The Falcon Banner has posted a new item, 'Scribe 101: What Does It Take To
Start Doing Calligraphy and Illumination
Most of you, Dear Readers, won’t believe me when I say the basic materials
for starting your career as a scribe are incredibly minimal. Primitive,
perhaps, is a more apt word.
Many protest they cannot Scribe because their handwriting is horrific and
they have no artistic skill. Handwriting is irrelevant, as is your artistic
talent and even whether you are left or right handed. What matters is the
willingness to learn and practice, openness to trying a new skill and the
ability to understand the difference between handwriting and the Scribal
I’ve been doing this for more years than I’d care to admit. In a pinch, it
takes very little to draw pretty letters and make a decent-looking scroll,
even under less than ideal conditions. One of my articles down the road
will cover “Combat Scribing: The Art and Science of Doing a Scroll under
Horrible Conditions.” This is also known as doing a last minute scroll at
[image: My Rolling Scribe Box looks just like this, except it is camo
My Rolling Scribe Box looks just like this, except it is camo green.
You do not need my rolling Scribe Box of Wonders, plus a home scribe room
full of more cool stuff to do scrolls. At some point, more stuff becomes a
distraction. We will start with the bare basics. This series will build
from there. Eventually, you will find personal favorites to add to your
Kit, as well finding things you feel convenient or helpful beyond the
The Scribe’s Library will grow, too. Invest in *Amazon Prime*, and learn to
scour every method of acquiring good quality used books, as well. Bargain
shopping for books will serve you well for your entire Scribe career.
At the end of this article, I list some online resource and essential
Scribe books. Always seek online coupon and discount codes before shopping.
Free shipping is the most common. Some merchants have begun to recognize
the SCA as a significant constituent and offer an SCA discount at checkout.
Ask for it. Join all the SCA Scribes related Facebook groups you can find,
and get hooked on Pinterest Scribe boards for more online inspiration and
Even a few decades ago, these resources were not available, yet now they
are lifesavers. Find the online digitized manuscript treasuries and
bookmark them. Take classes at *RUSH* <http://rush.calontir.org/> (Royal
University of Scir-Havoc) or elsewhere, plus ask a more experienced Scribe
if you can sit with them and ask questions. After all, most Scribal Arts
are done alone, at home, in our workshops. It is much akin to raising small
children– after a while; Scribes long for adult conversation!
[image: Scribe MAterials]
Bare Bones Scribe Materials
*Shown above –* a right-angle, a straight edge, graph paper, a calligraphy
pen, a liner pen, a pencil, a white eraser, a paint brush, and gouache in
the three primary colours (red, blue, yellow), plus zinc white, lamp black
The materials pictured above, with the addition of an un-wobbly workspace,
light, a water cup, a palette for mixing paint and the final scroll paper
of the Scribe’s choice, are the bare minimum requirements for being a
scribe. True story. There are many other pleasant, helpful, and nifty
things a Scribe can use to create lovely scrolls. The things in the photo,
however, produce just as beautiful a scroll when used to correct effect.
Let us begin.
*Calligraphy is not handwriting.*
Calligraphy is drawing letters. For this reason, your handwriting matters
not, nor does your dominant hand. Practicing on graph paper is the single
best way to learn calligraphy, learn it correctly and of getting it right,
I have ever discovered. Use the cheapest Dollar Store on sale graph paper
imaginable and achieve the same muscle-memory excellence as if you
purchased specialty “practice paper” from an art store. Save your money,
buy the cheap graph paper.
I taught myself to do calligraphy left handed simply to be able to teach
lefties. There are left-handed calligraphy nibs and right-handed nibs.
Please purchase the ones appropriate to your handed-ness. It truly helps.
Using a calligraphy pen to draw letters involves following the strokes
indicated in a teaching manual for calligraphy. I recommend a beginner book
such as Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Technique by Marc Drogin.
This shows a variety of scripts and breaks them down stroke by stroke. It
also shows the exact pen-tip (nib) placement, letter height, and historical
examples of each script. Many other beginner texts exist, too. The Drogin
book is just one of the better known and most available.
*Illumination does not require artistic talent.*
Illumination requires the ability to use basic tools such as a straight
edge, and the ability to create a model book or exemplar from doodles and
period works. A sketchbook of your best doodles, photocopies of the devices
of the Kingdom awards, various heraldic animals, Celtic knot work, swirly
vines and acanthus leaves, fancy illuminated initials and so forth, will be
your best travel companion. Bored at Court? Sketch. Sketch letters,
designs, things you have seen. Practice that Tudor Rose or another motif
you saw at the event.
Celtic knot work, the subject of a later article, is merely drafting and
dots, by the way. Do not be intimidated. It is ridiculously easy once you
know the tricks. After all, if we Irish could do it, anyone can do it. Look
online at Michelangelo’s sketchbooks. They were designed to get the
proportions and placement of his figures correct, not to be as beautiful as
his finished work. When called upon to create a scroll, you will have an
idea book of sketches and designs ready.
