of the photo. Color theory is kinda fascinating, and I'm really pleased with the gray I ended up with. I took two warm colors, an orangey red and another orangey yellow, but then a cool blue, and mixed them until I got a deep black. Adding white gave me a soft off slate blue-gray.

Side note: understanding color theory gives you so much more control over your palette! I don't usually like to mix colors from scratch, but i think I'll be doing it more often from here on out, because this worked so well. 

All the base colors laid in. Now it's time to shade and highlight the gargoyles. 

I was really, really pleased with how these gargoyles came out. I used a thin wash of a color I'd put together for the flower in the crest and applied that to the wing membranes, and it worked beautifully. I was so excited. 

Another side note: after my work on the heraldry was done, I switched to a size 9 brush. This is gargantuan compared to what scribes usually use, typically in the 0 to 000 range. But it gave me much smoother strokes and allowed me to work more quickly. 

I got bored and thought that the arms could use a little detail work themselves. This is known as diapering and was a traditional way to fill in large areas of color. 

Finally, it was time to outline everything and put the motto in place at the bottom:

The words are from their wedding vows, and come from traditional ancient Roman weddings.

All in all, I was happy with everything except the large flower at the top... but I couldn't figure out a way to make it look good without adding more and more to it until it turned to mud. I was better off stopping where I did rather than ruining it completely. 

The client and her wife loved it, regardless, and the looks on their faces were a joy to see. Plus we had ice cream together! So really, a good day all around.