Practical class: Medieval Manuscript Illumination

You know, I’ve always loved that glowing, golden Medieval manuscript illumination. Each time I’m at a museum I search them out. Something about the illuminated letters just makes my heart sing. Old botanical illustrations or old maps do that for me too. You know, huge books with torn pages and brown stains containing precious paintings.

Have a look at this 15C book page:

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I was thrilled to get into the Medieval manuscript decoration class, not only because it was something I had never done before, but also because here was my chance to learn about this from instructor Helen White, a master artist in illuminated manuscripts, with an amazing three decade long knowledge base.

The old Medieval artists used powdered earth pigments and real gold or silver, and I would have loved to mix my own pigments and use real precious gold leaf, but, again, this practical class was only 1.5 hour long, so had to settle for coloured card stock and metal based gold gouache paint from Winsor & Newton.

So, if you’d like to have a go at making yourself an illuminated letter like I did, then gather your materials, you will need:

Tracing paper
coloured card stock
gold gouache paint
white gouache paint
a hard, precise pencil, (I had an H)
black ink pen
a different colour to you card stock pencil or paint
two very small, very precise paintbrushes
ruler

Putting this letter together was a bit like figuring out Celtic knots. Once someone shows you how, it’s really easy.

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Start with a square of coloured paper. The dimensions of the square I used are in the image above. The letter will sit in the middle of the square, so pick your letter first and them maybe cut your square.

I’m not sure what to advise you for the letter as we were given a printed page with the correct sized font, but for my next adventure, I’ll design the letter myself. Maybe you could have a look on line for a template or write to Helen; she might send you one.

But once you have a font, trace the letter on some tracing paper with a precise, sharp pencil, flip the tracing paper over and trace the letter to the back.

Now put the tracing paper on to the front of your card and go over it again tracing the pencil lead onto the card. I think that, except for an “I”, “T” or an “O”, you just can’t measure the middle and have to eyeball it, but it’s such a precise little painting that you’ll probably get it spot on in that space.

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Here is a breakdown of the steps with Helen’s demonstration, but I’ll take you thru them with my piece just below.

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Measure the central square, either according to the diagram above or according to your own wishes and transfer the pencil letter to it.

Here, if you had more time and supplies, you could use size and gold leaf, but I used gold paint. Outline the letter first and fill it in later. I know that I’m not a precise painter and so, to keep it extremely precise, I had to go slowly. If you are using a gold size and leaf, I would suggest leaving it till the end to apply; just draw the pencil letter on the card so you can do the decorating around it.

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Next, using your ruler and black ink, measure every 1/2 centimetre along the top and bottom, and sides and flip your ruler upside down, (so the flat edge is held a little above the card to prevent the ink from smudging), and draw black ink lines in a grid pattern taking care to miss the letter.

Now colour in each alternate square in the grid. Again, because of the time crunch, I used a pencil, but next time I’ll use some paint.

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Now get some white paint and a fine brush, and paint squares on each alternate square. Go slowly!!! Here, Helen is demonstrating on a large grid to make it easier. She applied the white to the red squares.

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I had a bit of practice on a scrap piece of card and preferred the white on the blue squares.

ARG! I can’t draw precise squares to save my life! This was a lesson in frustration. I joked with the lovely woman beside me that, if I had been a Medieval illustrator, my squares would have literally been the death of me!

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Once the squares are completed, I connected them with lines on the diagonal and used a bit more gold gouache for some dots in the red squares and to do a little golden outlining around the outside of my design.

And look! What do you think? I think it’s such a lovely art form to learn. Now I want to take my time and discover other designs and use gold leaf.

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Wouldn’t this lend itself so beautifully to Christmas cards or to one’s own signature on a piece of art? I think so.

Practical class: Felting 101

It took forever to drive to Waterperry House and Art in Action on the first day, (three stalled vehicles on the highway and crawling traffic.) The result was that the class I intended to take was booked up and so I opted for a felting class instead.

I’ve never felted anything before and I though, why not? Why not go and have some “crafting” fun. And here is the how to of this fun art form:

The tools which are needed are:
- wool felt
- a felting needle (careful, it has four sharp and barbed needles, and they will hurt you!)
- a foam support
- a needle and thread, scissors and, maybe some buttons or beads or other embellishments, (or not).

