Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Starting with a Dropped Capital

I don't think I should tell you much about this  - let's just say that my part of this project should be finished in the few months. It starts with  Dear Children... yes, with a fancy dropped capital illuminated in medieval style. The original letter shown here is 5cm (2 inches) square. You can try one for yourself!:
Firstly I drew the letter, outlining it with a black Uni-Pin archival black waterproof ink pen on hot-pressed watercolour paper. This design was laid over graph paper on a light-pad (LED and made by Artograph - I don't know how I managed without it - but you could lay yours on a glass-topped coffee table with a lamp under it or tape it to a back-lit window) and the squares traced in pencil, using a ruler. Everywhere that gold was needed was painted with a mixture of PVA glue, a tweak of red watercolour paint so that I could see where I had painted, and just enough water added for this 'gesso' to leave the brush smoothly (there were no ripples on the surface of the puddle). This took about an hour and a half. When the glue was dry, it was breathed upon in 7 long deep breaths from deep in my moist lungs and from short range in one small area at a time (about 2 diamonds) to make it sticky, and 23ct transfer gold leaf pressed on immediately through the backing. Surplus gold was removed with a silk cloth. This pulls off any extraneous gold with static electricity - but I do occasionally use a tissue, my sleeve, shirt...  Another half an hour.

(Single sheets of 23ct gold leaf can be purchased at reasonable cost from The Gold Leaf Factory Choose the Transfer variety - the gold is loosely attached to tissue paper and easiest to handle Currently $3.30 per leaf plus delivery. Jerry Tresser in the US is the expert on traditional gilding techniques and also does mail order supplies

Gouche colours were blended with a fraction of Permanent White and enough water so that the mixture trickled around the dish, and the areas painted. If the mix has enough water, you can paint right against the gold and if you go over the edge it will run off without creating a mark.

The orange-red in the squares is a mixture of Flame Red and Cadmium Scarlet + touch of white. The dark red is Alizarin Crimson + white. The blue is a mixture of Cerulean blue, Cobalt blue and Ultramarine Blue + white. (It would still be a good colour if you just used Ultramarine blue + white, or Cobalt blue + white. Cerulean blue has a bias towards the green end of the spectrum and is added to the mix to counteract the red bias of Ultramarine blue.) I added some of the blue to Lemon Yellow to make the green. All colours made by Winsor and Newton.

The squares make up a 'diaper background'. I used a 0.1 mm pen to add the black lines around them. This was done in medieval times (possibly with a duck quill), but I'm not 100% convinced it was the best plan of action for this letter. Would the squares have looked better with no outline? Hmmm. And maybe I should have used black paint or ink in a dip-nib for greater line thickness variation and character for these lines and also all outlining. But this technique of using a fine 'technical pen' shows that a good effect can be achieved by amateurs who are inexperienced at using dip-nibs or painting.

The red of the letter was added as a spot into the orange-red squares, three shades of pink (same red added to white) to the front of the bulgy section and the pink flowers have had an even lighter pink painted on the petal tips.

I've not tried making flowers by starting off with a black cross before, as I did for these. It seems to work. Pale blue petals have been added between the sections. I've started to loose track of time...

The final stage - adding dots, spots and lines in pure Permanent White (with a fraction of water - you can't paint with treacle):

Yes, that's all I did, and what a difference it makes! Much of this work was done under a magnifying glass, using a 00 Windsor and Newton Series 7 pure sable brush. You can't get way with using a brush of inferior quality. I think I must have spent at least an hour just painting in white fixing up some places where lines wavered or spots were too large.

You can't see it on this image, but each flower on the blue also has a white tip to each petal. I did also thicken up the black outline. There's no magic formula for how thick this should be. I might still work on that a bit more using a pointed nib and diluted black paint.

This could all have been done by someone with no prior experience - just a willingness to spend the necessary time and use the correct tools with care.

Materials other than PVA could have been used for the gesso to attach the gold, but I believed this would give the best result for photographing the work for the book.

The whole letter should look even better when reduced by about 70%, and the gold shines much brighter than you can see above where the images are the result of using a scanner.

Here's a photo - and it's even shinier with the sun on it. Far brighter than any gold ink will ever be:

Another twelve dropped capitals to do, plus write the dialogue for each character in a different calligraphy writing style - and create a spectacular medieval style border to go round each page. Plus a few other jobs.

I hope you'll like the book when it's finished.

Peter Taylor I'll always be delighted to provide you with tuition or write in calligraphy for you and add decoration if you wish.

P.S. I turned on my computer two weeks ago and there was a flash and bang. Ouch! And it's only 8 months old. It could have been worse - the hard drive was unaffected, but maybe it's time to back it up. Yours, too?