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. @_@
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This post shows you the deepest darkest secret of iconography: the patterning process.
This is tongue in cheek for obvious reasons. Why?
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?
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.
After you get a successful trace, go back in with a graphite pencil and fix some details and missed lines.
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.
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.
[Yes, the woman who named her site after a VNV Nation song just dropped a Wu Tang reference. Not even sorry.]
My husband has a huge head and a normal neck. Those of us who sew know what this means, it means a gaping maw of a neckline that shows off the Norman’s delicate ginger skin. And while it’s nothing a nice brooch and a gallon of sunblock can’t fix, it’s not -right-.
I’ll be posting soonish on dressing my husband in Byzantine, (yes, really, men’s garb, you heard it hear first), as well as including a new page on Norman Garb here on my site (*faints*) but I needed to reassess my approach toward fit.
During my short time in Caid, I had a discussion with a friend about necklines. American reenactors and re-creators make our necklines too big. After her visit to Scandinavia and meeting with Viking reenactors in the land of Where This Stuff Actually Happened, she gave me some tips on how to fix my stupidity.
I’m sure that this technique is known to a few people and I’m going to get a “WELL, DUH!” Gibbs Slap in the comments, but knowing also that there’s some derpy sewers out there who probably make the same mistakes I do, this post is important.
For the longest time, I’ve been following a formula given to me a while ago: You draw your neckline 3-4″ each way from the center point, 2″ down in the back, 4″ down in the front, and add a keyhole slit. This gives a lopsided oval effect with a shorter back than front, which is essential for comfort, but it’s just too wide around the neck. My husband’s head is 26″, his neck is 17″. He’s not a jacked guy, but he’s tall and broad, so making garb that doesn’t choke him has been a challenge.
Here is my new hack: Neckline gauges.
A true circle with the circumference of our necklines (13.5″ for me, 17″ for him), marked up showing increments of 1/2″ from the back toward the center mark. Ignore where it says “+ allowance”, I tried that and it made it too big. Just go with the regular neck measurement, the hem or facing will take care of that ease.
You place the gauge on the fabric, center mark matching to the dead center of where you want the neckline to be. Then, move it forward to where you want the depth of the back to be. I’ve done both 1″ and 1.5″ with good results. The dotted line helps you maintain the angle toward the front, and where you can mark your slit.
Here I am demonstrating it on a piece of scrap linen:
Give that a shot. Practice on a scrap and put it over your head. You should have a neckline that comes right up if not a bit above the clavicle, and looks more accurate. Voila!!
Clearly, a closed slit is vital to the tight necks in Byzantine artwork, but you never see the slit! What do we do?
I’ve constructed this for my husband with great results, both with, and without the band collar. This is also where I learned to NOT ADD A SEAM ALLOWANCE ON THE NECKLINE. I’ll be posting a better walkthrough once I’m done with his new collection of tunics so I can discuss my experience using the pattern above.
The other option is to put the slit off-center. The most common is just down the left side of the neck, as seen in the Alb of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Palermo Tunicella. While both not “Byzantine” garments, the Eastern influence is evident.
No, really. Somehow, it ended up in a box of our holiday decorations because that’s how military packers and movers roll.
We aren’t pros, we have a basic know-how of the art thanks to a couple classes at Pennsic, and dropped a few hundred dollars on supplies because it sounded like a good idea at the time and then FORGOT ALL ABOUT IT.
So we decided to fire it up and see what kind of horrible we could make. We have a Sutton Hoo-era Coronation for our last hurrah here in Caid, so might as well go all out with some Anglian enameled jewelry. Sure, we could totally do this.
Deciding that we were going to turn our early Anglian garb into Founders Era Harry Potter subtle SCA cosplays of Rowena Ravenclaw and Godric Gryffindor (Yes, I know that they founded the school in the 10th Century and not the 6th, but they were Anglo-Saxon so bear with my madness, please, we go any later and my Norman husband will declare war on himself and things get messy) I started planning stuff out, since I’d be doing most of the work, anyway. I needed brooches, but since I’m Ravenclaw, I needed some house pride. I’m really unsure if the plethora of bird brooches used between the Anglo-Saxon, Frankish/Merovingian, and Gothic cultures were used on the peplos dresses, but I decided to take that risk for my impression.
Now, there’s some REALLY IMPRESSIVE enameled and inset stone eagle fibulae out there. Way beyond what I can do, so I needed to keep it simple. I found that Quiet Press had a style I could possibly emulate, only in red, but I wanted to find his source before being a jerk and ripping off a respectable merchant I buy from frequently. I have no intention of selling my enameling work, or even attempting to compete in the reenactment jewelry market, ever, so I used that thought as a soothing mechanism, and reminded myself I was still learning. I still sought to find a few other birds I could work from for my “eagles.” (Let’s face it, they all look like Gonzo.)
