The 5-day Trossfrau, and why personal challenges matter.

I do this to myself a lot.

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This isn’t always the smartest idea. Especially when that particular garb is 16th Century and you literally haven’t sewed a fitted bodice on anything in about 5 years. But I was determined, and challenged by a certain Countess in Meridies who just received her Laurel in 16th Century German clothing to get it done. She even made me the wulsthaube as incentive.

I looked at a lot of pictures, and broke down the ensemble: shirt, dress with fitted bodice and full pleated skirt. Easy enough. Really. I could do this! Granted, I’m currently unemployed. Your mileage may vary.

It went as follows:
Sunday – Shirt.
Monday – Didn’t sew for some reason.
Tuesday – Skirt panels.
Wednesday – Fit the bodice.
Thursday – Sewed the bodice.
Friday – Constructed the dress.

So, first was the shirt. Kissa pointed me in the direction of a simple pattern, and I used some of my super soft Signature Finish linen from everybody’s favorite online linen store, Fabrics-Store.com. The shirt is pretty standard for a 16th century smock: sleeves are gathered into cuffs, and the collar has a slit, and is also gathered into a band. The Germans were extremely fond of pleatwork, or smocking, and that is really far out of my wheelhouse, so I opted for simple knife pleats, which also appears to be a period method. I made this is an afternoon, including hand-finishing the cuffs and collar. I initially left a slit in the cuffs, and then for some reason, closed it. I should have left them open, because it would have been easier to roll the sleeves.

 

Now I had to construct the dress. The bodice needed to be fitted, so I had to wait for a friend of mine to find time to come over for a fitting. So I focused on the skirt pieces. At first, I was going to do basic black guards, and then I had a visit from the Scope Creep Imp in my sleep, and decided that big, funky checkers were going to be the answer. Because, I can’t do anything that doesn’t make me look like a traffic cone. This was another full day’s worth of work.

 

I had to get that bodice done come hell or high water, though. I started the project on a Sunday, it was now Wednesday. I don’t have any pictures of the fitting process, but I do have pictures of the aftermath. Linen is not really the best fiber for this. I know there’s ways to “hack”, and get it to work, but being that I was short on time, I had to make it work.

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Mandatory Tim Gunn.
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Initial bodice block, I made no less than eleventy hundred more adjustments to it before I was pleased enough to cut the dress fabric.

I attempted a thick interfacing as the interlining, and it made all kinds of interesting geometric protrusions that were not okay. So, I stripped it out and conceded to just two layers of linen. I should have included a canvas interlining instead, but my brain went, “It’ll be fiiiiine”, and continued. I hand-closed the arms, and then attached the rings for lacing. It took me almost the entire film Dangerous Beauty to complete the rings.

And a fitting…over a T-shirt. We have bunching and not much support. Uh-oh. I just assume that adding the guards and the skirt would fix the fit. I wasn’t too off in the long run.

 

It was suggested that I hand-sew the guards down. I’m still not sure if this was the best option for me, but I did it anyway. It took the entirety of Dodgeball and almost all of A Knight’s Tale to get them down.

And then finished at 11am on Friday morning!

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“I got blistehs on me fingehs!”

But it was far from over. I still had to actually get the dress together!

I sewed the skirt panels up the side seams, and started the super fun pleating into the waist of the bodice. I actually like pleating, so this part wasn’t so bad. I was having fun with it. And of course, more handsewing: the lining needs to cover the raw edges of the skirts! (Yes, I doubled my thread. I have a bad habit of doing it because I tend to get more tangled and become unthreaded when I don’t. Technically, you should only do this for buttons, because it’s kind of lazy, but whatever. I said it was a bad habit.)


Almost…there… I took a break for dinner before hemming.

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Welp, I did a ton of handwork already, may as well hand-finish the hem, as well. I love blind hems. They’re quick, but I use them mostly on collar facings than actual hems. This is the first hand-hem I’ve done on a dress in a while.

Look! I used a single thread this time!

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But what about the Wulsthaube?! I got in the hat from Kissa on Monday (it was now Friday), but all it needed was a cover. Easy enough. I braided my hair for maximum effort, and picked a striped linen remnant I had in the closet. I machine finished the raw edges, and bam.

Das ist meine Wulsthaube. It Haubes Wulsts!

