This award was to be given to someone I know, making it an exciting assignment to receive! After reading the recipient’s EK Wiki page, I had some ideas, but while chatting with the Laurel to whom I apprentice, a whole other avenue opened up… thanks to snickens!
After searching on the internet, I found a digitized version of a book of hours in the Walters Art Museum’s collection that featured the snail-chickens that I was looking for. W. 427 is a tiny manuscript created ca. 1500 in Bruges or Ghent. I also contacted the fantastic wordsmith, Nicol mac Donnachaidh, to put in a request for text. Since it was Pensic time, I had plenty of time to peruse the manuscript and consider layout, and what elements I would want to include. This was to be my first attempt at “Squashed Bug” style illumination. I felt bolstered by a recent class given by Camille des Jardins at our local scribal night, where we had explored gold work, including mosaic gold, or tin sulfide, which was used to paint the background of the Squashed Bug illuminated panels. We were given the opportunity to use actual mosaic gold, and also how one could combine yellow ocher, burnt sienna, red, and gold gouache to replicate the color. We also had a tiny lesson in shading, and both of these were invaluable.
I laid out two pages for the scroll, inspired by folio 90r, but substituting the plants in the original for ones more meaningful for the recipient of this scroll: saint John’s wort, lavender, and elder. I also copied the snail-chickens and roosters from folios 56v, 57r, and 171v. My panels were much larger than the original manuscript, but I wanted to make sure that I allowed enough space for the text to be run in with out being crowded.
Thinking I had a good handle on the hand needed and size, I blocked the panels on my Bristol paper and set to work. The original has rose colored ink marking between the lines of text and at the margins. I used a combination of 2 parts scarlet, 2 parts deep red Winsor and Newton Ink, and 1 part water, and used a ruling pen draw the lines. I’m always afraid that the text won’t fit, so I started with a gothic hand and a number 6 nib. It was tiny, and by the time I was done, the text felt too small, and the letter forms weren’t quite right. Upon closer inspection of the manuscript, I decided to employ Rotunda instead, and even though it took three tries, I’m so glad that I went back in and enlarged the text and changed hands. Since my panels are much larger than the original book of hours’ pages, the larger text feels better proportioned, and there is still room for signatures to be added. I did decide to omit the smaller illuminated capital letters used in the original, because space was going to be tight with the larger hand.
Doing the calligraphy so many times gave me a chance to see that the composition could really use some more flowers to look more like the full panels in the original. Now it was time to paint the scroll, and as the layers of gouache build up, things really started to take shape.
The whole piece was a gradual process of laying down paint, looking at the exemplar, returning to push it a little this way or that. The colors were all very close, so shading and highlighting were important. Thanks to Camille’s sharp eyes during a helpful critique at the end, I decided to go back in and change some of the shadows and define and highlight other elements, resulting in a stronger piece.
As with all projects, the more I look at the exemplar, there are things that I would change next time, but I am also very pleased with how this scroll came out, and hope it will be a worthy acknowledgment of the efforts and care that the recipient has put into her studies and projects!
Paper: Strathmore Bristol Velum Finish – 11×14 inches
Ink: Higgins Eternal Ink, Winsor Newton Scarlet and Deep Red
Nib: Mitchel no. 5
Paint: Holbein Artist Gouache, Winsor Newton Gouache
Words: Nicol mac Donnachaidh