Sunday, December 29, 2013

Quills — Experimentation

I've been wanting to try my hand at making and using a real quill pen for a while now. Thanks to my wonderful fiancé and family, I was gifted a number of uncured goose feathers and a quill knife this Christmas!

I haven't had an opportunity to take a class on making quills. So before trying it myself, I scoured the web in search of instructions. Most of what I found seems to agree on the basic steps, but the specifics vary.

  1. Prepare the feather — Cut off the tip, clean the membrane from the surface and inside of the barrel, trim it to length, and trim off the barbs to make holding it more comfortable.
  2. Cure the barrel of the feather (also referred to as tempering or dutching) — Fresh feathers are too soft and flexible to be cut and used as a pen. The barrel is hardened through aging or heat treating so it can hold its shape and last longer. The methods for this process vary quite a bit: from baking the feathers in an oven, immersing them in hot sand or boiling water, to rolling them against a heated metal surface.
  3. Cut the quill — The cutting of the writing tip. The steps vary in order, but the shape of the end result is the same.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Guidelines & the AMES Lettering Guide

The Medieval and Renaissance calligraphy I emulate was penned by monks and professional scribes who spent a good portion of their lives perfecting their art. I on the other hand have mundane commitments that come first, and do calligraphy as a hobby in (a portion of) my spare time.

What does this have to do with guidelines? As an amateur calligrapher, pencil guidelines help my calligraphy look better. They are erased when I'm done, leaving straight, evenly-spaced text that matches the appearance of the work of professional period scribes. This article is about the modern tools and shortcuts I use to help me get my projects done, not the medieval methods.

Because of the length of this article, I've divided it into sections to allow you to skip ahead to the subject that interests you, or to more easily take it a bit at a time and return to where you left off.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Project - Veronica's Tyger's Cub - A.S XLV

Project: Order of the Tyger's Cub for my niece, Veronica Vesalius. I did both the calligraphy and illumination on this scroll.
Words: by Lord Iain of Malagentia.
Paper: Heavy Weight Pergamenata.
Pens: Brause 0.5mm nib.
Ink: Winsor & Newton Sepia calligraphy ink.
Illumination Materials: The ink surrounding the gold leafed areas is India ink from a Rapidograph pen. The Sizing for the Gold is Miniatum with some red W&N ink added to help see where it was painted. The paint is all Holbein Gouache, most of it custom mixed colors.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Technique - Copying a Period Hand

When I started making scrolls, I used the ductus in my calligraphy books for whichever script I needed. As I got more and more comfortable with each of the scripts, I wanted to expand my knowledge and skill by attempting to replicate period scribes' hands.

I would suggest trying this after you have some experience with a few different scripts, and working at a few different sizes. It helps to be comfortable with the pen and forming letter shapes that you can figure out how to make the letters on your own. That said, it can also be a good exercise to train your eye and hand by spending quality time with period calligraphy.

Step 1 - Get a good copy of your example

You want the highest quality version of the original you can get to start. I like digital best, as you can zoom in very close, and adjust the contrast and brightness of the image if needed. For my examples in this post, I'm using a contrast adjusted version of the Magna Carta as inspiration, taken from Wikipedia. I was trying to learn this hand for the making of the Serjeanty for Master Phillip Reed.

If the final piece has illumination done by a different artist, work with them to make sure the hand you choose goes with the illumination style of the finished piece. I'm fortunate to work with many illuminators who know my interests, and they provide me with a specific example that includes calligraphy they are using as inspiration.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Technique - Gothic Textura Quadrata: An Alternate Ductus

Gothic Textura Quadrata is an absolutely gorgeous script, dense and architectural it is a wonderful example of how letters can be art in their own right. It's also very difficult to write well, especially for a beginner. There are two details about this variant of gothic that are extremely important to get right: perfectly vertical strokes and precise spacing between those strokes. Oddly, the calligraphy books I've read focus on how to draw each letter with the minimum number of strokes. Their method helps write faster, but it is harder to be precise and get those critical details right.