(What do you think of this cute felted fairy cake pin cushion? Don’t you love it?)

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The craft being made was a felted flower broach and here is the teacher demonstrating the beginning. She took a bunch of wool, formed it into a sort-of circle…

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…and began stabbing it with the felting needle. Her needle didn’t have a protective, retractable plastic cover, the student’s needles did.

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So I chose some colours and here is the beginning of my first flower. It’s really easy and fun actually and I think I had a smile on my face thru the whole procedure. In no time the wool began and to knit together and became a cohesive disk.

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And, in no time, I had three disks and two leaf shapes ready for my broach. I picked out some buttons and some red thread and began stitching it all together.

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And, here is my finished broach! (I stitched a broach pin to the back of it.)

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Look how well it looks on my little purse! I chose these autumnal colours because I’m looking forward to pinning it on my scarves later on in the year.

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This was a simple little thing to learn and I must say that everyone who saw it commented on how lovely it was. I think so too.

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But before you…or I…dismiss it as a “craft” take a look at this award winning Best of the Best Textile piece from artist Eve Kelly! Isn’t it amazing? It’s all felted, just like my flowers, and sold for 390GBP, (that’s over $700!). Here’s a link to another lovely website where you can see life-sized felted birds by Eve O’Neill.

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Happy felting folks. Let me know if you have done this and what you’ve made. :D

Practical class: Silk Painting 101

Here we go with the first practical class from art in action. :D

Have you ever wondered how to paint on silk? Have you ever seen those beautiful silk flags fluttering in the breeze or one of those exquisite silk paintings with the puffy backing and wondered about making one for yourself? Well, read on, because now you’ll be able to.

Painting on silk requires a few special products and a little practice and that’s all there is.

You’ll need special paints. The ones we used were already decanted into the little palette and so I couldn’t photograph the actual paint pot, but I know what they are. They are heat set paints and are called Silkcraft Iron Fixed Silk Paint. They blend like a dream, they rinse and thin with water and act a little like watercolours.

The special solution you need to stop the paints from bleeding together is called Gutta. It comes in a tube with a very thin nozzle for precise application.

The other things you need are:
- a piece of silk…obviously…lol
- a wooden support to pin the silk to, (I suggest going to your local thrift store, buying a tacky .99 cent painting on a wooden support, and tearing the canvas away.)
- and some pins to pin the silk to the wooden support (there are special pins with three sharp prongs that we were using, but I think any thin, sharp pushpin will work.)
- something to act like a palette. This paint is very watery so it has to be in little cup forms.
- a paintbrush or two, a jar of water, a piece of paper and a couple pieces of masking tape.

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So, the first thing to do is to pin the silk on the wooden support.
Then take your piece of paper and fold it in such a way that it fits inside the wooden support underneath the silk, then take the paper out. Now you have the paper the precise size of drawing surface.

Now draw something. :) (I had my robin drawing on my cell phone and so decided to replicate something like that. This class was only 1.5 hours, but you can take as long as you like.)

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE!!!
You will follow your drawing with the Gutta and, when you finally get to paint the colours on your silk, everywhere that lines do not meet, that is, everywhere where there is a little gap in the Gutta, the paint will bleed and mix together. So draw your design with that firmly in your mind.

When you have drawn your design, pour out some of the paints into your palette. A little will do, it goes a long way.

Now flip the wooden support with the silk pinned to it upside down and put your drawing underneath your silk. You will be able to see the design thru the silk. Hold the paper there with a couple pieces of masking tape.

Now flip the silk right side up and take your Gutta and trace the lines on your silk with the Gutta. You may like to have a little practice on a darker sheet of paper first, (newspaper, paper bag, your kid’s construction paper), to get the hang of how the Gutta flows.

You can see in my robin design, I intentionally left a space on the right side of the robin’s red breast area. I wanted to denote the red part, but wanted the colour to blend and bleed thru.

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Now you’re ready to paint your design.

I found that the paint colours were a little sharp for my liking. I mean, fuchsia, turquoise, minty green. lemon yellow…etc…, so I mixed them together to make softer colours and browns and oranges. I had a little practice on my sheet of paper.

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Now be brave!!!

What you need is loads of wet paint and dabs with the brush. For the robin’s red breast I used some red and yellow, and, while they were wet, they blended beautifully.

