First illumination ever!

I can talk about this now, because the recipient of this piece has received it, and it’s no longer a secret.

It is not, however, a secret that I bind Islamic-style books. One of the sad things about this is that I have neither the time nor the skill to create lovely interiors for my books, which would make them spectacular completed pieces. I don’t calligraph at all. I do paint, and I’ve been practicing at that, with the idea in mind that I could do a single frontispiece for a book and that would be something, at least.

So I’ve been doodling in my sketchbooks, and making small test bits. About a month ago, a friend asked me to create a special scroll to commemorate another friend receiving his court barony, after stepping down as baron of our local SCA group. So I thought, hot dog! It’s a perfect opportunity for me to flex my illumination muscles (weird) and make a real whole scroll!

I spent the next two weeks (actually, probably more than that) deciding what my first project should be. Not too fancy, since I’m newish, but not too plain, because a court barony is kind of a big deal.

I settled on this one:

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It’s an illuminated page from a book, and it dates from 1335, according to the LACMA accession info. It’s Ottoman. Someone who reads Arabic could probably tell me what the text says, but I don’t, and I modified it to fit an SCA context. I do know that it’s from a Quran, so that’s something.

Firstly, I traced the whole thing in Illustrator so that I had clean lines to transfer to paint over. I looked something like this:

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I turned it sideways and added a bit to the bottom so that it would be more scroll-like, and there would be space for seals. This actually took me the longest, since it involved a lot of detailed tracing work.

Then came tracing the design onto the bristol board so I could paint it. I had thought to use actual burnished paper, but that stuff is expensive and I couldn’t find a supplier who could ship in time, so I used basic bristol. The calligrapher said it was easiest for her to work on that, too. I had been told maybe to use pergamentata, since it’s close to parchment and that’s fancy, but parchment wasn’t the original substrate used in the example, so bristol it is!

Then came the painting. First the red and blue, using a period-style pigment for the blue, and a gouache for the red, in place of toxic mercury red:

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I even worked his name into the side in Arabic (I hope it says “Hajji”):

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All done and ready for gold!

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(Actually, I started the gold before I remembered to take a photo.)

Then comes the gold work, which made the scroll extra-awesome:

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In truth, I should have used shell gold, not the gouache I chose for this, but I didn’t want to challenge myself too much right out of the gate. And I waited too long to have it shipped. I can always up my game later! Nobody’s first try is perfect, least of all mine.

Then after that, since my gold was a little chunky in places and the original scroll totally did the thing, I outlined it all in black, using a little brush I made by cutting most of the bristles off a regular small brush. I tried using pen to outline things and i really didn’t like how it looked. I’m happy I chose this route.

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And finally, all done, and ready for calligraphy! Thankfully, all the smudges I made when I dragged my hand through paint erased away, which is an added bonus of period-style lamp black paints. You know, the kind you mix with gum arabic and water and mull on a glass plate? Yeah. I feel fancy. I got them soooo smooth, it’s not even funny. Added tip: bookbinding micro-lifters work great as paint mixers.

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I then gave it to my friend Mara, who is an amazing calligrapher and did a stellar job on the faux-Nashq script for the text:

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(I took an incredibly crappy photo of this. I will attempt to take another, better-lit, non-iPhone photo later.

So there we go! Fittingly, the recipient gave me the first scroll he illuminated, and he gets the first scroll I illuminated. It’s a happy trade.

And now I’m all fired up to make the next one. Hooray, scrolls!

About HappyGoth

By day, I'm a graphic designer. By night, I'm a knitter. I'm doing my part to keep Hotlanta stylish. I imagine that if you don't already understand the title of the blog, you're probably confused and perhaps slightly annoyed, but never fear - I do have a reason (and it's a good one). Having gone to hear Stephanie Pearl McPhee, and then having been inspired to blog about knitting, I found myself wondering what to call the blog. I recalled a conversation I had with Mouse and the Chicken Goddess about why it is a Bad Idea to anger knitters - this conversation was following SPM, aka the Yarn Harlot telling the assembled throng about Those Who Do Not Understand Knitting and Therefore Belittle It Much to the Chagrin of Others, or TWDNUKTBMCO, which is not the acronym she used but is the one I'm using because I forgot hers - that is, we are numerous and we all have very pointy sticks, easily transforming into an angry mob. Therefore, knitters = angry mob.
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