This guy is from a lot at Christie’s, and I decided I liked the wire work for the cloisonne and the inclusion of the pearl. As you can see, red garnets were the thing for this period, but it didn’t work with the color scheme I’m going for.
Finding enough supporting evidence for my Gonzos and some line variants, I went ahead and made my shape, and the Norman cut them out of copper, which was chosen for the type of enamel we have. They do make enamels for bronze, brass, gold, silver, etc, but we have the copper kit. I sat, watching some bad television, and filed the edges of my birds down while the kiln warmed up. It went pretty fast.
Once things got hot, I went ahead and prepped the pieces with the clear base coat:
And fired them:
Once they were fully cooled, I started the wire work. A note about the temp: this is not a “fresh out of the oven” hot, this is surface of the sun hot. You will get severely injured if you are not cautious. This is 20g copper wire. It took me quite a bit of time, and I used Thompson Blue Stic glue to keep it down. I am unsure if any adhesive was used in period, but I assure you, it’s a pain if your wires move. It’s also a lot easier to work with smaller cuts of wire, as I found out almost immediately. Hopefully as I improve, I can handle manipulating larger pieces.
Once the glue was dried, completely (this is not a “fast” art), I put down the blue enamel, emulsified in water.
Fire! You can see how red-hot the stones get.
And cooling down to the blue. I had to do a second coat with the enamel since I had some coverage issues.
Husband made some fibulae pins from brass wire, and he showed me how to solder them on in about 5 minutes. Again, HOT. LET COOL. OMG. SO EASY TO REALLY BURN YOURSELF.
And then the sanding. This is how you get your wires to show up again, after oxidizing in the kiln. During the process, one of the brooches popped some air bubbles in the enamel. This upset me, but I’ve seen period pieces with similar imperfections. Part of the learning curve, I suppose. I was still pretty pleased (see also, hooting, hollering, and down right ECSTATIC over how these were coming out.)
For the finishing touch…pearl eyes. We gently sawed a couple pearls in half to get the right size, and glued them in the eye sockets. The period technique would have them set in, but I’m not really there as a jeweler, and probably never will be, but Gieffrei insisted I do this almost entirely myself, so…E6000 it was.
But seriously though…they aren’t museum quality works of art, but I am insanely proud of this project. Behold, Rowena Ravenclaw’s Gonzo, I mean, Eagle, fibulae!
I have a long way to go before I’m ready to do intricate Byzantine style enamels, but it certainly beats my “warm-up” project from the day before.
I learned a lot. I think I learned how to do some troubleshooting on the appearance of the enamel, but this is going to take some time to really get into. I have some great friends in the East Kingdom that do enameling, so next I see them, I’ll have to see what kind of tips they can give to work with the minimal tools we own. I don’t know if we’re going to invest in a larger kit just yet, because it’s not our primary art form, but rather another corner of the Middle Ages that have entered our home. Or rather the entirety of our dining room. In fact, we had a ton of friends over on Saturday to give it a try with us, and we had a ton of fun with great results just after 2 little projects.
Well, I suppose Godric Gryffindor needs some kind of lions next. Stay tuned for the next segment of our Anglian Experience.
If you don’t have a subscription, I will post an update as soon as the stock clerk has them available on the SCA website. I plan to also purchase additional copies aside from my author copies, and have them available at Birka.
I know I haven’t been posting as much as I used to. I do have content coming, but I was focusing on getting this off the ground, and, preparing for another fun-filled exciting cross-country move back to the East Kingdom from Caid. I was hoping they’d give us another winter in SoCal, but nooooooo. 😦
I was going to make a lovely post this morning on my experiences at Costume College, but WordPress is making it difficult.
I hate peddling, but the husband and I are catching up on some unexpected financials from this year (namely my emergency wisdom teeth extractions not fully covered by insurance, and some car issues back in the spring that nuked our savings, and we’re still trying to catch up.) My website is due for renewal, and I don’t have the money that WordPress is asking. Because of the traffic that Annasrome.com receives, plus the domain and ad-free modifications that I maintain for it, my renewal is not cheap.
I do my best to ensure that the site stays free for my users. I want my information to be free to researchers, and I want to be able to provide the best content possible for re-enactors, SCAdians, and others. To do this, I need help.
There is a donate button on the right side of my page. You don’t have to give a lot, but anything to help off-set the cost of maintaining the site would mean a great deal. I have a stock of new material I’m getting ready to post, but I need a place to post it.