For his wings and tail, I mixed up a load of brown and, while it was wet, I added some blue.

For the background I mixed up a load of blue, (that wasn’t turquoise or midnight blue) and sloshed it on with the biggest brush there was. You can see how the brush wasn’t big enough for the blue sky and how it dried patchy.

But wait! Here’s a trick: SALT

I wasn’t sure how to describe the feathers on his breast. I wanted a dappled effect of soft brown and white. Our instructor, Julie, suggested I sprinkle salt on the area I want to disturb the paint. I used pickling salt, you know, larger crystals, but you can also use table salt. I presume it would give a bit of a different mottling effect. The best way to add the salt is to dump a generous amount on your work surface and then pick it up in your fingers and place it where you want it. The salt absorbs some of the paint causing a lovely mottled effect.

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I did the same thing with a second layer of blue on the sky background.

You have to wait till the paint dries and then shake the salt off.

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And, TAH DA! Here is my finished little silk painting. I love it and can’t wait to frame it. :D (Also, can’t wait to buy some supplies and paint some more.) This is the company I’m likely to order from here in the UK, but I’m sure that very similar products can be found all over the world.

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Here are a couple of designs Julie had as inspiration:

I’ve added the green arrows to show you how the paints will bleed into each other if the Gutta isn’t completely sealing the spaces.

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However, you can always do a crazy, zany design like this lovely one, and then it doesn’t matter so much at all. :D

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Happy silk painting.

A beautiful kitchen garden plus royal kitchen

Well, I would say this would be just about PERFECT for me! And yes, I’d move in in a heartbeat and live in the little gardener’s shed if someone would let me. (I don’t take up too much room) :D

Of course, 200 yrs ago, the real kitchen gardens, which served Kew Palace and Mad King George were enormous, but thank goodness the land has been given over to the gardeners. Also, thank goodness this little representation remains.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

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It’s a walled garden! Isn’t this the absolutely most sensible way to garden in the world?

I’m thinking, “where can I get my hands on a few thousand beautiful old bricks to wall in my own garden?”

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The south wall and the north wall.

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How hard can it be to to make a bunch of these charming cloches? I’m going to try to figure them out. A bit of glass, a bit of leaded strips, a bit of solder…

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Here’s the charming gardener’s cottage. The perfect place to have tea.

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And now, I suppose all the beautiful produce had to be prepared somewhere. Let’s have a look at the royal kitchens.

The kitchens are somewhat below ground to keep them cool, but still have light and a view to the garden.

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I really would call this shabby chic to the MAX!

Lovely old wood burners, lime washed walls, stone floors, old patina on pipes, rustic wood.

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These were the food preparation areas…

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…and this was the cooking kitchen.

This space is two stories tall to get all the heat to rise and vent out.

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And what’s on the second floor?

Accounting offices, chef’s offices, and offices where the Kew Palace staff organised meals.

Robbie read that the kitchen processed over 300 chickens per month in that ledger.

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I suppose this is also the place for a glass of something in the evening.

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Or a cup of tea.

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And, further into the kitchens, are larders full of processed seasonal foods stored for the future.

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Did you enjoy your visit? I did.

Do we all want to run out and build a walled kitchen garden and shabby chic the heck out of our kitchens?

Yup, I know the feeling. :D Kew Palace next time :D

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Etsy shop

OMG, my heart’s a flutter.

I finally took the plunge and published that Etsy shop I keep going on about after sitting on my writing desk and staring out of the skylight at the city for about an hour.

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Finally I said to myself, “As soon as a seaplane takes off the water I’ll get to work on the shop.” Then one took off straight away. So I reasoned that that was way too soon and now it has to be a different sea plane to count. Then a second one took off followed by a third one. Boy, I can procrastinate for Canada!

So I made myself get off the desk and open my drawers full of paintings and chose three and photographed them with shaking hands, rushed off to a Dr.’s appointment, came home, sorted out the photos and published the shop!

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So with butterflies and trepidation, I’m going to proudly say, “Lots more paintings on ephemera to come. :D
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Thanks for hanging in there with me. XXXXXXXX……..O

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Coca Cola, Rachel’s wonderful drawing challenge

Well, this was an interesting twist for me.