 

Then I had to try it on…oh no! It didn’t have ANY support! *expletives* But nothing I can’t fix with a pushup bra for the sake of the event. This upset me,but it goes back to the not having an interlining + sagging linen + Florida humidity making it extra saggy.

Without a bra on the left, and with on the right. So annoyed that it wasn’t self-supporting, but the lift was necessary. For someone with a big butt like me, you’d think I have the top to match? Noooo, I live in pushup bras. 😦 Thankfully, most of them are t-shirt bras, so they don’t show, especially through 3 layers of linen. This allowed me to have the support and shape I needed to fill the dress, without showing modern intervention to pull it off.

Naturally, the best thing to do at this point was to put the whole thing on, run downstairs, and terrify my husband.

Gieffrei was…not pleased. He looked at me and went, “That’s so not you. You don’t look normal and I don’t like it.” Gee, thanks, Jeff. But, he obliged in taking pictures of me in our messy library, anyway, as he was covered in sawdust from making a new chair out in the garage.

Voila. A Trimaris-friendly Trossfrau in 5 days.

Well, maybe not THAT Trimaris-Friendly. The stockings and clogs ended up staying home. The high at Hausmaerchen was near 90 and humid. So I opted for cloth Mary Janes, since I don’t have duckbill shoes. I was a hot sweaty mess, and the linen sagged EVEN MORE, but it gave a sense of authenticity of following the Landsknecht tross on campaign, I guess. I also got bit the hell up by fire ants. Womp womp.

I topped off my wulsthaube with a pin of a harpy. The theme was “the Lorelei”, but as I had no mermaid, another man-eating lady monster would fit the bill.

 

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So, why did I do this to myself, again? The bodice will have to be dissected and re-fitted before I wear it again, that’s for sure. And this was a lot of work for less than a week. This did, however, distract me from my regularly scheduled unemployment. Instead of sitting on the couch and surfing Facebook, or planning my next Byzantine attack, I had to go outside of my comfort zone (despite formerly having a 16th Century persona, hence the understanding of this basic pattern) and knock it out of the park in just a few days. It took my mind off of real life for a bit, and gave me a reset button to push. A new focus. Sometimes, we need that reset button. We need that challenge outside of our normal routine to wake the brainmeats up. The SCA gives us the fluidity to explore other cultures in that regard, which is nice. Otherwise, I probably would have just gone in a sloppy chiton to a German event if I didn’t give myself this chance to prove otherwise.

I’m going to try to give myself something new every year, now. Last year was the Burgundian, this year the Trossfrau. I wonder what’s next?

 

Better late than never – St. Nicholas of Myra Icon

Story time with Auntie Anna:

Back in the day, which is always a Wednesday, before we began our Knowne World Tour, it was arranged for Jeff to get his Silver Crescent at the same event as his Maunche because he was leaving Portsmouth for San Diego. Because of this, scroll requests got backed up. I wrote the words for his Crescent that was read in court, but he had no scroll. I promised him I would write an icon for him. THEN-

He left for Caid.
I got assigned Konstantia’s Herald Extraordinary scroll.
I wrote my thesis.
I moved to Caid.
He deployed.
I got the gilding down on this.
His backlog scroll came in from the East, and it’s lovely and I gave up.
He came back.
I did things other than paint.
We moved to Trimaris.
I was like, “Oh I still have this.”
And he was like, “So where is it?”

Here it is. 3 years later.

Panel is one of my handmade ones on a birch art panel with my own gesso. It is a hot mess and was not easy to paint on. I noticed the places where I didn’t sand as well, or touched a lot during demos and displays were prone to pitting and bad adhesion of the tempera. On the bright side, a lot of the flaws I had were the same flaws I saw on very old post-period/in-period panels. So there’s that, I guess. If anyone can take my experimental art and actually like it, it would be Gieffrei, anyway.

Saint: Nicholas of Myra, known to most of us as Santa Claus, but also the patron saint of sailors, and, of course, heretic puncher supreme. The reason I chose him should be evident. (Hint: Nothing to do with punching heretics.) The pattern is modern. Most period icons of St. Nicholas are rather boring and rarely show him with a boat/in a boat. Those are all post-period.

Green sky/blue water = Jeff’s arms, sans martlets, though in retrospect, I could have drawn one in. Green is also his favorite color.

Silver Crescent is on the boat, not only because service to his kingdom, but also to his country.

