Thursday, April 29, 2010

Evolution of a scroll

When the task of completing scrolls for those New Zealanders who had been given an AoA (or entry into an armigerous order) but not received a scroll, landed on our desk, it was necessary to come up with new designs as the Caidan scribes had retired the blanks for all these awards.

We thought it would be a cunning idea to do a celtic style design for the Arts and Sciences award (Harp Argent). So looking through my books I found these two designs from the Tetraevangelium, a 10thC French manuscript.
These are the opening pages of the gospel of St Matthew - the text is written in silver and gold on purple. The vine work and border sides were also in silver I feel.

So from these, came my initial design:

Which then changed to:

I didn't feel the birdy P really fit with the border - it was a bit too in your face mundanely celtic for my taste, so I went looking again, this time on the web, and found this:

The Gospel of St John from the Hereford gospels, an 8thC English insular manuscript.

Which I adapted into:

And when I realised that as the award text was so verbose, the capital was too large, I reduced it to 65%, as well as shortening the curve of the p. I also stuck a couple of extra words into the box at the start.

Which ended up in the final design of this:

It took a while to decide what to put into the circle - I tried a crescent moon and four stars to show the link between Caid and Lochac, but that looked a little twee (and very reminiscent of one of my favourite millefiore pendants). I then tried a harp, going with the illumination inside a letter type of thing, but that was rather meh - my drawing skills aren't that great and I couldn't find a nice looking celtic harp that would reduce that small, so in the end I went with a design fairly similar to what was in the circle on the original design.

Yes the spot for the person's device is off centre - that's because there's an inch in difference between the Caidan Royal and CoH seals. I then faffed around for a while trying to work out what size lines and gap between the lines gave both best looking text and enabled the text to fit fit into the space without squeezing the signatures (of which there should be three according to the Caidan scribes webpage - King, Queen and Principal Herald).

One of the things I wanted to put into the design was the reduction in size of the text which is quite common in the earlier manuscripts, and I wanted to do this both in line height and nib size. In the end I only did this in line size - the larger nib made my calligraphy look better (and made no real difference in the amount of space taken up which was the main reason I was using the smaller nib) and trying to do this over three lines meant that the King and Queen's names were in different sizes.

When it came down to the colour scheme - I did one based on the silver and purple scheme from the Tetraevangelium using gold rather than silver as I wasn't satisfied with my silver paint and the other using the original red and blue scheme of the border from the Tetraevangelium. Which resulted in these:

So there you go. What have I gotten from the experience? Well I probably wouldn't use a border on a scroll in a hurry (the twiddly bits on the end didn't help either), though on a less verbose scroll it wouldn't be so bad (thinking of some Laurel scrolls I've seen). It might also be handy to work with the sizes of equipment you have to hand - I did the original designs in a not quite A3 sketch book, and then upped the size to A3. This was fine when I was gainfully employed and work had scanning photocopiers, but when I came back to Sydney when my job finished, I only had access to an A4 scanner and spent an afternoon running around Burwood trying to find some place that did have an A3 scanner, to no avail. When I gave my original to Caristiona to take to her local Officeworks, for some reason it did odd things to the design, which meant that in the end I gave up and drew them all (7) by hand. Oh and the final and most important thing? If you've got animals, don't leave your stuff unattended, even for a second.

Pictures: Tetraevangelium from "Western European Illuminated Manuscripts" by Tamara Voronova and Audrei Sterligov, Confidential Concepts, 2006
Hereford Gospel (St John) - Wikipedia


  1. I hadn't seen your designs finished before, and they look fabulous :) Nice work, and a good article as well!

    I hope the animal-related problems you allude to weren't too ghastly. The cat or the parrot?

  2. Thanks.

    It was one of my cats actually - after having traced it out I left it on the light table while I watched something on TV, which is when the white cat decided that he would walk across the light table with muddy paws. I tried to wash them off, but it warped the paper and left a grey haze, so I had to do it all over again.

  3. These are great Maeve, and I really enjoy reading this sort of article. I love seeing the design process and the decsions that shape it along the way.

  4. Also have to say I really applaud your judgement in taking design elements that make an authentic scroll without potentially looking modern, as you mentioned talking about the capital. I always like seeing scribes take the road less travelled!