Latin Manuscript Photo Captions: Making Quill Pens

Soaking Quills: The first step in making a quill pen is to trim the shaft down to a manageable size and strip the barbs from it, at least as far as they would get in the way of the hand. Next, the tip of the quill is removed to allow water inside the shaft, and the quills are soaked overnight in water to soften them up. I used primary feathers from a peacock, compliments of Professor Linda Bowers. Typically the left wing feathers, which curve to the right, are best suited to a right-handed writer, but I had very few of these.

Heating Quills: Using a paperclip reshaped into a tiny hook and a lot of patience, I removed the inner membranes from the quill shafts so that they would not block the even distribution of heat when curing. I heated some fine sand in a large frying pan for about half an hour, stirring it with a wooden spoon periodically to make sure it heated evenly. The quills were cleared of all excess water and the empty shaft filled with hot sand using a spoon, then the shafts were plunged into the hot sand for a few seconds at a time, making sure not to push them all the way to the metal underneath. They were fully cured when inspection showed that they had turned transparent, but were not yet blistering or scorched. I scraped off the shafts' outer membranes with my thumbnail, and they were ready to cut.

Cutting Quills, Cradle Cut: The first cut in making a quill pen is called the cradle cut, and is followed by the two shoulder cuts on the sides, which form the shape of the tip. Next, a slit is made in the center of the tip, 1.5 times the width of the tip. If the quill is a large one, the end may need to be flattened by scraping gently with the top of the quill pressed against the cutting surface and the blade almost horizontal. Finally, the edges of the tip are slightly beveled to create a sharp writing surface.

Latin Manuscript Photo Captions: Design

Vellum Lined, with Calligraphy: Here I have marked the lines and columns with pencil and blocked out the areas to be illuminated later. Margins and musical staff lines were done with walnut ink and the ruling pen. The main text has been written in using iron gall ink and a quill pen, leaving spaces for capitals to be illuminated later. The rubricated words were made by loading the quill with red glair paint instead of ink.

Another Angle: This photo shows me doing calligraphy with the quill again. During the course of writing, it was sometimes necessary to abbreviate words in order to make them fit the designated spaces. I used the abbreviation system found in Pręces Pię, a 15th-century French Book of Hours in Willamette University's rare book vault.

Design Transfer and Inking: After writing in the main calligraphy, I transferred the design sketch to the vellum using the reverse impression technique discussed with the Greek manuscript. I had to adjust the design in a few spots where it would have overlapped with the calligraphy, then I strengthened the transfer with a mechanical pencil and began to go over it with ink and the crowquill. Versal capitals were also sketched in at this time.

Full Inking with Decorated Capitals: Here the entire design has been inked onto the vellum. Versal capitals in the text were modeled on those in Pręces Pię. The blank space in the right column was undedicated space at the time—I did not know exactly what would be going there yet.

Latin Manuscript Photo Captions: Making Gesso

Gesso Supplies: Here are the basic supplies I used to make gesso, a plaster-based size for raised gilding. a.) Honey, a humectant that adds moisture to the mix and helps make the gesso slightly sticky and flexible. b.) An empty spice jar, soon to contain hide glue. c.) Venetian red pigment, an earth tone that I substituted for Armenian bole out of necessity. This will add color to the otherwise white gesso, making it more visible after drying. d.) Empty film canister, soon to hold mixture of dry ingredients left over. e.) Rabbit skin glue grains. I dissolved these in a 1:14 ratio with distilled water. They only needed a slight heating in a double boiler (never boil hide glue) and stirring before the mix dissolved into solution. I poured it off into the container and allowed it to gel in the refrigerator after use. f.) Bologna chalk, or calcium carbonate sulfate. The inert filler that made up the bulk of my gesso, I bought this rather than slaking my own plaster due to time constraints. g.) Mortar and pestle, where I ground up the ingredients for about an hour total.