I don’t drink coke. I can’t imagine filling my body with ten teaspoons of sugar and huge amounts of caffeine and DNA destroying potassium benzoate. :( (but I hear it’s great for getting rust off of metal)

I actually don’t drink any pop at all, so it was a bit of a stretch to come up with something coke related.

The first thing I thought about was pop art, Andy Warhol, as in: “You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”

So, ubiquitous as it is, I didn’t really want to disseminate the whole coke image.

I thought about buying a can, dumping the pop out and using the aluminum for some art… recycling the rest…making more cans of coke available…but then again I ran into the problem of personally not agreeing with contributing to the cola market.

What to do…what to do…

Then I got an idea!

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I searched out the biggest pieces of sea glass in my collection and tried a few photo transfer, and it worked!

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The funny thing about photo transfers, is you have to draw the image, then scan it then cut it up and transfer it then remove the paper backing then clear coat it…

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That’s like seventeen steps when you could simply have drawn the darn thing on the object in the first place…lol.

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But it’s much more fun this way, isn’t it?

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So who knows if this glass came from coca cola bottles, but then who knows if it didn’t? I’m taking artistic liberty here ;)

I can see there being a few more photo transfer pieces of sea glass in my life.

When you have a chance, drop by Rachel’s and check out some other fantastic coke related art.

So, I play with dolls!

You know how things happen? You visit a friend and she’s made a wonderful jointed paper doll.

Then, just by coincidence, you visit a second friend and guess what? Yup! Another beautiful doll.

Then you visit a third friend and, holy smokes…she’s got an exquisite mermaid going on!

Well, it doesn’t take much more and you decide you’ve got to have a mermaid/flapper/jointed doll in your life too!

The internet…gotta love it…has a multitude of jointed doll pattern out there. I chose this one.

Made myself a mermaid. Naked of course. Hey, if I was a mermaid I’d so not want to be dragged down by seashell bras and be made a slave to dry people conventions.

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Sat her up against my most favourite Nick Bantock’s “Man Descending” on my office desk.

Next I decided to make a flapper. Same pattern. Dressed her in jet beads and fringe. Stood her up against Man Descending.

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Man Descending looks pretty happy to me. :D

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Finally carved some stamps

I say finally because I’ve had a couple “speedball speedy cut” medium squares for several months!

Actually, the reason I carved the stamps is now that I’ve organised somewhat straightened up the studio, I actually found where I stashed them.

Carving into this medium was an absolute dream. (Ok, but, I have to admit I have a hand full of proper lino cutting tools now…although the exacto-knife was super easy to use too)

I chose a simple seaweed design and set to it. I found out that it’s really simple to draw your design on paper and then transfer the pencil carbon onto the block by rubbing the back of the paper with something solid, like the handle of my art knife, then I traced over the pencil lines with a ball point pen. (Artist ink pens don’t seem to mark the material.)

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When I thought I finished I inked it up with a regular stamp pad to see how I did.

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Success!!! :D Also, it was easy to see where I wanted to trim a little more.

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I carved a second stamp with the left-over corner, and then a third one.

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Then I took a small piece of watercolour paper, watercolours and my printing inks, and drew and stamped myself a little underwater scene.

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Complete with a shy little clown fish. :D

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Oh I foresee a sizable stockpile of hand carved stamps in my future…lol.

Here we go!

Woke up this morning all excited. It’s the day of the garden show.

Some of the paintings are all lined up on my dining room table, while the big oils are stacked against the glass door.

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Here are some early morning shots of the garden.
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I’m off to set everything up.

So excited, wish me luck. :D

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Playing games, (when I should be working)

The other day, when C and I were at the beach, we collected some beach wood and pebbles.

I had it in mind to make a tic tac toe game for the garden with one of the driftwood and the pebbles.

This beautiful piece had three ginormous nails stuck thru it, but I liked the nail heads and so decided to be brave and use my angle grinder to cut the sharp ends off and leave the rest of the metal in the wood.

Boy, you should have seen how brave I was. There were sparks all over the place and burning wood and melting, red hot metal!!! Angle grinders are not for the weak hearted!

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Then I got some inks and water, the pebbles and a brush.

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I picked out the pebbles I wanted and tried them on for size.

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Then I freehand painted circles on half and xs on the others, and I eyeballed some lines for the game board.
(using rulers and pencils would have been just too professional for me and I want people to pick the game up and not worry.)

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And there you go! Hope people will feel free to play. :D

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