Inscription around the border: Γοδεφρείδος, Αργυρά Ημισέληνος της Ανατολής. “Gieffrei (Godefredus in Latin and Greek), Silver Crescent of the East.”

Main inscription just says Saint Nikolas.

After it cures for a couple of weeks, I will oil it, let it sit for a month, and then it can join the gallery on the staircase as an actual scroll.

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The great shell massacre of 2018. Shells care of the Atlantic Ocean.

Progress Shots:

Finished:

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So pretty. So…messy compared to my porcelain palette.

The long awaited completion of the Alligator Coronet

Yay, after building this as a draft for weeks, it’s finally done!

If I would have made this out of leather, it would have been done months ago. This became an issue of scope creep, that is, the project just kept growing more and more out of my hands.

At first, Jeff was going to make it, then he decided I needed to learn. So what culminated was a joint effort of, “Hey y’all, watch this.”

I am a total metalworking rookie, and I think that it shows, but hey, I did the thing! The base metals are nickel silver and brass. It’s not really based on any one particular coronet, you see hinged crowns across the continent.

Timeline: February to July. I could have had it done sooner if we focused on finishing it. But once we missed the deadline of East Kingdom Coronation, our goal became Pennsic.

February:

We started with a mockup made out of cardboard. Pieces of cardboard were cut into plausible plaque shapes, and taped together. We used this to make a stencil.

March:

I was busy with conference prep, so things got pushed back, but I got to cut METAL. \m/ I couldn’t do everything, and it was very hard to shape the plaques on the bandsaw after I traced the shape, so Jeff had to nip them by hand. It took 2 days. I felt horrible.

 

My cabochons had also come in. I went with a swampy Ruby-in-Zoisite.

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April:

Time to figure out copper shapes for enameling, and the sizing. Jeff punched them, I dished them. It was a loud night in the garage.

We tried to gun through this, but ran into some hiccups. I did all the enameling and soldering on the ornaments. Yep, hurricanes. And one tropical storm for luck. One of my non-SCA hobbies is storm tracking, much to the chagrin of my Facebook friends once the season gets cooking. That and, growing up in Florida, living most of my life on the Eastern Seaboard, yeah, they sort of become a way of life.

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Jeff did the brass work on the edges and hinges, I helped only a bit with the solder but didn’t feel confident enough with the higher temp stuff.

At this point, we were pretty much out of time, but Jeff attached the bezels for the cabochons. I didn’t get pictures of it. Attempts at polishing with the wheel and dremel failed. We needed to use pickle. This was going to have to wait.

May:

I found the damn pickle solution, and had fun with it. It took off all of the fire scale, and then I went in with some baking soda solution to get extra crud off.

July:

I had to spend some time out of town for most of June, so aside from sewing, not a ton toward Pennsic got done. Time to revisit the coronet and finish this.

Jeff finally got a good polish on the wheel, and inserted the cabochons into the bezels.

Lacquer was painted on it to protect the metal, and let dry.

The ornaments were re-attached, and the rivets were cut. While Jeff did that, I cut the pearl for the tropical storm ornament in the front of the coronet.

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Pearl in the storm, and that is not an obscure sports term:

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Because of the weight of the metal, we needed to get a suspension in there for a lining. My husband concocted a system using cardboard to frame padding made from a tube of flannel and craft felt. It was then riveted to three of the alligators, and treated with Loctite.

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And then I got to play fashion show to make sure it fit. Some of my veils are thicker, but overall it fits well. The padding should squish down a bit, if not, gravity is definitely going to do its job. I haven’t weighed it. I don’t think I want to.

And voila! We did it! A week and half from leaving for Pennsic! It’ll be on display in the Known World A&S Display on Middle Sunday. If not, I think I should stick out in a crowd.

Is it perfect? No. It’s only the third metal coronet Jeff has ever done, and the first like this where stones were set and it was full of ridiculous detail, but it’s mine, and the imperfections make it better for it.

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Remember the human: don’t be that guy at A&S classes and displays.

I was debating if I should post this one, or not.

*watches as the internet gets popcorn*

First and foremost, I am not unaware of my attitude problems, so this is not any way to raise me up above the rest, but rather a reminder for myself, and everybody else, to remember some core values of our society.

I am not a huge fan of A&S competitions, which I think is often reflected in my mediocre entries. And even though I have won Queen’s Champion in Caid, and now I’m baronial champion of Castlemere here in Trimaris, I’m still unconvinced that they are necessary.

