philena: (manuscript)
philena ([personal profile] philena) wrote2014-06-04 07:43 am


 Greetings, world of LJ and DW! Since my last entry over a year ago, I have been doing things like finishing my PhD and graduating! You may now call me Dr. Philena, and please remember: No balloons!

Since that happened, I've been a little at loose ends. I belly-flopped on the job market, so I'll be hanging around here for another year, publishing various chapters of my dissertation (er, submitting for publication, that is), continuing my research, and applying for jobs once more. But the advantage of no longer having a dissertation to write means that I have tons of un-guilty free time.* I've been using it to return to a pastime I first discovered in middle school, and which has languished untouched for the past six years: Calligraphy! I'm hoping to post fairly regularly over the summer, to track my progress as I recapture the skills I once had. I also want to acquire some illumination and illustration skills, so that eventually I'll be able to write out medieval-style manuscripts. At the moment, I've only got the skills of some poor initiate in a scriptorium, who letters out the gospels and then hands the pages over to the high-ups who do all the fancy decorations.

*In the wise words of Megha Sundara, graduate school is mainly a lot of guilty free time.

First of all, this is my workspace. I have to constantly keep clearing things away, because it's not a very large desk, but I do like the multiple angles of natural light that I get:

As you can see, I've artfully scattered some examples of my work on the desk. Let us examine them more closely. These are not my best work, but they are representative of what I can do now. I was much more accomplished at the end of high school, and I have some magnificent work framed on the walls and tucked away in my portfolios. But if I want to track my improvement starting now, I need to document my current starting point.

First up, we have a contribution from the British Isles, called, appropriately enough, Insular Minuscule, which existed as a more functional hand alongside scripts like Artificial Uncial and Insular Majuscule (which I've never been very good at). I like how spiky it is!

Next up we have a classic Gothic script, called Textura Quadrata. It was used all over Europe from about 1200 through 1500.  I don't have much to say about it, because I much prefer the cursive versions of this script to the formal blackletter that everyone knows so well. There's a practice alphabet of a cursive version at the bottom of the page (More about that one later.)

There are two cursive versions of this script that I like. The first is French, and it is called Btarde. I'm cheating just a smidge, because this isn't a very recent text, but I like the script so much I'll show off what I once could do.

Finally, there's the English version, called Bastard Secretary --- in other words, a bastardized version of Gothic used for less prestigious work. It's pretty fancy, though, and eventually became a sort of prestige script on its own. In particular, it was used for early 15th century manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales, and so I've been using that text to practice the script.

As you can see, I've also been playing a bit with decorated capitals. The ones on this page were done using a gold ink given me by a friend ages ago. I don't really want to learn how to apply actual gold leaf (yet), because there are so many other aspects of capital decoration that I want to master first. But the Canterbury Tales have lots of nice capitals to practice on, and I'm having a blast working with them.

Here are some things I want to (learn how to) do in the coming months:

1. Replace and expand my materials. Largely this involves nibs. I use mostly William Mitchell Roundhand nibs, and I like the flexibility. But the ones I have are something like 10 years old, and they've never really been sharpened or properly maintained. So I want to buy some new ones, perhaps order some Brause nibs, which I hear are the other big brand among calligraphers. I also want to get some proper ancillary gear, such as a sharpening stone, more pen holders, and a proper nib box. The little silver box you see in the top right-hand corner of the picture below was given to me by my mother, and I love it, but I can't keep jumbling all my nibs together in there.

2. Learn how to use color effectively. On a whim I went to the local art store and bought those red, blue, and purple acrylic inks. I really like how opaque they are, and how they nicely overlay the gold initials when I draw little entwining decorations around them (some of this is shown in the Canterbury Tales image above). I'd like to do more of this!

3. Learn how to use gouache, and more generally, how to use brushes as well as nibs. Most of the tutorials online about decorating manuscripts (and there are some truly excellent ones) at some point mention painting in with gouache. I'm planning a trip to the art store this afternoon to get the supplies.  

4. Learn bookbinding! Once I've finished my manuscript of the Canterbury tales, I'd love to bind it! There's actually a local book society that gives workshops on things like bookbinding. There's one in mid June, and I'm going to register and meet the booky people of the area!

The next update will be a page of the first 30 lines of the Canterbury tales, in which I play with color and make fancier capitals. I've also moved on to a nice black ink, because that green ink is fine for practicing with, but I don't like its uneven color.

summercomfort: (Default)

[personal profile] summercomfort 2014-06-05 04:25 am (UTC)(link)
Yay! Firstly, congrats on becoming a Doctor of Philosophy!

Secondly, your calligraphy looks so pretty and fun! Are you looking at some sort of model book or are you just winging all the fun letter squiggles? What's your favorite letter to write?