For a beginner, that can make this script extremely frustrating. So I'd like to present alternate instructions for drawing Gothic lettering, hopefully making this script easier to learn for the beginning calligrapher.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Project - Songs of the East - A.S. XLVI

The inner Title Page. I'm extremely happy with how the flourishing on the S and E came out. 

Project: A gift of thanks to Duchess Jana von Drachenklaue V, commissioned by their Majesties Gregor & Kiena: a book of Songs of the East.
Words: By many Eastern songwriters, compiled by Baroness Aneleda Falconbridge.
Binding: Master Iheronimus Brückner.
Cover Painting: Mistress Carolyne de la Pointe.
Paper: Strathmore 300 series Bristol Board.
Pens: Multiple... I know I used different sizes of Brause, Mitchell and Hiro Rond, as well as a few different pointed nibs. The most interesting was a special lining pen for the 5 line musical staff. I purchased a lining nib as well, but could not get it to work reliably.
Ink: Sepia, red and a yellow-sepia mix of Winsor & Newton calligraphy ink.
Size: The paper was 16 x 9 folded into four pages, margins for the usable area on each page were 6 3/4" by 8 3/4".

In the summer of 2011 I was asked to help on a large project - the creation of a book of songs to be given as a gift by their Majesties Gregor and Kiena to Duchess Jana upon their stepping down on October 1st. One reason I was asked to help is I have a background in music. I know enough about musical notation that I was comfortable calligraphing it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Technique - Practicing with the Pen

A Rotring 2.3 mm ArtPen held flat against
10 square per inch graph paper with a 45° twist.
So you've picked up your first calligraphy pen. Before you start trying to learn to write a specific calligraphic script, get comfortable with the pen. I'm going to start this post by discussing how and why using these pens is different from modern round-tipped pens, and then suggest some practice exercises that will help prepare you for calligraphic scripts.

Getting used to the pen

Using a calligraphy pen is very different than using most modern pens. In many ways, the techniques you use are more like using a wide paintbrush. While getting used to the pen, concentrate on:
  1. keeping the writing edge of the nib flat on the paper.
  2. moving the pen from your shoulder and elbow, not your wrist and fingers.
  3. keeping the angle of the nib consistent.
  4. getting crisp lines.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Calligraphy Books


November 11, 2014

I've created a new Bookshelf section for the blog. The books listed in this post have updated reviews there, and additional books will be added to that page over time. The remainder of this page has been left as it was posted on October 9th, 2013.

I've written about some of the tools and materials that I use in my projects. Before I get to work on posts about technique, I'd like to write about and review my favorite calligraphy books. As verbose as I know I am, I'm not planning on writing enough to replace a good book on calligraphy. I started with calligraphy books to learn the basics, and I recommend anyone else do the same because of the history, practice techniques and script ductus (or is that ducti?) they contain. My musings in this blog are an attempt to share what I've learned from experience, experimentation, mentors and other artists, and are intended to add to what the books teach.

Please note that when I talk about calligraphy books I mean books that include instruction on how to pen each script. I have many other books in my library that contain only images and history of manuscripts and other period documents. I would recommend that any SCA scribe expand their library to include such reference books as well, as they will help you learn more history and a Medieval aesthetic. It is quite possible to be an SCA calligrapher without doing so, instead using the "generic" versions of each Medieval or Renaissance script as detailed in a good calligraphy book.

If you are starting as an East Kingdom scribe in the SCA, make sure to first visit the Signet's website and download a copy of the EK Scribes Handbook. While it primarily focuses on wording, artwork and specific award information, it does have details on tools, inks, paper, books, and other resources. Besides the fact that it's free, it also includes a wealth of knowledge you need to be an EK scribe.