I do enjoy displays, however, because it removes the stress of competition, and allows the artisan the chance to outwardly geek about their work, and chat with others informally about it. I love teaching, and I have some new material on deck for Pennsic which I will make a follow up post about.

Having been on both the judge and entrant side of competitions, attendee/displayee (I made a word), student/teacher etc, I feel that I need to speak up about what NOT to say when you’re not the person teaching or displaying.  Judging is in a class of its own, so that discussion will probably wait for another day.

My anecdote:

My last couple of Pennsics in the A&S display have been rough, and I’ve had a couple of hecklers in my classes as well. Now, Pennsic is big. People come from all over the world to camp as neighbors for 2 weeks out of the year, and with that draw, comes all sorts of people from all walks of life. Despite my extroverted personality, I still have anxiety, my husband is the polar opposite being introverted and never stressed (ever.) I understand that there is a spectrum of communication disorders and other issues that individuals face, and it was learning about these issues, as well as coming to terms with my own, that has helped me start reeling thoughts and actions back.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve had classes heckled. I’ve had people yell at me for not giving them the ‘yes’ answer they wanted, and I’ve been called ‘wrong’ and other things, and watched students storm out. This is not a common occurrence, mind you, but it has happened. While my brain has told me to throw a chair at them, I’ve never actually done it, because I’m usually standing there, dumbfounded by the outburst coupled with the heat, and wondering why someone would just ruin my class like that. One time, I had a jerk that yelled back at me for the entire first half of my class, that a countess interfered and told him to leave. I could have done this, but I was on a time constraint, and didn’t want to detract from the content for those who were there to actually learn something. This was several years ago, now (I want to say 2011-2012), but I’m still unsure of how to react appropriately when it happen again. I say “when”, because it’s endemic. I’m not the only teacher to get this treatment.

In fact, I get “screamed” at in emails more than anything else. I want to say that for every 10 emails I get with information or research requests regarding my blog content, 1 of them will end with explosions and flames. This is when I stop responding. Sure, I could take them for a walk out to the internet woodshed, but that does me nothing but sate a momentary burst of anger, and will only make the querent more pissed. I save that ranting for social media, which I shouldn’t do either, but sometimes, I need to let the heat out. Again, not just me, I’ve heard similar stories from other blog and site owners. Yikes.

Now, I need to talk about the Pennsic Knowne World A&S Display, and I am going to be blunt. The last year I participated (2016) I met, some of, the NASTIEST PEOPLE IN THE SCA EVER. I have displayed on-off only for few years, but two years ago, I damn near quit the SCA for good because of my Pennsic experiences. I’ve been playing now for 20 years, and I was ready to walk, because a few people did not think before they spoke to me. Going back to the issue of communication and neurological disorders, I tried to be kind, but by the end of the day, I could not, and packed up and left early.

What was I displaying? My thesis. Yeah, it was all machine sewn and I had bought trim on it, but I thought that I could discuss my research behind the garments without getting shredded by the thread counters. I was wrong. Dead wrong. I felt defeated and hurt, and was only boosted by a laurel friend from Atlantia, who actually had to chase off one of the assailants, and several people who urged I present at the International Congress of Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, which I did, thanks to them. My work was on the table for no less than a minute before I was verbally accosted by someone claiming to be a laurel, (I have my reservations about this. I know a ton of peers, and this was so out of character, I think she was lying as an excuse to be rude,) who snarked me for not doing my own goldwork embroidery. My head spun. I’m not an embroiderer, I am actually terrible at embroidery, so I explained, gently, that this was predominantly an academic project, not an SCA one, and I was limited to one semester for completion. So even if I could embroider, there was no way I could do that much work in my allotted time. She fired back, and said that me purchasing sari trim was “tacky”, and because she could embroider that quickly, I should be able to do it, as well.  I decided to fire back with pulling out documentation from the Book of the Eparch, showing that trim and embellishments were controlled by different guilds than the silk sellers and tailors, so in period, I would not have embroidered or woven the trim used on a garment I sewed, but she wanted nothing of it. She just wanted to be rude. I had to stare at her nearby table the entire time, shellshocked, 3 minutes in to a 4 hour display.

I was handed a mimosa by my dear friend the Mimosa Fairy, and I thought I could shake it off. I could not. I was pissed. I wanted to throttle her. And then they just kept coming.