Illumination also requires the ability to manipulate a paintbrush and to
color within the lines. Most of us learned these skills in primary school.
We perfect these through practice. Practice is widely available in the
Calontir Scribal world by helping the Royal Scribe paint pre-print scrolls.
These are scrolls in which the calligraphy and line art for the
illumination has already been done by another Scribe, and then photocopied
onto heavyweight paper. Beginning (and sometimes also advanced)
Illuminators paint the preprints using gouache paint, just as they would
paint an original scroll.
*What is gouache?*
Gouache is opaque watercolour, created by combining finely ground pigment
with binders and then either partially dried and stored in a tube, or
completely dried into a pan. The colors in my photo above are *Windsor and
Newton Artists Gouache*. Many of the Windsor and Newton line use period
pigments and binders such as gum Arabic. Some period pigments, such as Lead
White, are also available\ and come with safety warnings.
You can also use regular transparent watercolour on a scroll. I used
authentic Japanese-made watercolours when creating both His Majesty’s
Chivalry scroll and Uji-Two’s Torse scroll. They work well. Chinese ink
stick colors work well, too. Some calligraphy-specific coloured inks give
good colour to scrolls. Personally, I avoid acrylic or oil colour for basic
SCA scrolls. They may be appropriate for some kinds of non-traditional
*A word about calligraphy pens*
Yes, Dear Readers, I use a cartridge pen for 99% of my scroll work. I do
this for several reasons. The pen I use is a *Rotring Art Pen*. It contains
archival quality ink, fits nicely in my arthritic hand, and is completely
reliable. The stainless steel nibs refuse to die. When I packed up from the
Barony of al-Barran in the Outlands 10 years ago, I left ink cartridges in
the pens. There they stayed for about six years. Do NOT do this.
When I was strong enough to try Scribing again, I opened the pens and
removed the old ink cartridges. I washed out the nibs, put in new ink and
nine of 11 of the pens worked as if they were brand new. I cannot say the
same for any other brand of pen, including dip pens, I have ever owned.
[image: Rotring Art Pen]
Can I use a dip pen? Of course. But I hate them. Should you learn to use
them and use them well? Of course. They are far more period than my
cartridge pen. There is no rule that says you must start with a dip pen, or
a quill pen, or anything in particular. I simply request you not learn
calligraphy using a calligraphy marker, because they do not enforce correct
The correct technique with a calligraphy pen is to draw each stroke of the
pen either towards the body or towards the hand, whenever possible. To push
the stroke of the pen away from the hand or body often causes the pen to
“barf” or “splat” on the paper. Practicing a consistent pressure using
whatever pen you choose is more important, combined with practicing letter
spacing, equal letter height and the wide/narrow aspect of letters.
This is where the graph paper comes into play. Graph paper has lines,
horizontally and vertically. It makes letter height, spacing and so forth
much easier while saving time drawing lines on blank paper. You can
certainly draw those lines if desired. For practice time, I would prefer
you spend the time practicing rather than drawing straight lines using a
*Every Scroll is a Franken-Scroll*
Tracing is period. Really. It is why Scribes had exemplars, model books and
so forth. Designs were used and re-used. Particularly complicated pages
were laid out, proportioned and set up on cheaper material than the “good”
paper or vellum before ink or paint was ever laid on to the expensive
stuff. We see evidence of graphite marks, pin-pricks and other tracing
methods in period manuscripts.
I hope at some future RUSH sessions we can get into a University library’s
manuscript/special collection to see actual period manuscripts as examples.
We did this once upon a time, saw first-hand such things as tracery, the
way paints lay on top of vellum, and the lack of perfection in medieval
manuscripts that we still feel are marvels to behold.
Lay out or design the scroll on graph paper first. Cut and paste copies of
sketches, award devices or recipient devices, knot work, vines or other
designs on the graph paper using a glue stick or rubber cement. These
adhesives allow some repositioning as you work, to take a trick from High
School Journalism class. Lay out the text of the scroll using modern
technology. Find and download a free font online that approximates the
appearance – especially the letter and word spacing! – of the Scribal hand
you intend to reproduce.
Keep in mind you will be making changes to that font to make it period as
well as to make it your own. However, making sure the text will fit into
your scroll is also important. Use your computer to size and resize the
text in your font choice until it meets your needs. Once it does, print,
cut and paste it into your scroll mock-up. When I do this, I print the font
with an underline. This helps me align it with the graph paper lines of my
Continue to play with your mock up, adding and subtracting elements as
needed. If you need a picture of a person doing an activity, research
period sources to find one that fits your scroll time and place. Save the
photo to your computer, and then open it in your photo editor. De-saturate
it so the photo is in black and white. Now you can resize the basic drawing
to fit your needs, flip it, rotate it and manipulate it to your needs.
