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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

My First Illumination

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

bread and puppet




"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

My First Illumination

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silmarils
... sort of.

Sounds like a quirky children's book, doesn't it?

I figured before I went ahead in illumination and wasted my time--and perhaps more importantly, Master Tristan's--then I should see if I liked it. So I decided to "illuminate" something in the roughest sense of the word, to see if I enjoyed sitting hunched over my desk squinting at and imitating old manuscripts as much as I thought I would.

Well, I finished my first "illumination" in four days, if that's any indication.

In fact, it's not "illuminated" yet; that is, I haven't added the gold. Because I 1) don't know how to use gold leaf yet, 2) don't know how to use "pseudo-gold-leaf" yet either, and 3) didn't want to mar my pretty drawing by experimenting with pseudo-gold-leaf yet. I figure I'll experiment tomorrow (on a fresh piece of paper) and see what happens. If it works, I'll add it. If not, I'll make sad eyes at Master Tristan until he shows me. 8^( Then I'll add it.

I chose an illuminated capital since it's relatively small, and I chose one of the more complicated ones I could find because I do love a challenge.

So. My first illumination, sort of. For reference, here is the original and here is a close-up of the original.

As with pretty much anything that I post here, I don't mind comments, including constructive criticism. However, I am well aware that the colors don't match perfectly. I spent three of the four days without a bulb in my daylight lamp so using the icky fluorescent ceiling lamp, which means that the colors look right under dim fluorescents but nowhere else. However, since I was just playing around to see if I liked the work, getting everything *perfect* wasn't really the point so much as ... well, seeing if I liked the work.

I think I do. :)


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  • Pretty cool. I'm assuming it's the letter D, right?

    Where is the gold going to go?
    • A P, actually ...

      I only figured that out because the British Library includes in the title the first word, which is passing. I also thought it was a D. XD

      The gold will go in the white spaces around the edge. Which doesn't make much sense, I know ... but if you look at the original in the link, you'll see where I left off metallics.
  • That's so cool! Even if the colors don't match, they look great, IMO :D
  • *kicks anti-spyware program for not showing the picture without much hassle*

    Pretty!! It's probably a good thing that I do not know how to do this, or else I'd be even worse about my scribbles during class! ;)
  • very awesome! and in a lot of scrollwork, i've noticed that not always do the colors match, and they were made a lot of years ago by hunchbacked scribes and candlelight... ;-)

    and all i had the patience for was to paint on pre-made scrolls... ;-)
    • Oh, we luuuvs meticulous detail in artwork, precious! ;) It's a lot like meditation for me and very relaxing.

      However, I tend to lick my brushes into points, which results in my lips becoming a rainbow of colors and sometimes upsets my stomach a bit. NOT relaxing! Hence, I use acrylics and not the paints that the would have used in the Middle Ages. ;)
  • Sounds like a quirky children's book, doesn't it?

    It´d be brilliant for a book title, actually! :o)
    I really love that word "illumination". Coincidentally it´s also the title of one of my fave Secret Garden tunes, soon to be put into an LOTR video.
    Anyway, that´s a lovely drawing. Did you make it?
    • Last week, someone else also commented to me how much they love the word illumination. I agree, it is a beautiful word!

      I like especially how illumination is connected to manuscripts which were connected to learning and education in the Middle Ages. It gives illumination a nice connotation for me. :)

      But yes, I did paint the illumination here. I didn't design it, however; that honor goes to someone much older (and more skilled) than me! I just copied it from the manuscript.
  • Excellent first attempt!
  • Oh wow! I really like to see how you go about it :) It makes the word Illumination less enigmatic somehow, can you imagine that monks could spent so much time on this? I am wondering how it will look like with gold and if I looked at the original, the whit smallish dots are in silver. So that probably will be added as well right? But hats off for this first attempt and make something so tangible already at a first try! Wowie.
    • Your icon rocks! :)

      Yep, it does look like silver on the original ... I'm not sure if I'll add it or not. This was really just an experiment (not even on the correct type of paper), so I might move onto something "real" instead. But hey, one never knows ...

      And thank you!
  • Ooohh, very nice! And I think it will look beautiful with the gold background. I like the clear colours - the ones in the original look much faded, so maybe you are closer to matching it than you think. :) What materials did you use? *artgeek*
    • Yeah, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to make it look like the original to the extent of imitating mistakes or worn colors. One of the differences between mine and the original is that my white (silver in the original) lines are more even to the margins of the capital because I'm so much of a perfectionist that I couldn't bear to make them wobbly! So should I also imitate making the colors look faded? I'm not sure.

