Friday, December 5, 2014

Foundations of Calligraphy by Sheila Waters

Foundations of Calligraphyby Sheila Waters
Alexandre's Rating:
ISBN-13: 978-0966530513 - John Neal Bookseller
Images of Period Examples
Historic & Paleographic Knowledge
Ductus/Instructions on Historic Scripts
Accessibility to Novice Calligraphers
Techniques for Left-Handed Calligraphers
This book would be an excellent addition to the library of any serious student of calligraphy who wants to improve their skills. Waters does a superb job of teaching how to be an analytical calligrapher: both in how to examine a hand to learn how to reproduce it, as well as common mistakes in the formation of different scripts and how to prevent them.

This is a skills focused book that is written with the beginner/intermediate calligrapher in mind. The chapters are ordered such that they help guide a novice calligrapher, generally starting with easier scripts and progressing to more difficult. It is dense, and will probably provide more benefit to someone who is comfortable with the pen and a couple alphabets already.

While she includes some decent notes on the history of the scripts, you'll have to look elsewhere for detailed history and high quality extant examples of medieval calligraphy. The focus of this book is on the skills, knowledge, and techniques needed to become a better calligrapher.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sabine de Kerbriant - Laurel Writ - a.s. xlix

Project:Writ for the Order of the Laurel for Sabine de Kerbriant
Words:Dame Brunissende Dragonnette
Paper:Natural 230 GSM Pergamenata
Script:Early Gothic
Pen:Hiro Rond #4 & #5
Ink:Sumi Bokuju, Windsor & Newton Crimson and Blue
Inspiration:Recycled Vellum Book Cover from the Folger Shakespeare Library

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Calligraphy: A Course in Hand Lettering by Maryanne Grebenstein

Calligraphy: A Course in Hand Letteringby Maryanne Grebenstein
Alexandre's Rating:
ISBN-13: 978-0823005536 - Amazon
Images of Period Examples
Historic & Paleographic Knowledge
Ductus/Instructions on Historic Scripts
Accessibility to Novice Calligraphers
Techniques for Left-Handed Calligraphers
If you want a detailed history of calligraphy, look elsewhere. If you want a beginner-friendly book that uses a different technique (tracing!) to get you started quickly putting pen to paper, this is a great choice. While it only covers 4 period hands and one modern teaching hand, it does so in a very accessible way. It also includes a great deal of information on tools and techniques a new calligrapher will need, and transparent guideline sheets to match each of the 5 hands it teaches. Please note: you will need a 2mm wide calligraphy pen and translucent tracing vellum to use the book as intended.

I would have preferred to see the scripts presented in a different order: Foundational (a modern teaching hand), followed by Carolingian, Italic, Uncial then finally Gothic. But this is a minor thing, especially considering the instructional method. There's also nothing stopping you from practicing the scripts in that order instead.

The real strength of this book is that it allows students to jump very quickly into making letters. By comparing your letters to the example you are tracing you can immediately see what you did right, and what you didn't. If you are new to calligraphy, and frustrated or intimidated by creating letters freehand, this book offers a great alternative way to get started.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Building a Calligrapher's Writing Slope

Image of a scribe at work.
Estoire del Saint Graal, La Queste del Saint Graal, Morte Artu.
British Library, Royal 14 E III   f. 6v
Image originally found at

I've mentioned on occasion that I prefer to work on inclined writing slope. It has a number of benefits such as improving my comfort, allowing for more consistent pen control, and keeping my work piece where I can see what I'm doing more easily. Working on a slope also for better control of the ink flow from some types of pens, allowing for cleaner, crisper lines.

