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Scribal Playdate, Part the Second

Scribal Playdate, Part the Second

When last we left our intrepid scribes, they were taking a wee cordial break. After we finished imbibing, it was time to make some iron-gall ink. First we started out by grinding Aleppo oak galls (you can use domestic US oak galls, but you have to useĀ so many more because they are not as tannic as the Aleppo galls) into a coarse powder.

Scribal Play Day

Scribal Play Day

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When they reached the desired consistency (above), we brewed them into a tea for about ten minutes (below). Oak gall tea smells about how you would expect it to. Scribal Play Day

After the tea was done, we strained the gall-pulp out.
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Then we added the copperas (copper sulfate), which turned the brown tisane dark lavender-black.

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Then we dissolved some gum arabic and added it to the mix, to help with flow and consistency.

Scribal Play Day Then another straining. You can see how deeply purple-black the liquid is. After this, I think we added a tiny bit of red-wine vinegar (I forget why), and then it was ink!

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After that, we made quills. The lower shafts were soaking in water to… I can’t remember. Keep them supple? Something. We didn’t end up hardening these quills because we didn’t have sand (oops!) but they’re just more flexible that way.
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We started out by stripping the barbs off of the rachis (what the quill is made from). I liked leaving a little tuft at the end. It looks so jaunty.
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One of the things that has to happen is that you need to pick a feather that feels good in your hand. It’s no use cutting a quill that is uncomfortable.
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My preferred quill-cutting tool is a scalpel with a #10 blade. They’re very sharp, the blades come in packs of 100, and they’re pennies compared to X-acto blades.
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We make an initial long cut, and pull out the inner pulp. It looks like a snakeskin.
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Then we shape the shoulders of the quill. I took this picture specifically to remember the shape of a well-cut quill. After this, we cut the slit and the flat nib tip. Et voila: quill!
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They make awesome fashion statements.
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After the quills were cut, the gesso was dry enough to gild. I forgot to get a picture of the smoothing process, but we basically just used our scalpels to scrape the surface smooth; every imperfection is a place where the gold will potentially not stick. Then we breathed on the gesso with deep tummy breaths (Penelope told us to pretend we were Aslan breathing on the stone statues). Then we took our patent gold (the kind with the paper on the back) and plplaced it gold-down on the gesso letters.
Scribal Play Day

We rubbed the back of the gold through silk fabric, and then burnished the gold letters with agate and hematite.

Scribal Play Day It was soooo shiny. Scribal Play Day Then we used our new ink to write the rest of the quote in. Mine was my motto, which SHOULD read Deus Pascit Corvus, or ‘God Feeds the Crows’. Then we were done! I have since added more finishing touches, but that is another post.
Scribal Play Day

Scribal Playdate, Part the First

Scribal Playdate, Part the First

A couple of very lovely, wonderful ladies got together last Saturday and threw a Scribal Play Date for those of us who were interested in learning some intermediate scribal techniques. It was almost ten hours of scribal classes and experimentation, and we still didn’t get around to mixing pigments and painting. I’m going to break it into three posts, one for each class, so that they don’t get unwieldy.

First up, Penelope, who helped organize and teach, cuts vellum for us.

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Penelope’s mum, Martha, who is a calligrapher mundanely, and kindly hosted the day at her beautiful house.

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Rachel, and her tea. Tea featured very prominently during the day. I think I had two or three different kinds.

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Lady Cat, getting things together for the gesso class.

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Mistress Amata.

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Gesso ingredients: raw sugar, slaked plaster, titanium dioxide, fish glue, and gilder’s bole for color.

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Grind all the dry ingredients together. Forever.

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What it should look like when it’s ground properly.

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Add the fish glue. Which doesn’t smell nearly as bad as you might think it does.

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And then you get something that looks like silly putty, with the consistency of caramel sauce.

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Using pumice and gum sandarac to properly prepare the surface of the vellum.

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Drawing in our letters (or whatever) in gesso. Some of us used quills, some used brushes.

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My gesso was quite, uh, pillowy. Go big or go home.

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Martha had some gesso made with lead white, instead of titanium oxide, that we reconstituted and tried out, too.

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Then a break between gesso and iron gall classes for some cordial tasting. You can tell we’re classy because our pinkies are up.

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Next time: Iron Gall ink.

Gesso and Gilding

Gesso and Gilding

Remember when I went to KWHSS and took classes on gesso and gilding? Well, I thought I’d try it at home to see if it worked as well as I hoped (hint: it didn’t).

I reconstituted the mostly-dried gesso unto a thin paste and painted up some pretty leaves and an illuminated letter. The off-white is sheep parchment, the white is bristol board.

Gesso experiments on sheep parchment and Bristol board. In my haste, I didn’t smooth out any of the gesso, so the fake gold leaf didn’t stick very well at all. I am given to understand that the fake gold doesn’t much like to stick to anything. Also, the gesso didn’t re-hydrate very well either, even after nine or ten deep breaths. Normally a couple of deep breaths blown open-mouthed (my friend Penny says she likes to pretend she’s Aslan) onto gesso has just enough moisture in it to make the surface tacky, so the gold will stick.

Hm. Gesso results are disappointing today.

 

I tried another layer of gesso (bottom right corner as we look at the above picture) and some garlic extract (top right corner), and while the situation improved, it wasn’t totally successful. Then Cat, the lady who taught the gesso class, told me I should really smooth out the gesso, as all the lumps and bumps create spaces that the gold leaf can’t get into to stick.

 

Better results this time, after smoothing the gesso. Still a little shaky around the edges, but it improved greatly.

I tried it out and it worked like a dream. It’s still a little rough around the edges, but still. Improvement.