Calligraphy for the unlettered
Today I finished an illuminated piece which I have been hanging fire on a long time, not knowing how I would manage the lettering. I've had several attempts at learning 'proper' calligraphy over the years, even with a tutor, which have mostly left me dishevelled, inky and frustrated. Finally I decided to use my mapping pen and work in my own adaptation of versals (inked in outlines): I swiped the design for these from the incomparable Klosterneuberg altar frontal by 12thC enamellist Nicholas of Verdun. Not perfect - I can just hear that calligraphy tutor now - but legible at least. The painted design is another homage to 12thc Armenian illuminator T'oros Roslin. This prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian, called the Lenten Prayer in the Orthodox Liturgy, is a favourite of mine. The support is natural calfskin vellum: I have been practising on vellum for a while, it is a touchy material but very rewarding. I used walnut ink made from crystals imported from the US (good old Ebay), gold leaf (of course), and mineral pigments including lapis lazuli and volksonkoite. On balance this was a mistake as their crystalline texture makes it very difficult to achieve the smooth surface needed for accurate top painting. Our medieval forebears must have had minions to grind their pigments much finer than the finest available today. For the medallion icon I used raised and burnished gilding, which is not historically accurate to the style of the manuscript decoration (in Eastern manuscripts only flat gilding was used), but then I wasn't intending a reproduction.
The view from my desk
Current work, places and events, art travel, and interesting snippets about Christian icons, medieval art, manuscript illumination, egg tempera,, gilding, technique and materials.