Medieval manuscripts contain many images of scribes at work like the one above. In almost every one, the scribe is working on an angled writing desk. Given the effort and materials to build such a specific piece of furniture, they must have been necessary for the scribe's work. I believe there are two main reasons that a slope was important to medieval calligraphers, both of which are also relevant to modern calligraphers.
  1. Body Mechanics - Calligraphy is written best with whole-arm movements. It's much easier to get the correct movement and control it with your elbow hanging straight down in front of your shoulder. Working flat usually brings your elbow up against your body, forcing you to create letters by moving your wrist, resulting in a loss of control.
  2. Ink flow control - Feather quills and reed pens hold their ink through the physics of surface tension. If you try to use them on a flat surface, gravity overcomes much of that tension resulting in a lot of ink flowing onto the page. This makes crisp lines, especially hairlines, difficult or impossible to achieve. By working on an angled writing surface, gravity pulls less ink from the pen, resulting in crisper lines. This is also true of metal dip nibs, especially when used without a reservoir. It's less true of dip nibs used with a reservoir, cartridge pens, or felt pens.
As not everyone has the money or space for a large adjustable drafting table or a period style writing desk, here are some tips on how to create a writing slope for minimal cost. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Leon d'Saint Aubin - Tyger's Cub - a.s. xlix

Project:Tyger's Cub for Leon d'Saint Aubin
Words:Lady Adrienne d'Evreus
Illumination:Lady Adrienne d'Evreus
Paper:Strathmore 300 Bristol Board
Script:Proto Gothic
Pen:Mitchell Round Hand #4
Ink:Walnut Crystal
Guidelines:AMES 2:3 @ 7
Size:Margin Guidelines are 5.5" wide by 9.5" tall.
Inspiration:13th Century Bestiary, British Library Royal 12 C XIX f.40

Deormund Wulfscyld - Grand Master Bowman - a.s. xxiv (presented xlix)

Project:Grand Master Bowman for Deormund Wulfscyld
Words:Lady Adrienne d'Evreus
Illumination:Design, gold & paint by Lady Adrienne d'Evreus; Whitework by me (Alexandre).
Paper:Strathmore 300 Bristol Board
Script:Gothic Textura Prescisus
Pen:Hiro Rond #4
Ink:Walnut Crystal
Guidelines:AMES 2:3 @ 6.5
Inspiration:The Luttrell Psalter, British Library, Add MS 42130

Miron d'Allaines-le-Comte - Award of Arms - a.s. xxxxviij

Project:Award of Arms for Miron d'Allaines-le-Comte
Words:Lady Adrienne d'Evreus
Illumination:Lady Adrienne d'Evreus
Paper:Strathmore 300 Bristol Board
Pen:Hiro Rond #4 or #5 - Oops, I didn't keep good notes on this one...
Ink:Blots Iron Gall Ink & Winsor & Newton Scarlet Calligraphy Ink
Guidelines:AMES 2:3 @ 6
Size:Calligraphy space is 4.25" x 5.75".
Inspiration:The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, The Morgan Library MS M.917

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Inspiration - Model Books of Calligraphy

There are hundreds of manuscripts and documents that are available digitally that can serve as inspiration for artists. As a calligrapher, the surviving model books deserve particular mention. Those I talk about below were created during the Renaissance, after the introduction of the printing press. While I'm focusing on their capacity to provide examples and inspiration to a calligrapher, they are great for painters and illuminators as well.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

New Bookshelf Section

Up at the top of the page you'll notice a new heading for a section of this blog labelled Bookshelf. For now it contains updated versions of the reviews in my original calligraphy books post from over a year ago. Over the upcoming weeks and months, I'll be posting full length reviews of these three books. I'll also be posting reviews of some additional books I've acquired over the past year. When I do, the Bookshelf will be updated to include summary reviews of those as well.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Scribal Workspace

Prompted by a series of posts on the SCA Scribes Facebook Group, I wanted to share some pictures and discussion of my scribal workspace at home. The request was to post your workspace "as is", and not to pretty it up for the camera. All I've done is make sure that there are no secrets shown that shouldn't be.

My scribal workspace is in the corner of our guest bedroom / craft room. It's in a quiet corner of the house with a bathroom a few steps away allowing for quick and easy cleanup. It lacks natural light, so I make do with lamps instead.

Monday, October 27, 2014

One Year In

October marks the one year anniversary of my starting this blog. Taking a queue from Ian the Green and his blog, Scribe Scribbling, I decided it would be a great time to examine the past year. What have I accomplished, where can I improve, and what do I want to work on in the upcoming year?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Labours of the East - 2015 Scribal Art Calendar

Some of my fellow scribes & artists have been labouring for the past months to create some original artwork for a fundraising effort: a 2015 calendar! The calendar is on sale until November 1st at 

This is a fabulous example of East Kingdom scribal talent that you can own and hang on your wall. It's also a great way to introduce family and friends to some of what we do in the SCA.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

SCA Calligraphy Boot Camp

Some wonderful SCA scribes just started a Facebook group called the SCA Calligraphy Boot Camp. [Added 8/18:] For those of you who aren't on Facebook, they created a website as well.

