Sunday, July 3, 2011

KWHSS: Theoretical Calligraphy and Laurel Roadshow

You know how sometimes you take a class- maybe in high school, maybe in college- on a subject that you're only marginally interested in, but the teacher's so phenomenal at teaching and passionate about his subject that it makes you want to learn more? My Intro to Geography teacher in college was like that. So was the Theoretical Calligraphy 101 teacher at KWHSS. If you ever get a chance to take a class with Master Robert Whitcome of Brandywine, leap at the chance.

I enjoy painting pre-prints at SCA events. Pre-prints are only done in some kingdoms. Basically, scribes make scrolls to give out as awards. In some kingdoms, the scrolls are made individually for each awardee- scribes employed for the work do all the work. Having a tailor-made scroll is fantastic- the downside is that Crowns give out a lot of awards, and scribes may find they have too much work to do and end up with a backlog. In kingdoms which do pre-prints, the Award-of-Arms level scrolls- the lowest of the three tiers- are all photocopies of scrolls calligraphied and drawn by scribes hired by the Crown. Members of the populace have the opportunity to paint them at events (adding their own doodles if they so wish). The only thing unique about your scroll is the paintjob, but you can be assured of getting it when you're actually given the award.

I'm being encouraged to pursue the drawing part of illumination, so I figured I should know a little bit about calligraphy as well. Theoretical Calligraphy 101 seemed like the best place to do that- especially given that the teach would be discussing how all Roman alphabets are based on that carved into Trajan's column- a tower with a giant spiral mural depicting scenes from the Dacian War which include Sarmatians fighting in scale mail.
 He wrote (drew?) an 'O' on the board from a hand he based on a Dürer script, then told us to draw it. Something like the lowercase 'o' in this picture, but without the curves and the little blips off to the side.
Almost all of us (I'm willing to bet all of us with no calligraphy experience) immediately drew little hexagons and stared at them in confusion, trying to figure out how ours' ended up looking so different. Then he revealed that it's not a hexagon- it's a parallelogram. "But it has six sides!" we think. But look at the negative space in the middle- it's four-sided. The illusion of a character made from six strokes comes from the elongate shape of the end of a calligrapher's pen- one stroke up-and-down, followed by a short diagonal one beneath. Move back to the top, connect one end of your tip to the side of the up-and-down stroke to make another short diagonal followed by a second up-and-down stroke. There was an audible "Ohhhhh" from all of us. By-the-by- make that negative space the same width as the positive strokes to make it more pleasing to the eye.
He packed so much information into a hour it's insane, some about what our eyes like and are drawn to and some about how to grow as calligraphers.

 After that class, I find myself wanting to take the calligrapher's pens he gave us and spend hour after hour writing letters like a kindergartner again until I have them looking consistently better than when I started. I don't have time right now since I'm busy finishing two papers while in the final stages of wedding planning, but some day!

After Master Robert's class, the room was free, so he offered to teach a 30-minute Gothic class. I thought about staying but decided to spend that last half hour before we had to leave in the Laurel Roadshow. I hadn't been to one before I thought this would be the ideal time to see what it's all about. I wish I had stayed for the 30-minute Gothic... We got through 1 1/2 people's submissions. The one still being argued over when I left was whether a device should be returned for redraw- There were two boar's heads in pale (top and bottom) and two bear's heads in fess (left and right). A very vocal handful of people declared that the bear's heads did not look like bear's heads; rather, they were weasels or cats. Weasels I could understand, sure, if you've stopped to take note of a weasel's face, but cats?  I have no idea how they got cats out of that. Cats have short snouts and bears most definitely do not. People were really laying into how they don't look like bears when the poor woman who had drawn them (surprise! she was there!) spoke up that she'd done the best she could with what she had, and that they were straight out of a[n] (admittedly post-period, but widely used) book. I would have spoken up had I felt like my voice could be heard in that huge ballroom (a vocal herald I am not). Weasels have a much longer post-temporal region than bears (that's the part behind the eyes). To someone knowledgeable about zoology, they could have been nothing but bears. That poor woman really should have been cut some slack...not everyone is an artist. I thought she did well.

Which brings up the one unfortunate thing I saw at this event- heralds who react hostilely to those who don't know what they know. There's a stigma out there that heralds don't want you to do this and don't want you to do that and they won't let you and they're strict and stuffy...It's the occasional herald with behavior like that who perpetuates the stereotype. Our job is to help people find things that work for them using what we understand of period naming and armorial practices- not to scoff at them for not knowing the same factoids we do. It's sad to see people- some in positions of power, no less- who do that. I hope they at least temper themselves around the one should be made to feel like an idiot for being ignorant of esoteric knowledge. If you find yourself as a submissions, consultation, or commentary herald, please remember that you were once as ignorant as they. If they want to work with you (there are sometimes difficulties wherein the submitter decides what they want and don't care whether they follow the rules, but those cases are few), do your best to make both theirs and your experience a pleasant one. If you can't act appropriately, then much like in the belly dancing community, which has to fight the very wrong stigma that we're glorified strippers, the rest of us would much rather you move on to another hobby.


  1. Wow, I feel bad for that poor woman! I wonder if her critics know how jerk-like the sounded?

    Sounds like an interesting class. A parallelogram??? *stares at picture*

  2. They got a little less...aggressive...about their view when they realized she was in the room. At that point, the conversation shifted more to "is this post-period book appropriate for drawing our heraldry"?

    It's hard to explain without demonstrating. I'll show you next time you visit.:)