Mixing Dry Ingredients: I first ground the chalk and pigment in a 4:1 ratio until the two were thoroughly mixed.

Adding Wet Ingredients: I removed the dry ingredients to a separate container, as I did not need all of it, and replaced as much as I did want to use. Next, I added the still liquid hide glue and a few drops of warmed honey, and stirred the resulting mixture for 45 minutes, making sure to equally grind against the sides and bottom of the mortar. I tested the result and found it to be too wet, so added a bit more plaster and mixed again.

Gesso Buttons Drying: Using a teaspoon, I drizzled small puddles of gesso onto waxed paper, cut the rows apart, and allowed them to dry thoroughly.

Reconstituting Gesso: To reconstitute the gesso buttons, I broke them into small crumbs and added a few drops of glair. As they softened, I mashed them with the craft stick, added a bit of slaked plaster to compensate for a surplus of honey in the mix, then added water a drop at a time until it reached the right consistency, stirring frequently.

Latin Manuscript Photo Captions: Gilding

Applying Gesso to the Vellum: The places that have already been gessoed on the manuscript are plainly visible as being pink. At top is my practice strip of vellum. On the right side, the mortar contains freshly reconstituted gesso with the application brush. Medieval scribes typically used a quill pen cut with a long tip and slit for flexibility to apply gesso instead. There is also a glass of distilled water for adjusting the gesso's fluidity as the moisture evaporated from the batch—many scribes' gilding sessions have been ruined by not accounting for the evaporation of water or separation of glue from filler as the gesso sits out.

Full Manuscript with Gesso: The manuscript ready for gilding. Notice that the gesso at the bottom of the page and on the extreme right hand side is somewhat darker than the rest; this is because it has not finished drying. This is the color I looked for when moistening the gesso with my breath, because it means that there is just enough moisture present to make gold stick. Also, the English translation has been written onto the manuscript by this point, in the form of marginal notes.

Gilded Capitals: Adhering Gold to the Gesso: The next few photos show the process of raised gilding. Here I have cut the patent leaf to an appropriate size, moistened the gesso through the use of a breathing tube, and placed the gold onto the gesso. Burnishing through the glassine paper and a secondary sheet of notebook paper adhered the gold to the size. I used my dogtooth agate burnisher to do this, running the tip around the raised border of the gesso and across the surface in every direction to ensure that it would stick. The outline of the letter should be clearly visible where the gold has adhered properly.

Gilded Capitals: Letter Cleared and Lightly Burnished: I used my gilder's mop to double the loose bits of leaf back onto the letterform and burnished again through glassine, then brushed away any remaining scraps of gold.

Latin Manuscript Photo Captions: Making Shell Gold

Leaf Scraps Collected: I saved all my scraps of gold leaf in a small lidded container while I was gilding. They are useful for patching holes and gilding very small areas. They are also perfect for making your own shell gold. Here I have placed them in the mortar prior to grinding.

Adding Honey and Salt: Grinding gold with a mortar and pestle is not unlike grinding beeswax: it tends to form together into clumps. For this reason, honey and salt are added to the scraps. I have no accurate reason for why these two ingredients work, but they are common household items. Perhaps the honey makes the gold stick in the bowl rather than flying away or clumping on the pestle, and the salt is granular enough to help pulverize the scraps. More importantly, they both dissolve in water.

Grinding Gold to Powder: In very few minutes of grinding with the pestle, the gold-honey-salt mixture begins to look uniform and almost takes on the look of mustard. I scraped it all out of the mortar and transferred it to a transparent film canister.

Decanting Gold with Water: Next, I filled the film canister with distilled water, replaced the cap and shook up the mixture. When it settled, I poured off the water and repeated the process for quite some time until the settled water tasted neither sweet nor salty.