Each month, they are going to select a calligraphic hand or skill to focus on. Each participant is asked to keep a notebook of the projects they complete.

If you want to work on your calligraphy, please join me in participating.

I've added a link to this and other Facebook groups to my Resources page.

Friday, August 8, 2014

An Interview with Jaquelinne de Radonvilliers

Maîtresse Jaquelinne contacted me after I posted the first few interviews with other scribes and kindly offered to be interviewed. She shares some great advice as well as a wonderful story about how she discovered the SCA.


Maîtresse Jaquelinne de Radonvilliers

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Engracia de Madrigal - Order of the Silver Rapier - a.s. xxxxviii

The completed scroll after Camille finished the paint and gold.

Project:Order of the Silver Rapier for Engracia de Madrigal
Words:Mistress Alys Mackyntoich
Illumination:Lady Camille des Jardins
Paper:White Heavyweight Pergamenata
Pen:Hiro Rond #3.5, filed down (I didn't have the correct size nib, so I modified one!)
Ink:Blots Iron Gall Ink & Winsor & Newton Scarlet Calligraphy Ink
Guidelines:AMES 1:1 @ 7
Size:Calligraphy space is 6" x 7.75".

Thursday, May 1, 2014

An Interview with Nataliia Anastasiia Evgenova

I don't remember when I first met Mistress Nataliia, but she's an unforgettable figure in the Rapier and Scribal communities of the East Kingdom. While I don't recall when or how we first met (probably in the Rapier lists) I recall being quite intimidated as she attended a calligraphy class of mine held a few years ago during a Great Northeastern War in Malagentia. Partly this was because of my memory of the lovely and long Order of the Golden Rapier scroll she made for Jean du Montagne. More recently she's been experimenting with making her own period-style paintbrushes and testing them.

She's one of the many people who inspired me to try this whole scribal thing out. Thanks Nataliia!


Mistress Nataliia Anastasiia Evgenova

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Christian Woolfe - Order of the Pelican - a.s. xxxxviij

Project:Order of the Pelican for Colonel Christian Woolfe
Words:Baron Jean du Montagne
Painting:Mistress Ro Honig von Sommerfeldt
Cord:Baroness Mylisant Grey
Seal:Mistress Kayleigh MacWhyte
Paper:Calligraphy Prepared Goatskin Parchment from
Pens:Cadels: Hiro Rond #1 with reservoir attached.
Text: ~1mm & ~2mm goose quills that I cut myself.
Line Drawing: Pointed Niko-G nib.
Ink:Cadels: Miniatum Ink mixed with Winsor & Newton's Yellow Calligraphy Ink, covered with 23k Transfer gold from
Text: Blots Iron Gall Ink.
Guidelines:The visible guidelines on the finished piece were drawn on with a lead-tin plummet made by Randy Asplund. While working, I used pencil guidelines 3 nib-widths (~3mm) apart in a 1:2 ratio of minim-height to interlinear space.
Size:The 'O' is 5" tall, the 'G's are 4", the rest of the gold letters just over 1". Finished size of the area filled with ink & paint is about 16.5" by 10".

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Interview with Giles de Roet

I continue my series of scribal interviews with Master Giles de Roet of the Kingdom of Lochac. I first "met" Master Giles on Facebook via a couple different SCA Scribal Groups. When he posted the image of the Laurel scroll he did for Filippa da Lucignano, inspired by the Prayerbook of the Emperor Maximilian, my lower jaw nearly dropped off my face. It, along with some additional stunning examples of his work, are included with his interview for you to drool over.

After I posted my interview with Ian, Master Giles replied and offered to be another victim, er, interviewee, and for that I am extremely grateful. I found his answers to be quite educational and inspiring, and I hope you will too. 

Thank you Master Giles for sharing this with us.