And now, on to the books...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tools & Materials - Pens & Inks

So I've talked about paper and miscellaneous tools, it's finally time to talk about pens and ink!

This photo is not mine, and was sourced from a Google image search.


Medieval & Renaissance calligraphy was penned with a quill (a cured feather) or reed pen. Both were cut such that the writing tip had a width to it. Unlike (most) modern pens, the width of the line these pens left on the page varied based on a combination of the angle the pen was held at and the direction of the pen stroke. While fine point quill pens were used to add details and flourishes, almost all writing was done with a wide nib.

Reed & quill pens were in common use up through the American Civil War despite the availability of metal nibs at that time. Quill pens are still available, but are relatively expensive unless you have a source of cheap feathers and are able to cure and cut them yourself. They also wear out as they are used, and have to be re-cut to maintain a sharp edge. I have yet to experiment with reed or quill pens because of the time & expense involved, instead opting to use modern calligraphy pens.

What is an SCA Scribe?

I jumped into this blog from a very SCA/East Kingdom-centric point of view and level of knowledge, and I realize I haven't done much to explain a few of the basics for those not already ensconced in those worlds. Let me take a step back and help explain scribal art in the East Kingdom, and define a few terms.

If there's ever anything I write about that you want clarification on, please leave me a comment.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Tools - Miscellaneous

Before I talk about pens & ink, I want to talk about the other tools I use.

A lot of these are very modern, and you know what? I don't care! ... Okay, I do care... but I'm making a deliberate choice to use modern shortcuts so I can focus on the calligraphy itself. While I want to learn and experiment with the period way of doing everything, I can't afford to take the time to do things the medieval way for every project and still get them done when they are due.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Baronial Investiture for Sylvia & Ane du Vey - Sept 28, A.S. XLVIII

Project: Endewearde's Baronial Investiture scroll, given to Ane & Sylvia du Vey on Sept 28, A.S. XLVIII
Words: by Aneleda Falconbridge
Paper: Strathmore 300 series Bristol Board, Vellum Finish
Pens: #5 Mitchell Rexel Round Hand nib for the letters & a fine point dip nib for the flourishes.
Ink: Walnut Crystal Ink

Above is the finished calligraphy & flourishes prior to erasing the pencil lines and sending the scroll off to Christiana Crane for gold & paint.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Materials - Paper

I want to start my lessons with the foundation of any calligraphy project: the paper.

What they used...

Most of the works I copy from were produced on parchment or vellum (not the modern papers of the same names); a specially prepared animal skin. You can get parchment today, but you will pay for it. ($10+ per sheet, depending on size and quality.) Parchment acts differently than most papers, and has both advantages and disadvantages (which I can hopefully discuss after I've had more experience with it). I've only experimented with a small piece so far. It's on my scribal to-do list for now.

Unlike most papers, parchment often requires additional preparation before you can begin writing and painting on it. This can include sanding, degreasing and the use of a surface treatment like gum sandarac powder to help ink stay crisp on the surface. I'll dedicate a post to my first experiments with parchment when that time comes.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What this is about...

A little background & explanation for any who stumble on this blog:

I'm going to be writing about my experience as a calligrapher and scribe in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism). The SCA is a group where we learn about medieval & renaissance history through recreation of the clothing, activities, arts & crafts of that time period.

In my scribal works, I'm attempting to recreate the appearance of pages from medieval manuscripts & legal documents. Eventually, I hope to attempt at least one project using truly medieval tools and materials.

Most of my projects are done to be given out to other members of the SCA in recognition of their participation and hard work.

For more information about the SCA: is the organization's site. is for the kingdom I reside in. is for my local group in Southern Maine. is the Scribal page for the East Kingdom.


I've been thinking for a long time about keeping a journal of my scribal activities, as well as creating a place to host lesson plans & teaching materials.

This is it!

Only time will tell if I keep at it.

If you've managed to find this place, please feel free to let me know what you'd like to see.