      As for materials, it's quite unexciting. ;) I used regular sketch paper (usually, illuminations are done on vellum, but vellum is expensive, so I used what I had on hand, just for experimenting) and acrylic paint. In talking to Master Tristan (the illumination master in our barony), he said that medieval illuminators can make their own paints using the same materials that they would have used in the Middle Ages; however, these tend to be toxic and so aren't recommended for people with children or pets. Since I have two young, curious Goldens, then I will be illuminating in non-toxic acrylics. ;)

      Also, I lick my brushes into points which makes my lips all spotty ... but could be very bad if I was using heavy-metal-based paints! Master Tristan, when I told him this, agreed that I should definitely stick with acrylics then.
  • I love it! Gorgeous. Inspirational. Now I want to do that.
  • It's beautiful - especially for a first try! :)
    • Thank you! I'm quite pleased with it. I have been doing miniatures painting for several years now, so the idea of painting tiny details with tiny brushes isn't unfamiliar. Just moving into 2D instead of 3D. ;)
  • Ooh, very pretty!

    As for the non-matching colours (and I see no really bad clashes there, so you can always say this is your personal take ;)), isn't that kind of authentic? Unless of course you meant to reproduce the colours of the original exactly, but that's pretty hard without the "real" materials anyway...
    • Yep, I'm supposed to reproduce the colors of the original as closely as I can. ;)

      As for the pink with red with maroon, that all falls on some monk, not me!

      My pinks are a little too pink, not dusky enough. Other than that, I think the colors are passable for a first attempt without a daylight lamp.

      Some people do illuminate using the same materials that would have been used in the Middle Ages. However, these materials also tend to be toxic ... so with my penchant for licking my brushes and two curious dogs, I decided to stick with safe, familiar acrylics!
  • It's not clear to me, do you trace these or draw them freehand?

    Either one is enough to make me envious, as yes, even tracing is a challenge for me, much less freehand. So any way that they are done, a fine job!
    • Thank you! :)

      I don't know how all illuminators do it; I'm sure that some "cheat" by tracing*. ;) However, I did mine freehand and will continue to do so in the future. That's a big part of the challenge--and therefore, the fun!--for me. :)

      * Though I think I'm safe in saying that illuminators who work on vellum don't trace. That stuff is really thick! Even with a light table, I don't think that would work.
  • Wow, that looks so cool! :)

    Did you use a certain handwriting for a model? Because I could swear it reminds me of one I've seen before. But then, I'm not an expert on handwritings (it was on of those things I dreaded the most in my intermediate exams - I just can't seem to keep them apart... I can usually only tell if they're insular (Irish or British) or continental), and those leafy patterns occur almost everywhere and at all times with minor alterations.

    If you're interested in it, you should take a look at the index pages of the Book of Kells (for example that one); I love those for their blending of Christian symbolism with the traditional Celtic knotwork. I also happen to rather like the colourful illuminations of Ottonian times like that one, from the Gospel Book of Emperor Otto III., even though the look a little, eh... gaudy. The Gradual of Katharinental in Switzerland is less known but has some pretty initials as well (unfortunately I only found a black and white picture. I once wrote a paper on it, but it didn't turn out quite so well... as I said, I like looking at medieval handwritings, but I never really got into it on a deeper level. ;)

    And I have to say I like the colours. Especially the use of red and blue seems very, very authentic to me. It might fit well into a handwriting of the 14th or 15th century, I guess. But then, I'm no expert. ;-P

    *re-reads Dawn's post* *head desks*

    Eh yes, I see you mentioned the original already. But I got the timeframe right! *is proud of art-historical self*

    I'm interested about the gold though! Somehow I always assumed those illuminations were painted directly on a golden background; so the in truth the gold is added later? (Which, when I think of it is so much more logical, regarding the fact that the production of those books was expensive enough without waisting gold for background...)

    Messep up the code and had to repost... sorry. :)
    • No problem ... on all counts. ;)

      Yep, the gold is added last. I'm not exactly sure how it's done yet. Bobby bought me a cool book on how to do illuminations, but I haven't had time yet this weekend to really sit down with it yet. But it covers gold leafing in it.

      I also like looking at medieval alphabets ... but not so much studying them in any tremendous detail. I have a great medieval calligraphy book, and I read the chapter on the history and evolution of the different scripts ... and it was tough to get through. However, I figured it was valuable to be able to determine which script fit the period in which I was working, so I forced myself.

      Right now, my next project is illuminating a passage from "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," which coincidentally comes from the same period as the illuminated capital I tried here. So it looks like more pink, red, and blue flowery thingies for me! ;)
  • Make that 'initial pages' instead of 'index'. I'm a bit dense tonight. ;)
  • Wow! Great! This kind of detailed work can be very relaxing (or can drive you crazy, depending on the day) Congratulations
    • Thank you!

      Detail work is very relaxing for me. It's sort of like meditation in that I concentrate so hard that it washes pretty much everything else from my mind. I emerge feeling much more relaxed ... even if with sore shoulders and covered in paint! :^D
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