“Why didn’t you hand sew this?”
“I had three months, but here is this great paper and document-…”
“That’s not an excuse.”

And then the coups de grace was the woman who decided to attack WHAT I WAS WEARING as being wrong. It was no less than 90F out. I was wearing a tube with pins and had rushed over from the Unbelted Champions Battle. This is when I lost my patience, and told her to screw. When she complained to the organizer (Atlantian Laurel friend) she was told to stop her rudeness, and get out. Apparently, she felt it necessary to critique every woman’s hot weather bog dress, and I just happened to have hit my last straw and told her to scram.

I packed up and left 2 hours early. Not wanting to people anymore, and wondering if I should even bother sticking around war.

The Lesson:

Why am I whining about this now? Because Pennsic is fast approaching, and I don’t want to deal with it again. I don’t want anybody to deal with the thread counters, the garb snarks, the hecklers, and the pedants.

It is HARD being a teacher. It is HARD to display your art. It takes huevos to get up there. Of course I’ve listened to teachers I’ve disagreed with. You wait until after class and offer to send them an email for further discussion, you do not disrupt their hard work because your research experience tells you otherwise. If it’s really bothering you, get up, give them a friendly wave, and leave. That’s all it takes to be civil.

And despite my own quirks, I cannot, for the life of me, understand those that approach people who are willingly displaying their artwork in the heat of the afternoon for hours, and be rude to them, especially a peer. I was told that the reason people were being rude to me was because I wasn’t wearing my coronet. I should not have to have a specific award, or piece of jewelry to command respect. Again, have I seen research and projects I disagreed with, or thought could use some tweaks? Of course. What do I do? Give them my card and a token, and ask them to shoot me an email if they want feedback. THAT’S IT.  You don’t insert yourself in somebody else’s project unless they ask for it. You don’t stand there in pedantic, elitist glory and get to tell somebody that they should have done something differently. Artists always work hard, and no matter their level, are always their worst critic. Being a jerk to them is a great way to ensure that they never display again. Thanks to rudeness in the SCA, I almost stopped writing icons, and I’m definitely not showing machine-sewn work, ever, again, despite the novel of research that accompanies it. I’ll bring it to my classes, instead.

I love giving out little tokens, too. (As much as I love getting them.) It’s a nice way of saying thanks. I have a wonderful collection of fun beads, charms, beewax, and other goodies given to me because somebody admired what I did. Take the time to sit down and make some, or order something you can’t make. Those little thoughts mean a lot.

The bottom line is this, friends: We are all human beings with feelings. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been in the SCA for 20 years or 20 minutes. Remember the humanity. Remember that we all have something going on.

Don’t be that guy at the A&S Display! Don’t be that heckler in the classroom! Likewise, I need to not open my mouth if you ARE that guy, because I don’t know what’s going on in your life, either. Pennsic is hot. It’s wet. It’s stressful. Let’s all be better this year.

-Anna

Addendum: I’ve noticed some remarks across social media of people getting scared about teaching or displaying at Pennsic. I promise you, cross my heart, that this is not everyone at war. If you have a problem with someone and don’t have anywhere to turn, come find me at the display, or, I camp at the North Gate in block N-18, right on the corner. Ask for Anna (or Angela, most people in my camp refer to me as my mundane name), and I’ll make sure we set this issue straight with the university and display staff.

Icon-a-long with Anna 6: Completion

So, I don’t have a ton of pictures of this, mostly just the end result. The total was 3 floats of highlights, then the embellishments, inscription, shell gold, and border. Total amount of time on this one board: 15 hours. A “light” amount of work. @_@

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After the 3rd day of painting.
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Done!

Use of a pattern doesn’t necessarily mean a copy, so I decided to veer from the original and give a contrast border. The inscription is in Latin, rather than Greek, since the original had the same (from what I could make out).

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I did have some issues getting lines thin enough with my brushes. I think it’s a combination of my own pressure, them wearing out, and just not being thin enough for fine line work on smaller details. For icons where I just do the head or bust, they’re probably still fine, but I need to invest in tinnier liners! I also got a bit carried away with the shell gold on the Hand of God, but everybody loves gold!

I’m also utterly surprised at how good the horse came out.

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It’s now setting up to be oiled in a few weeks, and hopefully dry before Pennsic and delivery to its commissioner. I hope they love it!