When you have the drawing in the basic size, shape and orientation needed,
print it. Using a pencil, add the other elements you need, rearrange arms
and legs, change garments, add weapons and so forth. Add a blank of the
black and white figure to your exemplar book, too. Cut and paste the
modified image into your scroll mock-up. Repeat as needed for other
[image: Rough Draft Matsunaga's Chivalry Scroll]
Rough Draft Matsunaga’s Chivalry Scroll
Note that you are NOT copying any page of an extant manuscript. You are
taking elements, modifying them to suit the scroll recipient, creating what
might be the missing page of that manuscript using your imagination and
creativity. Neither are you copying your font printed off the computer. You
are using it as a placeholder for your calligraphy hand and ensuring the
approximate letter width and size fits in the space needed.
All of the above is done on graph paper, so there should be no excuse for
things being off-kilter. You have your ruler, so you can determine the
center of the paper and ensure a pleasing and well-thought-out design. You
may need to draw circles. Please do not draw them freehand. A shot glass or
the neck of an empty beer bottle are about the right size for the badge
circles of most AoA or GoA awards. Later, you may want to invest in an
architect’s circle template.
Sooner or later, the Franken Scroll mock-up has acquired a form that looks
like it will work. It is time for it to move from graph paper to good
paper. *That, Dear Reader, is the subject of next month’s post.*
In the meantime, practice drawing letters in the correct shapes on graph
paper. Practice doodling medieval things – beasties, vines, flowers, knot
work, Norse long-boat crests, you name it – in your sketch book. Acquire a
few basic tools. Visit some resources online and start looking for
repeating themes within the same time frames. See if you can spot elements
that appear again and again. Perhaps download a color wheel and some
information about colour theory. After all, if all you have are the primary
colours, you will need it soon!
Look at the calligraphy. Spot how it is drawn, not written. You may even
see outlines of letters, later filled in with ink. Hmmmm – drawing letters.
Intriguing. You will see graphite guidelines for letters. Notice the
differences between early period calligraphy vs. later period Gothic
quadrata styles resembling nothing so much as a picket fence. The skill
there is drawing many straight lines, equally spaced, and being able to
track where to connect the vertical lines to make letters.
Until next month, Dear Readers, here are some resources to take you down
the Scribal Rabbit Hole. Email me any time with questions .
I always remain in service to Crown, to Kingdom and the People of my Home,
my Beloved Calontir –
*Aidan Cocrinn, OL*
55th Laurel of Calontir by the Grace of Conn and Sile
Royal Scribe to Their Majesties Matsunaga and Elena
First Cyborg Laurel of Calontir
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John Neak Bookseller <http://www.johnnealbooks.com/> *THE go-to SCA Scribe
**Remember to request the 5% SCA discount in the Order Comments Box**
Guild Mirandola <http://guildmirandola.com/> –paints, pigments, gold leaf,
Paper and Ink Arts <http://www.paperinkarts.com/> – go to supplier for most
Guild of Limners <http://limnersguild.com/> – pigments, vellum, Pennsic
Cheap Joe’s <http://www.cheapjoes.com/> – basic art materials, cheap
Jerry’s Artarama <http://www.jerrysartarama.com/>– more basic materials,
Dick Blick <http://www.dickblick.com/> – all the art supplies
Left Handed Scribe Tutorial <http://www.iampeth.com/lessons/left-handed>
Folump Enterprises <http://www.folump.com/> (buy *Crossed Quills*, if you
can get them!)
The Hours of Henry VIII
Michaelangelo Sketchbook article
The Art of the Booke
The Digital Medievalist <https://digitalmedievalist.wordpress.com/>
Medieval Illumination <http://medieval-illumination.blogspot.com/> (blog)
ScribeScribbling <https://scribescribbling.wordpress.com/> – the blog of
Ian the Green
Sexy Codicology <http://sexycodicology.net/blog/>
The Pensive Pen <http://www.thepensivepen.com/>
Falcon Scribes Facebook Group
SCA Scribes and Illumination Facebook Group
SCA Scribes Facebook Group <https://www.facebook.com/groups/17176888696/>
SCA Scroll Gallery Facebook Group
Aidan’s Pinterest <https://www.pinterest.com/msaidan/> – see if you can
find and follow all the Scribal Pinterest Boards, then follow the other
Scribes you find. Warning: Addictive.
SCA Calligraphy Bootcamp <https://sites.google.com/site/calligbootcamp/home>
Ductus – Line Drawing Template <http://josselincuette.com/ductus/>
Calligraphicga this form of writing we do <http://calligraphi.ca/>
Book of Durrow <http://www.codex99.com/typography/33.html>
Creating Period Pigments <http://travelingscriptorium.library.yale.edu/>
Calontir Order of Precedence <http://op.calontir.org/> – look up names
Calontir Armorial <http://armorial.calontir.org/> – look up registered
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