Monday, June 4, 2012

Creating a Scroll

This isn't a post about how to design a scroll in a period style, or how to design a scroll for an award- you can find those here, here, and here- it's about how to go from a blank page to a finished piece. The start of a project can be very intimidating. What it should be, though, is invigorating. It's a chance to try something out. If you mess up, that's okay, because you tried and that's better than doing nothing. You can try to fix it or you can start over, up to you.

Here are the steps once you've come up with the concept and a layout:
1) Lightly pencil in blobs that will one day be the locations of your illuminations. Realize that these might change, so plan on fluidity- particularly if your scroll will have multiple modules interacting with one another. (This picture is from my test scroll, hence the different levels of progression in different parts. I forgot to take picture of this stage from the actual scroll.)
2) Are you doing calligraphy? Do your entire calligraphy sequence a couple of times on scrap paper to get an idea of how much space it's going to take up. This should all be done in one sitting because your hand can be slightly different depending on your mood, energy, etc...- especially if you haven't been doing it for years and years. Experiment with width, height, and spacing until you're happy with how it will fit in with the illumination. Pick a hand that works with your illumination style.
3) Pencil in guidelines for the calligraphy and possibly box in the space it needs to be contained in. Now do the calligraphy. This should be done in the same sitting as the practice runs. Always do calligraphy first because it doesn't take anywhere near as long to re-do as illumination does. This means that if something goes wrong which can't be rectified, you waste much less time starting over. Pick the right color for the calligraphy- black is the default, but some styles (like Italian White Vine) call for brown calligraphy.
 4) Now start sketching the actual shapes and details for your illumination. You might think about doing general shapes first, then details if your scroll is very modular (i.e., has multiple parts). Like doing calligraphy first, this is to waste less time re-doing stuff if you change your mind, mess up, or find your style changing as you work.

5) Got everything all penciled in to your liking? Here's where the process becomes less linear. I like to ink my lineart first. My husband suggested I should paint, then ink, but I like having more visible lines to paint between. So this step is optional- ink over your pencil lines then erase them. Doing all one line weight is very simple but also very boring. Do major delineations in a thicker weight (a .08 micron is good), then smaller and smaller details in smaller weights (.05, .03, .02, .01, and .005 microns are all options).
 6) Here's another step that's optional- do your leafwork, be it gold, silver, or something else. This is particularly important if you're using metal leaf because it will stick to gouache, and you don't want you painted portions covered up by gold leaf.I used gouache, so in this case I didn't need to do metalwork first, though I typically do anyways.
7) Once you have your shapes drawn (be they in pencil or pen), lay down the base colors of paint.
8) Now do shading, highlights, and whitework. It might seem like you don't need it at first, but if you try any of the above, you'll probably think your illumination looks much better for it.
9) Draw ink lines over where the pencil was/is (erase pencil if still there). Do this step even if you already did optional step #5 because unless you are an absolutely amazing painter, there will probably be bits and pieces of your lineart covered at least partially by paint. You don't necessarily have to re-ink the entire thing- just fix what needs to be fixed.
Ta-da! You just made an illuminated manuscript from start to finish. That wasn't so bad, was it? :)

About the piece

The Golden Deer of Eurasia: Scythian and Sarmatian Treasures from the Russian Steppes, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000.

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