 

Next up is the War Sew-a-thon, but I’m hoping to get some paint down on the icon of St. Nicholas next, which is doubling as a backlog scroll for my husband’s Order of the Silver Crescent.

Icon-a-long with Anna 3: Gilding

So. Part of blogging a process as you go along means it’s harder to hide mistakes. Mistakes are a natural process of life, and as such, I hate them. But, as part of a learning process, I’m not sugar coating this post. I made some booboos, and learned that Florida humidity is unkind to the icon gilding process.

The icon process is pretty specific. You breathe an open-mouthed hot breath on the bole to create condensation, and the loose gold will adhere. It’s basically a form of water gilding with mouth moisture. (ewww.) But, this is symbolic of the breath of God, it’s also super period. After yesterday, I may have to cheat for the few years I’m down here.

I grew up in Florida, so the heat and humidity aren’t any sort of surprise. I don’t think I’m as tolerant of it as I used to be after living in New England and experiencing seasons, and living in perfect-almost-all-the-time Southern California. I learned how to gild in New England. I used fake composite gold in Rhode Island, but had graduated to real gold in New Hampshire. In retrospect, all of my icon work up there was during the winter. In California, I only gilded the halo of St. Nicholas, but I remember it being almost too perfect.

And now, I’ve returned to Hell Incarnate, and failed to prepare myself for the difficulty that awaited me. Anyways, here’s some pictures.

 

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Avengers assemble! 2 burnishers, some 23kt double gold loose leaf, and cut wax paper.

First thing first, I burnished the bole on the halos to a high sheen. I screwed up here. Twice, on both icons. I either pushed too hard, or it wasn’t set up right, because I ripped up spots of bole on each one and had to put more down, and let it set. This would bite me for the rest of the day.

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Michael’s halo partially burnished to a high shine.
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Burnishing Martin’s halo. This takes time. If you go too hard or too fast, you WILL rip up the bole.

Once I succeeded, I prepared the gold leaf. The easiest way to do this is to use wax paper to catch the leaf versus trying to use a gilders knife. At least, that’s the way I was taught?

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So shiny!
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Wax on…
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Wax off.
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You can cut the leaf once it’s on the wax paper with ordinary scissors. No cushion or knife required.

Once the gold was transferred to the wax paper and cut, all I had to do was breathe some hot air and slap it down, right? No. The first piece I used didn’t adhere at all. Naturally, I don’t have pictures of this part, since I was super perplexed, and then it became a fight. Then war was declared. And what is supposed to be a meditative, relaxing art for me turned into digging into the trenches and not coming out of the room until I had this gold down, dammit.

This was probably not the best approach. What I SHOULD have done, was troubleshoot via the internet and the scribal community.

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This is Martin, as I’m fighting to get coverage on one side of the halo after the first layer bombed. You can see the layers of leaf I was using to get it to stick, and how it wasn’t TOUCHING a few spots. Pinholes are normal, gaping holes are not. Layers are normal, layers that don’t cover gaping holes are not.

While I was getting frustrated, I must have spittled on the icon a bit, or too much condensation built up, and gold went down ONTO MARTIN’S FACE.

I honestly assumed that with the extra humidity, regardless of central AC, that the gold would be wanting to stick to literally everything, and I would have had the opposite problem. It wanted nothing to do with it. The equilibrium between the temperature of my breath and the board, or the amount of water in the air and my breath, must have  been off. Boards do absorb water, which leads them to warp with age, so it was suggested after my Facebook venting by a Trimarian scribe that I should put the board in the fridge for a while next time, to see if I can dehydrate it and cool it off, and get more condensation.

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Michael’s first layer. I was flabbergasted.

After the first round. I went downstairs, had some tea, and attempted to re-center myself. I didn’t take pictures of the gold on the wax paper, I wish I had: It was terribly patchy. And while it’s normal for it to come off in smaller pieces if I’m focusing on an area, it was doing that the whole time. I was getting bubbles and oxidation I had never seen before.

After my break, I figured enough time had passed for me to go ahead and burnish Martin’s halo. NOPE. It started great, and then the leaf just started coming right up, and exposed the bole. I gave up, regilded his whole halo, and decided that was enough handling of that icon for the time being.

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Shiny enough to reflect my phone and then…ACK!
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3 sheets of gold later: Those nice forehead smudges. I should be able to sand it down and paint over it, but that’s not the point.

