Becoming a Scribe! If I can do it, you can too!

My journey on becoming an Illuminator for the Kingdom of An Tir.

Ever wonder what goes in to the amazing scrolls and charters given out in court at events? I did! I’ve always been amazed at the creativity scribes put into these documents and this has started me on a journey to becoming a scribe of An Tir.

I’ve always been interested in creating works of art for the scribal community ever since that first court I attended. Seeing all those beautiful charters and scrolls given out, I mean… Who wouldn’t want to do that?

(NOT painted by me) One of the reasons I love about the scribal community and the works of art the community produces. My AOA presented to me at Autumn War AS 54, August 2019. Since my persona is Norse, it was done in that time period.

In the Beginning…

As a mundane not knowing anything about the SCA, I decided to ask my friends on social media if they knew of any groups that do medieval re-enacting. One friend suggested I look into the SCA, mind you she’s from the East coast. I was confused as to why she mentioned this since we weren’t from the same area and she told me that the SCA was world wide. Ok great! Sign me up! Together we looked up what Barony I would attend and found out that my local Barony (at the time) would be Blatha an Oir.

Welcome to the Barony!

I found out that Blatha an Oir was hosting a public demo, Tournament of Roses and decided to attend. It was an amazing experience and I was hooked. That was May of 2017. About 6 months into playing, I was trying to figure out what I could do and what I would be good at within this Society. So I decided to attend one of the scribal socials and see what that was all about.

What is Scribal?

A scribal social is a gathering where people paint pre-printed charters (awards) for either the Barony or Kingdom. The designs change every time the leaders change so there’s always something new to paint.

We use a thicker paper and gouache paint which is an opaque watercolor paint.

Prior to knowing anything about the SCA, I never had any professional lessons or had any artistic skills or abilities to show other than taking a bunch of art classes in high school. I was a little rusty in the art department, you could say.

Getting Started

Because I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing (never having used Gouache before or really ever painted) the baronial scribes decided to put me to the test.

I started out by painting a couple of older designs that were meant for practice. I worked on things like choosing colors/pallet(s), white-work (adding white or other colored details over another color of paint), and shading techniques.

Supplies and Materials

Since I had never painted before, materials were needed. I was starting fresh and needed to get Paint! and other things that would help me get started. Even though the Barony was generous in letting me use the baronial supplies, I needed to get my own. Gathering supplies was pretty easy. The scribes provided lists of places and resources for materials I would need to be successful as a scribe. Starting out, supplies can be a bit of money out of pocket but I wasn’t going to let that stop me!

A Beginner Scribe’s Kit

With a wide variety of modern materials to chose from, these materials I present before you, are what I use and are what any beginner scribe can add to their kit. As I continue to learn, my materials will keep changing to better suit my needs.

But for now, this is what I started with. Most of these items I got from stores like Michael’s, Amazon, Dollar store, to name a few.

Paint

Starting out the gate, I was told to use either M. Graham or Windsor & Newton brands. These two were recommended because they are high quality and cover the paper nicely without being streaky or transparent. With charter painting like this, it’s important to have painted areas be evenly colored. We don’t want to see any of the paper color behind the paint like with watercolor painting.

Basic colors you would want to start with are your basic primary colors. Those colors you learned about when you were younger. Red, yellow, blue, white(s) and black. This way, if you need a color that is not a primary, you can mix these basics to get the color you want to use.

On Amazon you can find a primary kit in Windsor Newton for under $60. Here I’ve added permanent white and zinc white for shading.

Paint is the part of the beginner kit that costs the most, however don’t fret! When you first start out you will notice that Gouache paint is pretty expensive, especially if you choose to go with Windsor Newton or M. Graham.

This is my current stash of paints. I have had
these since I started. A few added here and there.

However, these paints last a long time because they can be reconstituted with water and usually you use just tiny bits at a time when painting. Financially, the upfront costs can seem little scary. Overall you’re not having to constantly buy paint all the time.

Other idea’s for adding paint to your kit without having to purchase any starting out (I’ve done some of this and can save you some money): Birthday wish lists, Christmas wish lists or if needed, your local barony.

Brushes

I started out with basic acrylic/watercolor brushes. I looked for smaller detail brushes that were easier to control than longer bristle brushes. Charters often have smaller areas that need painting, so going with smaller tipped brushes was what I would look for.

Paint brushes are one of the essential pieces for your kit. Thankfully they are a lot cheaper than your paints! When buying brushes individually, most were no more than $4 a piece. To keep down on costs, most craft stores offer packs of brushes you can use for your detail work.

Brands aren’t really important when starting out. I tried a lot of various types of brushes but the type I gravitated towards the most were always rounded shaped brushes. They hold paint better and come to a point easily for detail work application.

Currently, I am now using Kalish brushes. These are a little more pricey, however. A member in another kingdom suggested and sent them to me to try. They work better than I expected and are well worth the money invested. These are now my current brushes.

http://www.kalishfinestbrushes.biz/Merchant2/merchant.mvc

As you progress, I recommend trying out different types of brushes. You will find that certain types, especially fibers, will do different things. Find brushes that suit you and your style.

Paint Pods and Palettes

After getting your paints and brushes, the next thing you need to get is something to put your paint in/on. There are various ways to hold your paints. When I first started I noticed that some people were using paint pods. You can find these at any craft store but I always got mine at the dollar store.

While these pod are are ideal for paint storage and are good for starting out, I would recommend paint palettes. You can get plastic ones and are easily attainable at any local art store as well.

Later on, I learned palettes are a lot better to use if you need to practice paint control and consistency. They help in paint usage by cutting down waste. Using a lot of paint, as seen with the paint pods, can cause mold if not left out to dry. Using a palette helps the paint dry faster and can be easily reactivated as opposed to the pods that can take more time to reactivate.

The painting begins… charters, charters and more charters.

As I was starting to get my feet wet in the scribal scene, the barony needed charters painted. I was so excited to start. Honestly I was a little nervous but the scribes had my back.

I started to get more comfortable in my ability to paint and produce beautiful works of art.

What is a charter, you say?

Charters are massed produced pre-printed and are used for the most awards given out. They allow scribes of all skill levels to paint different variations of the same charter.

Blatha an Oir Charters

Wyewood Charters

Kingdom Charters

Practice, Practice and More Practice

I’m always continually learning new techniques and styles, gotta keep up with the practice! Talking with scribes all over the Known World, I am learning so much and not just about techniques. Types of paper used, different time period styles, upgrading brushes and what works well when painting are examples of scribal lessons I’ve learned throughout my journey.

“Well what if I can’t draw?” Want to know a secret? I can’t draw either… “But how do you get your designs transferred to your projects?”

That is a good question. What I do is use a light box and trace. “But isn’t that cheating?” No, not at all! In fact, it’s been proven that tracing was period. Of course, there have been some instances where I have had to free hand draw. And with that, I just keep practicing.

Practicing Whitework

Shading and Scribbles

First Baronial A&S Competition

April of 2018 I entered a scribal piece as my entry. Sticking with the Norse theme, I created a page depicting Fenrir in one of the Norse mythologies.

My entry in the Baronial A&S competition. Illumination and calligraphy all done by me.

Aspiring to be one of the greats!

First Custom Scroll

I finally ventured out and made a custom scroll for a lady in our Barony. Feeling somewhat confident in my skills and abilities, I rose to the challenge and offered my services to make this scroll.

This was an amazing experience and an honor to be able to make a one of a kind piece for someone to cherish. It certainly made me feel that I can accomplish bigger projects in the future. As I continue to learn and grow, I cannot wait to create bigger scrolls and works of art.

What is a scroll?

A scroll is a one of a kind piece (award) that no one else will have one of in that style. Unlike a charter that’s massed produced and can be painted many ways, a scroll is designed and painted by one or more individuals.

Shelter in Place Scribal War entry

During the current pandemic, I gotta keep my skills and fingers fresh. Our Kingdom offered an event that allowed us to compete for prizes and fame within the scribal community. We were given a task of creating a letter of any period of our choosing and battle against other kingdoms through out the Known World. We were then given genuine parchment (made out of animal skin) the size of 4×4 and design an image/letter within a 2×3 space. We had to do two pieces, one illuminated and the other one a line drawing of the same image.

Judging has been done for the individual letter and although I didn’t win the illuminated portion (came in second), I did come in first for the line drawing. I was given the letter P by our Kingdom War Lord. Starting out, I couldn’t choose which image to go with so I ultimately went with the murder bunny design. Our Kingdom also went with a theme, A Lion theme.

I really enjoyed this activity as it opened another outlet to be creative. I never worked with real animal skin before this. Animal skin parchment would have been the kind of paper used in the medieval times. As I have only used Astroparche that our kingdom uses for charters, it was a rewarding and different experience I will treasure forever.

Known World Scribal Trading Cards

As we continue not being able to see each other in person, I came across this group and thought, “this could keep me going and creating till I can get some current reign Kingdom charters.” Also it’s a great way to keep up the practicing and share my work with others. There is a FB group that anyone of any skill level could join and get in on the fun. Link below.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/508401629970311/

A few cards completed so far…

To Be a Scribe or Not to Be a Scribe?

Anyone of any skill level can do this! You just have to have patience and drive because this is a long term hobby that’s worth every experience.

If you love being artistic, I would highly recommend joining your local barony’s scribal social/meeting and checking it out. Not only is it great in that you meet a bunch of cool people, but it’s rewarding seeing your work get handed out in court and seeing joy in the recipients expression when they get that award!

If you need help getting started, feel free to contact me and I can help you out on your scribal journey.


18 Replies to “Becoming a Scribe! If I can do it, you can too!”

  1. Fantastic! I am inspired to try illumination! Your presentation makes it so much less ‘scarry’. Thank you for encouraging others to join in the fun of scribal arts <3

  2. This is a lovely introduction to scribal art. I hope this will be kept up online for use as a newcomer resource. I could certainly see sharing a link to this with folks who want to get involved but don’t know where to start! You make it sound fun, accessible, and I love how you explained the gradual leveling up of skills and taking on bigger and more challenging projects.

  3. I love your presentation and how you’ve directed your message at newcomers to scribal. It’s inspiring me to try again. Also, I aspire to someday being awarded with a Hafþóra original. I really admire your work. Thanks for sharing.

  4. This is a great job – you really make getting started friendly and “feeling” easy, both doing charters and doing original scroll work. Keep it up; you’re building a great skill set.

  5. Great job on detailing beginning the scribal arts. You’ve done a terrific job of demystifying the process!
    Knowing what the actual plunge into scribal entails is an important part of deciding to take that plunge- Thank you for your clear explanations and insights.

  6. This is an awesome presentation! I love your enthusiasm, and the detail that you’ve put into making it accessible.
    I am a bit of a Scribal nerd, so these always have a soft spot in my heart.
    I am amazed at your first pieces: gouache is a tricky beast and you handled it incredibly well. Such clean lines and even texture!
    I do hope you’re able to return the AoA that you’ve painted eventually; when we all meet once again, it will be a deep honour to be able to present it!

    Thank you for the wonderful presentation!

    1. My apologies your Majesty, but it seems that my presentation came across as if I painted my AOA, that was not my intention. Someone else painted it. I was trying to portray that these awards are one of the reasons I got involved in the scribal arts. I’m really sorry about that and have fixed the description of the photo.

      I want to thank you for taking the time looking at my exhibit. That means a lot. I really enjoy being a part of the SCA and even more being able to contribute to it in this way, scribal. I want others to see that it’s easy to do and can be fun at the same time.

      It would be a great honor to be able to chat more with you about scribal things. I have seen some of your work, truly amazing. I would like to learn from any and all who’d be willing to teach or just talk about scribal. 🙂

  7. What a wonderful and joyful introduction to the scribal arts! You make the process so easy to follow and accessible. I loved the inclusion of your comments on specific tools and materials as well as your various charters showing the growth and development of your skills.

    As a fellow entrant in the Scribal War, it is pleasure to get to “know” the artist behind that amazing entry 🙂

    Thank you for sharing your path and passion. I would love to chat with you if you have time.

    1. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment. I’m happy I was able to show the beginning processes of becoming a scribe. Sometimes it can be intimidating for new comers if they’re interested and I wouldn’t want that for them. This way, anyone who’s interest can see it’s not that scary or intimidating.

      Doing that piece for the Scribal war was fun and exciting. Different for sure. ☺️ I loved every moment of it.

      I would very much enjoy chatting with you later. I like getting to know other people and I’m always ready to learn from them. 😁😁

  8. Wow, you’ve done a lot in this presentation, and covered so much useful information! I liked the way that you followed the progression of your work, as well as the description of your tools. With great pictures!
    Proud to have you in Wyewood!
    YIS, Rauthulfr

  9. These examples are wonderful. As someone who can not draw a horse that doesn’t look like a dog I am constantly excited at how few drawing skills some of the medieval recreation takes, but your drawings are really lovely. I love that you are helping demystify this.

    The transition from mastering the techniques, to moving toward your own creations are great. I also love how I see you moving toward a more medieval aesthetic.

    You mention moving to bigger scrolls, bigger is not always better. I love some of my smallest scrolls. Feel free to go bigger, but don’t feel like you have to or like there is any inherent goodness to size. 🙂

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment. I’m glad I could help demystify the drawing aspect of Scribal. As someone who can’t draw very well, I was nervous a bit when it came to creating charters and scrolls but it’s ok if you can’t draw. Bc tracing was period, it’s ok to trace and not have to worry about if you can draw.

      As I’m learning, I’m trying to be more period in my techniques. Even though modern hints in the art are great, I want learn more history and how manuscripts were developed. How they’re painted and why these books were created are very interesting and keeping me drawn in to Scribal.

      And by meaning bigger scrolls, I wasn’t quite meaning size actually. Rather, meaning creating scrolls with more detail and creativeness put into a piece. Something more than just a preprinted charter. I would love to be about to do something more prestigious and beautiful. That’s what I meant by bigger, although bigger would be nice.. lol

      Thank for checking out my exhibit. It means a lot to me and if you ever want to continue chatting about it or Scribally things, just let me know. 😁

    1. Of course 🙂 Thanks for checking out my Exhibit! Any time I can help, I am happy to be able to explain. I’ve only been doing this a few years, so I thought that there might be other’s out there that have been wanting to start scribal activities and haven’t jumped in, maybe bc they weren’t sure what scribal is about. I wanted to share that and encourage anyone that it isn’t scary: that anyone can so this. It’s a fun and rewarding experience and I am happy to share this with whoever is interested. If you need any further explanation that I wasn’t maybe clear about, please feel free to ask… 🙂 I’ll be happy to chat more about it.

  10. This is very good! I love how you describe your process in improving your skills. The Baronial A&S competition piece is particularly striking.

    1. Thank you for this comment :). I was very happy with how that piece turned out. I did learn a lot from that whole process and can’t wait to compete again. But yes, I feel and I want to encourage anyone who’s interested in learning scribal, that they can do it to.

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