Latin Manuscript Photo Captions: Preparing Tempera Binder

Holding Yolk for Piercing: I prepared my egg yolks in two ways. The first, for which I have no photos, involves separating the yolk and rolling it around on a paper towel to remove all traces of white. I then carefully rolled the yolk to the edge of the towel and pierced it over the holding container. The second method involves leaving the separated yolk uncovered in the refrigerator overnight. This dried out the yolk's sac and allowed me to pick up it with my fingers and pierce it over the container. More talented people can pick up a fresh yolk in the same way, "like a mother cat picks up a kitten."

Extracting Yolk from Sac: I pierced the yolk over the mixing container and extracted as much from the sac as possible without getting egg white traces in the yolk.

Yolk Mixed with Water: I added a small amount of distilled water (about a teaspoon per yolk) to the yolk and mixed it thoroughly. Yolk alone is too viscous for a binder and would be nearly impossible to work with, clumping in the brush or drying too quickly.

Latin Manuscript Photo Captions: Making Paints

Dry Pigment with Dropper and Knife: Here are the initial materials for making egg tempera paint. I have placed a small portion of the dry pigment on a glass palette. In a moment, I will add a few drops of distilled water and mix with the palette knife. The dry pigment should be mounded up with a dip in the center—like making fresh pasta.

Mixing Pigment Paste: Here I am mixing the pigment with a bit of water to form a paste and blend the colors. The pigments I bought do not require much additional grinding, so extended mixing with the knife is not necessary.

Adding Yolk to Paste: I added several drops of yolk water on my mixing brush, testing and adding more binder as necessary. The most common test is to apply a small sample to a sheet of glass or ceramic tile and let it dry. Take a razor blade and scrape up the sample. If the paint crumbles, there is not enough egg; if it curls or can be removed in large flakes, the temper is correct.

Latin Manuscript Photo Captions: Illumination

Underpainting with Earthtones: This was done using green earth and a touch of burnt umber to make a terre vert color similar to what the old masters called "verdaccio," for underpainting tempera. They did full-scale monochrome underpaintings for modeling purposes, and added light glazes of color in many thin layers over top. My manuscript was largely abstract design and had little need of underpainting, but I did some in any case and think it added to the depth of the painting.

Comparing with the Colossal Head: The image used for this portion of the manuscript is the Colossal Head of Constantine. This image shows some of the modeling I did with terre vert to make the statue and ‘torn' section of vellum seem three-dimensional, a technique sometimes called trompe l'oeil.

The Colossal Head of Constantine is an example of the Late Antique "hieratic emperor style" in Roman portrait statues. It was meant to convey the transcendence of the other-worldly nature of the Emperor over the human sphere, notable in its larger-than-life eyes which gaze toward eternity from a rigidly impersonal, frontal face. The famous 8.5' marble bust of Constantine the Great was once found in the western apse of the Basilica Maxentius in the Roman Forum, and is now displayed in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome. Although it does contain some remnants of individualistic portraiture (eg: the hooked nose), this statue typifies the trends of Late Roman portraiture by focusing on symbolism and abstraction, rather than detail. Constantine virtually becomes the "image" of authority, making it doubly ironic that the statue exists only in fragments. A more extreme perspective on the fragility of even monumental visual art in comparison with the written word can be found in the poem, "Ozymandias," by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Painting Stone: After the terre vert underpainting, I added a glaze of pale blue to the ‘stone' portions of my manuscript. Shortly after, I laid down a glaze of light gray and then titanium white for highlights.

Manuscript with Reds: Red was the most common color for Gothic illumination, which used a very limited palette. My red is mostly Venetian red, with some Cadmium red for brightness—the classic vermilion is known to be unstable and can unpredictably turn black. Here I am adding red to all of the places that required it, and will later add a bit of white to the same color for painting highlights.

Diapering: Ground, Grid and Details: The flat background color is laid first, then the darker lines, and finally the delicate pale lines. My next step from this point is to add delicate dotwork in the lower red portion, then do the same diapering with blues. Diaperwork was a common method of filling up space because it meant working in small areas with small amounts of paint. This meant that there was less chance of the vellum buckling from moisture.