I went back to Michael with a new plan of attack: Tenting the halo with the wax paper as I breathed on it, and then slamming the gold down quickly.  It seemed a bit violent, but it worked. I didn’t dare attempt to burnish.

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There’s still some exposed spots and pinholes, but I’ve decided to fix that with shell gold, and the painted halo outline.

For comparison, here’s Nicholas, who I gilded in California. Practically no blemishes, and a thickness nice enough to press a design into even on my rough, homemade board.

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I went downstairs after all of this, and had a stiff drink. This was 4 solid hours of work from start to finish. While one should take their time, that seems a bit excessive for simple gilding. The gold is down for these guys, but I need to reassess my approach now that I’m living in the swamp again.

Painting is up next. Let’s hope the threat of cockroaches eating fresh egg tempera doesn’t come true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Icon-a-long with Anna 2: Patterns and Bole

This post shows you the deepest darkest secret of iconography: the patterning process.

This is tongue in cheek for obvious reasons. Why?

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I will let you all stop screaming.

No, really. While many iconographers draw their own images, the vast majority of them are made from patterns that have existed since the Middle Ages or Early-Modern period. You can go on Amazon right now and find dozens of books of icon patterns and line art for this purpose. Copying is period. In fact, I was able to see an actual medieval icon pattern in person, once. I was unable to take a picture, but it was made of animal skin, and had the image punched into it so the iconographer could transfer it over onto their panel with a stylus. How else do you think so many icons look identical, save details and color?

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Two icons of “Sign, Mother of God” at the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA. The same pattern, but with different colors and embellishments. Note the position of the halo on each with the border and kovcheg.

I’m too poor to afford skins I can dedicate to patterns, but I can use the modern method of carbon paper, which is how most schools today teach it. (I do believe carbon paper, or a form of it, is period, but let’s not grasp at straws for stunt documentation.)

So, the way to do this is fairly straight forward. I’m using an 11×14 panel for an 8×10 printout, so I need to measure that out to create my border. Then I play the corner matching game and tape the image with the carbon paper down to the panel with painters tape. After that, using a dull pencil or a ballpoint pen, I go ahead and trace over the lines I need to create the line art. No need to get too detailed, because I learned early on you do too much work on the pattern, and paint over and lose all those detail lines. That’s all work you do on top of the base layers.

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Drawing the guidelines.
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Taping on the stencil.
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Finished cartoon.

After you get a successful trace, go back in with a graphite pencil and fix some details and missed lines.

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Notice how the original icon has the horse tail coming out of the border. I did the same.

After you have your line art, it’s time to prep for gilding.

Always get your gold down before painting. Gold will stick to all the things, so it’s important that you get it to stick to the only thing you want for the time being, and that’s a substance called bole.

I’ve mentioned this before in my previous icon posts, but bole is a mixture of red clay and hide glue. I’ve made it before, but I also like buying it ready made from Pandora because it make my house not smell gross and my stove and floors not get stained. Since I live in military housing, paying for others to do this for me is a great convenience.

I put two thick layers of bole down on the halo, and then a rough, thin layer on the edge of the board. This is highly symbolic in the icon process, but also important: the bole provides a cushion for the gold to have a design engraved into it if desired, and the layer on the edge helps protect the board while it’s being handled. In icon speak, it’s the base of earth from which God shone the divine light at creation (halo), and the edges are symbolic of the roughness and mortality of the artist. It’s kind of dark, and I love it. Because I paint these as an historical art in a secular manner, versus something that will be used for actual veneration, I don’t dwell too much on the sanctity of the process, but it makes a great mnemonic for the process, because the order of operations matters for a practical reason, as well as spiritual.

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Thick layer of wet bole on the icon of St. Martin.
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While that dried, I patterned Archangel Michael. Don’t worry about the guidelines, they can be erased and re-drawn.
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Putting bole down on Michael’s halo.
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Second thick layer of bole on St. Martin. It’s important to be mindful of air bubbles, which can ruin the smoothness of gold adhesion.
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Coating the edges.
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Ready to dry overnight and take on gold leaf.

After the bole cures, I’ll use an agate burnisher to smooth it out, but that will have to wait until tomorrow morning. If all goes well, I’ll be able to get the gold leaf down, and the first layer of egg tempera on all three icons.

 

To put things in perspective before painting, here’s the three brushes I use most of the time.

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