April 29, 2007

Scribal Materials FYI

The roundtable I had planned for yesterday turned into more of a one-woman whirlwind through my materials. I thought I'd recap some of what I told the attendees, so that others might benefit:

Papers: obviously vellum or parchment (the real stuff, not the paper knockoff) would be grand, but grand comes at a price. I use Strathmore watercolor paper (90 lbs cold press), in both pads and sheets. I would NOT use Bristol board, since it is not chemically stable, and work I did on it 17 years ago is *already* degrading.


Cartridge: I love my Rotring set, but it cost me $50 US when I bought it 20 years ago, and the price has gone up since then. If you want a cartridge set (a good place to start), I would suggest the new Manuscript set that comes in a metal tin; I bought mine recently for $20 US. Both types of pens offer the alternative of a cartridge converter (basically a little siphon that allows one to use the non-clogging ink of their choice in one's cartridge pen), and the Manuscript set even comes with one. Nice bonus.

Dip: I am fairly new to dip pens. I have used copperplate pens (slightly post-period, to my knowledge) before, but have recently discovered the wonders of crow quills for outlining and defining my illumination work - NOT for calligraphy. I am pretty tough on my pens, so I opted for the extra stiff 107, instead of the standard 104. I love it, and have yet to have a splattering incident with it. Big plus here: including holder, it cost me $1.67 US just a few months ago.

Felt-tip: You couldn't make me use one of these if you paid me to; not even just for practicing a new hand. The drag of the nib across the paper, and the way the ink flows from the reservoir are just as much a part of learning a new hand as are the forms of the letters themselves. This is NOT a practice form worth trying, in my opinion. As far as using this type of pen exclusively, please just try to forget that such a possibility even exists - this would be akin to writing a scroll with a Sharpie. ::shudder::

Inks: I have tried many inks over the years, and have finally settled on Pelikan Black (their colored versions tend not to be light-fast, so I avoid them). This is a non-waterproof, non-clogging ink, and it works well in both my cartridge pens with a converter, and with my dip pens. Many waterproof black inks are lovely, but, personally, I find the constant struggle with inevitably clogged nibs to be a hassle.

Brushes: I use brushes made for acrylics for my gouaches; these are the ones with white plastic bristles. They are cheap (just a dollar or two US for a decent brush), and have one added benefit that I adore - I can see the color on my brush, and can tell thereby tell when I have gotten it clean. With water-soluable paints, this is NOT an insignificant thing; any paint residue left in my brush will combine with any new paint I put on my brush, and will change its color. Many scribes use a long number 10 brush (very skinny), but I prefer a wider brush whose tip I have bent to my exact personal angle; to each their own.

Paints: I use Windsor & Newton gouache, almost exclusively. Pricey, but worth it, since the depth of color is divine. I would recommend buying tubes separately, since not all of the colors in a set are ones are often used in period-style work. Jet black, ultramarine, and one of the whites (I'll let others fight about that, but I use zinc white without issue) are used throughout period, and form the core of my most used colors. I prefer early period work myself, so I have added yellow ochre, terre verte, alarizin red and crimson red (which I tend to mix since alar tends to be grainy, and crimson smooths *and* gives more of what the modern eye thinks of as red). For my terre verte, I am currently using Holbein gouache, which has a consistency more like acrylic paint, for those familiar with it. (Acrylics are plastic though, so don't even think about using them for scroll work, as they will peel and flake off.) Gum arabic can be added to any of the commercial gouaches to help with adhesion, if it becomes an issue.

Metal leaf: I am currently using Old World Art's imitation gold leafing kit, minus the sealant (toluene, in any form, is a NASTY solvent. I don't like cancer, and I don't like birth defects; I don't use it. Period.) My kit cost me $16 US when I bought it a few months ago, and came with 25 sheets of imitation gold leaf. Compare this with $50 US for 25 sheets of surface gold for the real stuff, with no sizing (adhesive) included. So far, so good, and it looks *far* better than any of the gold inks that I have tried. (I am looking for a good metalic gold paint for small areas post-painting though, if anyone can suggest something they have used with success. Edit: The East Kingdom Scribe's guide from 2004 suggests either Windsor & Newton or Pelikan metallic gold gouache.)

Other useful tools:

Paint wells: There are many period pieces showing paints in clamshells. This is lovely, and I will try this for looking better at events, but at home I use the little plastic caps off of insulin needles (not the long skinny orange ones, but the squat white ones); they are about 2 cm tall and 1 cm wide, and have a nice stable base on them, so they stand up well. I use a wide-mouth syringe (pilfered from my old chem lab) to put 2-3 drops of water into each cap about 10 minutes before I think I'll need them, and find that my pigments are nicely hydrated by the time I get to them. A few small mixing trays are useful as well, since I like to be able to see my pigments as I am mixing them up, and it is always a good idea to mix as much pigment as you think you will need for a given job (water-soluable paints can ALWAYS be reconstituted, but color matching is not as easy as it sounds).

Rulers and Shields: I like the gridded-off, see-through rulers made for quilting, as I can be assured that I am both aligned and working at right angles. I also use an old-school erasing shield (thin piece of metal with bits cut out) to help me erase stray pencil markings (or to frustratingly take out stray ink with a razor blade); my students this weekend, being from the post-word-processer era, had never seen such a thing, and marvelled at it. Proof positive that whatever's old will become new again!

Marking and sketching: I use either a mechanical pencil or woodless pure graphite pencil to mark out the details of my designs pre-inking, but I mark out my overall guidelines and rules with an embosser (cheap and easy to find, due to the scrapbooking craze), in emulation of the way this was done in period. I rarely have to erase anything anymore, since I only use pencil under areas that are going to be painted over anyway. Hurray!

* * *

Do you have other suggestions of things that have worked well for you? Please share them in a comment to this post, and please include how you used them, as varying contexts lead to varying results. Prices and links to sources would be divine, if you have those as well. Thank you!

No comments: