A Scribe’s Journey

From painter to designer: The Joy of spreading your creative wings in the world of Scribes and Illuminators

A Scribe’s Journey from Paint to Design

I became a Scribe of the Barony of Blatha An Oir 3 years ago, having attended my first event about 6 month prior to that I decided to give this aspect of the Arts a try! When I began, I was told that I would only be able to paint and maybe in a “few years” could move up to designing and custom scrolls. Being the curious sort, I set out to learn all I could…and made many a mistake along the way. I joined Mundane and SCA scribal groups from all over the world and found pieces of inspiration along the way. Here I will show some of my works and what I learned from each. So that if you too aspire to design and create Scrolls/Charters you might learn fom my adventures. Perhaps you may even be inspired to set forth fearlessly on this path! But most I hope that you see that whatever you wish to do, do not let anyone limit you, Dive in head first and follow your path!

The Journey Begins….

Joining the local scribal group set me on the path of knowing about Gouache and parchment; the technical aspects of Baronial and Kingdom Charters. What it did not prepare me for was Vellum! These two letters were created by request to announce the individuals request for consideration in the Baronial elections. Having never used Vellum, Let me give you a warning…..It eats your paints…..stroke after stroke you watch your gouache being soaked deeeeeeeeeep in the abyss of Vellum. and White paint? oh do not even bother….So there I sat a baby Scribe plugging away with no knowledge of format/layout, hands or even how vellum might consume the paints! But I plugged away diligently and by some miracle completed these requests.

What I learned was to research my mediums more carefully, to ask more experienced scribes for insights. Once I began to pose questions in the various groups I not only found support, but also insight. I learned that some mediums are forgiving, and lend themselves to painting easier, while others lend themselves better to the sketch than the paint. I learned that vellum is ruthless but yet period appropriate, therefore to be approached with patience…..and time…..plenty of time. It was a task that yielded many lessons and one that I am glad I encountered early!

Ut-OH….A&S here we go!

Hot on the heels of my Vellum adventure and only my second Embers and Ambrosia, I decided to try my fortune in the Baronial A&S. This time this bright-eyed baby scribe was prepared! Research done, parchment selected, reference artwork in hand I set forth to create my little master pieces!

As a Baby Scribe I had never entered an A&S competition before, I was not aware of the more in-depth requirements. But what I lacked in knowledge I made up for in exuberance! I created not one but three pieces! I was ready!

Though not successful this endeavor was perhaps the most educational. The judges had so much to share I was overwhelmed but intrigued! When choosing reference pieces, I had not considered period nor location. Imagine French post 1600 images paired with English poetry and a notably German hand. (Hand = style of writing sometimes even referred to modernly as Font) For most this would perhaps go unnoticed, however as a scribe these little details will drive one mad! It was so helpful to gain insight from more experienced artists. Research becomes an important aspect of the scribal arts. For instance one learns that aesthetics, though pleasing may not in fact be period!

When I created these pieces for A&S entry, there was much I needed to learn, but the biggest lesson of this adventure was – Community. As a Scribe we can not know all things, nor can we always dive into the deepest depths of research as we perhaps would like. But we have a community that is rife with knowledge and willing to share! Access that knowledge as you build your scrolls and charters!

Persona?…..oh…you mean Inspiration!

This piece was part of a two-piece commission. A knighting Scroll combined with a Knight’s Gift to his squire. As a Baby Scribe this was a huge responsibility, but also a relief – artistic freedom combined with specific inspirations! The recipient’s persona is Sicilian! What makes this piece easier is that there is a specific target. When creating something for a specific person they give you the location, and the time-period, in this case Sicily. Based off the person, I chose to put the individual and their household in the imagery, then selected the national flower and symbols of their persona’s nation. I combined these with images of their home Barony.  All the nations symbols and flowers were also based upon the time period that his persona resides in. Having a specific region and recipient in mind can help narrow your research as well as provide focus for your work!

What I learned from this was the importance of inspiration in your work, when we are inspired, we tend to be far more creative. If you are able to work with the recipient or with someone who knows them, you will find that it breathes life into your art. Admittedly working on a secret squirrel project can add an element of excitement to your work as well!


No pressure…..FEEL THE PRESSURE!!!

The second part of the two-piece commission was the Knighting Scroll, with this it was not so much the persona as the people who came into play. This was a very personal scroll design that incorporated the animals of his, his wife, his knight and his knight’s lady. The peacock represents his wife, the bird represents the national bird of Sicily, the bear for his knight and the turtle for his knight’s lady.  These along with the symbol of Knighthood (white belt) and the Kingdom Badge completed the simple but meaningful scroll. The hand used was an embellished hand of my own interpretation.

The lesson of this piece was about personalization, not all scrolls require period references. These pieces are often created with personal touches in mind. Pieces that are more a resemblance of the person and their priorities than of a period piece. However, by this very thing it becomes a period piece. It was not uncommon for pieces to be personal representation of the recipient. The lesson from this piece was to focus on the person versus the period. Lastly, have faith when completing this piece, because due to size and materials, there were no second chances. With the artwork complete, there was just the writing to tackle. The pressure was immense, the fear of messing this up was intense……and all that one could do was have faith in one’s skill to complete the task. This is perhaps the hardest aspect of being a scribe, believing in our own ability to complete the work and to trust that if we do make a mistake we will learn how to recover. Hands shaking, brow sweating, power thru and believe in you!

Baronial awards….It’s the award and the recipient!

This is a Triquetra award given to a household. The requirements of this award are the representation of three. It so happened that this household was comprised of three households banding together. Although creative freedom was given there were still guidelines to be met. That being said, those guidelines presented an excellent framework to build this piece.

The lesson of this piece was learning to work within the guidelines of a specific award while still incorporating aspects of the intended recipients. It’s a careful blending of the award and recipient with the understanding that the award aspects are the most important.  While this can at times be limiting it can also present a unique challenge that you carry forward in other works!

Venice, Then and Now!

This was a Baronial commission for a an award called La Lis Vert, the recipient has a well-known Venetian persona. The scroll is comprised of historical pieces. The portraits of the female were based on actual portraits with the colors changed to match that of the recipient, who coincidentally is known specifically for these two outfits. Additionally the scenes were selected from the city of Venice. The mosaic peacocks where taken from a mosaic piece of work found in Italy.

The lessons learned during the creation of this piece centered around the blending of present and past. Having been to Venice I was tempted to incorporate images that I had taken myself. However, In doing so I might have chosen structures that were not around at the time of the individual persona. I learned the art of architectural research, determining what structures existed in the time periods in question. Additionally, the included inspiration for the peacocks, was a present piece.  Thus, to incorporate it appropriately, it had to be connected to the time period. Researching the style of art, and its roots while also discovering that it, too, was a replica of a Venetian art piece. This allowed it to be incorporated without distraction.

Back to the Roots….

The art of a piece is one thing, while the wording is another. This was a Baronial commission for a German Landsknecht La Lis Vert. Much like the Venetian version, this was based off the period and place of the recipient’s persona. The sneaky advantage that I had was that the individual had already provided, without knowing, a representation of themselves dressed in the exact outfit depicted. The outfit had been based on an illumination. The colors were chosen to match the image they had posted; since the original illumination was colorless, this was a simple task! The wording was to be in German.

The lesson when working in a language other than English rests in the translation. Given that this is my native language, I thought this would be a simple task. However there is much that does not translate exactly from one language to another, and can leave things open to interpretation. Additionally, the language, though German, is admittedly not period. There is Current German and there is “Altdeutsche,” which would look quite different. The decision then becomes which language to use? As a scribe we must often make these choices, but we must learn to err on the side of accuracy to the best of our ability. Another consideration is seeking someone who is a native speaker to assist whenever possible, as this can also prevent the translation being inaccurate and potentially offensive.

Lessons Learned

Practical Lessons

  1. Research is your best friend!
  2. Personas matter
  3. The specific Award will drive key elements of the scroll
  4. Symbolism is everything – both personal and Known Worlde

NOW for the REAL lessons to be learned!

  1. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t, If you have been bitten by the bug of creativity, DIVE IN! Trust me, WE WANT YOU! As a community, there is an entire range of artists waiting to embrace you. Ignore the gate keepers! Dive in and find your Community of Artists that feed your soul!
  2. Do not be afraid to make mistakes! It is only in making them that we can learn, often learning more from our mistakes than from our successes.
  3. SEEK support- work in teams, or even just speak with others. BE INSPIRED, BUT MOST OF ALL, DO NOT BE AFRAID TO INSPIRE OTHERS!

Post Script…….I am now the Proud Baronial Scribe of Blatha An Oir…….Follow your passion, Find your people, Find your mentors, Find your inspiration and Design to your heart’s content! And if you need a place to start, let me know; you are always welcome to come paint, sketch or art with us!

14 Replies to “A Scribe’s Journey”

  1. I find it wonderful the fascinating choices you made in the directions you took in your journey. You have a real gift and it is going to be wonderful to see the pleasure it gives you while giving us all so much to visually enjoy!

  2. Your work is stunning and your courage is inspiring! Well done, and such a good exhibit – I truly enjoyed being taken through your own personal journey (and that gold work is amazing!).

  3. Thank you for sharing your work and your journey as a Scribe. There is so much to learn, so many rabbit holes to delve into. I wish you continued joy in the research and production of custom scrolls.

  4. Loved seeing your progress in all of these pieces! I think I learned a few things too. I loved Francisca and Raffaella’s the best, especially the detail on Francisca’s since I hadn’t seen that one before. Well done!

  5. Very interesting to see your work and your discussion of your designs, and of your lessons learned. You have a solid foundation in graphic arts and are doing good work!

  6. I love seeing your journey. What aspect of the scribal arts is your favorite so far? What do you have the most fun working on?

    1. Thank you! So far I love the design aspect- trying to figure out how to make something both period and aesthetically pleasing- but also finding ways to hide small details like mini dragons and such. (once you get the feel of it you start to get mischievous and hide little things in your designs) I absolutely love doing secret squirrel special commissions or “one offs” because you get to create a piece that is specific to a person or persona and then watching the recipient when they receive a piece that shows them that they have been seen- that they are known well enough that the piece is a reflection of them and how they are viewed. I have found that this aspect is the Scribal drug of choice- a Joyous recipient! My current happy happy “rabbit hole” is Persian designs!

  7. I appreciate feeling the joy in what you are doing while reading this. Your art is lovely and I look forward to where you go from here while talking with experienced scribes and doing more delving into rabbit holes.

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