Master Giles de Roet

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Rowen Cloteworthy - Writ for the Order of the Pelican - a.s. xxxxviij

Project:Writ for the Order of the Pelican for Baron Rowen Cloteworthy
Words:Mistress Anastasia Gutane
Illumination:Mistress Ro Honig von Sommerfeldt
Paper:Cream Watercolor Paper (I don't recall the brand or specifics)
Pen:Hiro Rond #5 and #3.5 nibs
Ink:Blots Iron Gall Ink
Guidelines:AMES 1:1 @ 7
Size:Finished art is roughly 19" x 10". Calligraphy space is 14" wide.

Calligrapher Interviews

I'm preparing to start posting interviews with calligraphers. If you have calligraphy experience in the SCA, or are a professional calligrapher who has stumbled onto my blog, I'd love to hear from you.

The questions I'm starting with are below. Please contact me if you are interested, I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Phillip the Reed - Serjeanty - a.s. xxxxviii

Project: Serjeanty for Master Phillip Reed the Facetious.
Words: His Majesty, Kenric aet Essex.
Paper: Natural Heavy Weight Pergamenata.
Pen: Hiro Rond #5. Minim height is 4 nib widths with a 1:3 ratio for minim:interlinear space.
Ink: Walnut Crystal.
Size: 9.5" wide by 7.5" tall, including space for signatures.

I was asked if I was up for a calligraphy only scroll. The recipient's persona is from Southern England and just after the year 1200. The Magna Carta seemed like the perfect choice as an inspiration.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Quills II — Experimentation with Inks

[4/30/14 - Updated to include Higgin's Eternal and Ian's replacement Iron Gall Ink.]

Just over a month ago, I experimented with making & using my own quill pens for the first time. I said at the end of the process that I was happy with my results and there was a good chance I'd be using quills on my next assignment.

Since then, my continued practice has not been going well. My lines were either crisp but very pale, or dark but blotchy.

I described my problems to an online community of scribes in the SCA and was given some advice:
  1. Try different inks — the Walnut Crystal and Winsor & Newton inks I normally use with my metal dip nips are a little on the thin side, so it was suggested I try a thicker ink. It probably didn't help that I had just mixed a new batch of the walnut ink, and it's still a bit thin, even when used in metal nibs.
  2. Try modifying my inks — Ian the Green has a wonderful article on this very subject. In short, add some gum arabic or let some water evaporate out of the inks to thicken them, or add water to thin them.
  3. Try different papers — my initial practice was using some cheap "calligraphy" paper, and not the Pergamenata or Bristol Board I typically use for my projects. The quality of paper can have a huge difference, I should have known to at least try this first...
  4. Try different angles for my writing surface — I changed from about 70° to 45° on my writing surface when I first experimented with quills, but further experimentation might be needed.
With this advice in mind, I ordered some new inks and supplies and put the quills aside to work on a few assignments and get ready for an event.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

GNEW Invitation - a.s. xxxxviij

Project: Invitation to the Great Northeastern War to their Highnesses, Prince Brennan & Princess Caoilfhionn
Words: Mistress Anastasia Gutane
Inspiration: Late period legal documents and the style of the works of Master Edward MacGuyver dos Scorpus

Paper: Heavyweight White Pergamenata
Pens: Hiro Rond #6 and #2 1/2
Ink: Winsor & Newton Black Calligraphy Ink (Blue Cap)
Lining: AMES Guide 1:1 scale setting #6, 1:3 minim:interlinear height ratio for secretary hand, 3:1 for gothic.
Size: Roughly 12 by 7" for the calligraphy, on a sheet of

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cateline la Broderesse - OSC - a.s. xxxxviij

Project: Order of the Silver Crescent for Baroness Cateline la Broderesse
Words: Baroness Aneleda Falconbridge with translation assistance from Baron Pellandres dit le Frere.
Illumination: Lady Ro Honig von Sommerfeldt
Inspiration: The Salzburg Missal

Paper: 11 x 14" Strathmore Series 300 Bristol Board, Vellum Finish
Pen: Brausse 0.5mm.
Ink: Walnut.
Size: The calligraphy all fits within a 5" diameter circle, including space for signatures. AMES guide 1:1 scale at a setting of 4, with minim:interlinear height spacing of 1:2. (In other words, tiny!)