Ladies, it’s time to ditch the Byzantine head donut.

You know, that head roll that SCAdians think is so Byzantine? You can buy them at Ren Fairs, they show up in commercial paper patterns. It basically looks like something you get at a medical supply store for bum cushioning.

Yeah, those.

Stop.

I know this sounds mean, but there is -zero- evidence that such a thing existed. Artwork from the early Byzantine period (300-899) shows -something-, and that something is called a fakiolion. It’s a turban, and it continues to be worn through the middle period, when art becomes more refined post-iconoclasm.

I’m far from innocent, of course. Here I am, 10 years ago and 50lbs lighter, wearing my hair donut in a photoshoot.  This was my first attempt at Byzantine garb, which over all wasn’t bad, but if I could go back and beat myself with a hammer for the donut, I would. It was a waste of fabric and pillow fill that makes zero sense in the case of medieval construction.

me

Here is the cut from Theodora’s procession at San Vitale. I know you see the stripes, and think that it has to be ribbons and spangles and fancy things wrapped around a roll to get that effect. The fact is, that the same effect can be made with a turban with the right designs on it.

theodora

Then of course, there is the bust of the Byzantine Woman from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, believed to be Julia Amicia, Theodora’s zoste patrikia, shown as the third woman from the left above, you know, the one actually looking at us with her elegantly draped palla over her fakiolion. The front of this sure makes it confusing. Even I haven’t been able to completely figure out what that pucker is, but, thanks to my skills at museum yoga, I was able to get pictures of behind her head.  As you can see, it’s definitely not a donut. It almost reminds me of how a St. Birgitte’s Cap gathers in the back of the head. I wonder if this piece was polychromatic at one point, and, if the Met plans on having it investigated for color residue. I feel any trace of color on the hairpiece would probably make it easier to interpret.

The use of a turban rather than a head roll provides multiple benefits. One, it doesn’t use up fabric and filling that could have been better served in other capacities. Two, it keeps the hair out of the face, and most importantly, CLEAN. The use of silk on the hair also helps protect set styles, and women still use silk wraps today to wear over their rollers and other curling implements to bed in order to control frizz and damage. It was not uncommon for a Byzantine woman to leave her hair uncovered, even as a married woman, and noblewomen would have had the option of affording hair services such as ornate braids and temporary “perms” made with gum arabic. The fakiolion would have helped keep these styles in place and relatively clean, versus having to constantly re-set the hair on a daily basis. A head roll would have been useless in any of these applications. While Byzantines were known for conspicuous consumption, even that seems off the mark.

Here is my Byzan-bestie, Konstantia, showing her interpretation from the same period. Note that the stripes in scarf used to create the turban gives the same effect as you see above from the mosaic. It looks so much more elegant than the donut, don’t you think? You can read her blog post pertaining to Byzantine headwear, here: https://kaloethina.wordpress.com/2016/10/01/headgear/

44941817_10156114188827569_653151095635312640_n

The trick, is to make sure that your fakiolion has the right grammata on it, or geometric designs. The Last Will and Testament of Kale Pakouriane describes these designs as being done in goldwork, and some scholars believe that grammata had pseudo-kufic script embroidered in, which was a popular design feature. Typically, you want the design to run parallel along the edges of the length of your turban fabric. Both Konstantia and I have found that commercially available hijabs do this nicely. And, since they’re designed to be worn on the head, they tend to not be stifling materials, and stay put.

Here’s a similar scarf to what Konstantia is wearing above, only worn by me, in the most flattering selfie imaginable, that just happens to have the best shot of my turban style. It also gives a nice railing for coronets to perch without the pinching or headaches associated with some heavy head jewelry. Konstantia rocks the look complete with a maforion, or veil over top of it, which was common for the early period, versus the middle period, when I’m supposed to be living. She used a pashima here, for added thickness and warmth.

And here I am in some 11th Century, emulating looks from The Menologion of Basil II as seen in my master’s thesis and Compleat Anachronist.

icon 2

cropped-cropped-ag-pelagia1.png
My header of St. Pelagia’s minature from The Menologion, showing her wrapped turban in the center.

It was requested that I do a video tutorial of my preferred turban wrapping, so, here it is:

I know the phrase goes, “All good things must come to an end”, but in short, that head roll was never good. It’s an early Faire/SCAbomination of garb based on Italian and Spanish Renaissance fashions that don’t fit in this culture,  has seen its day, and needs to be retired for a more accurate solution. Consider the fakiolion for your next event, and put your donut out to garb pasture for good.

hotness

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.

20181008_145334
The great shell massacre of 2018. Shells care of the Atlantic Ocean.

Progress Shots:

Finished:

20181015_141728

44056809_10156157548283143_8463197442899181568_o
So pretty. So…messy compared to my porcelain palette.

Broken images

Apparently, WordPress decided to go full iconoclasm, and I’ve lost a lot of images in posts. I don’t know how many, but I’m trying to repair posts as I see them. Please, be patient while I work on this. It’s going to take some time.

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. @_@

20180529_163323
After the 3rd day of painting.
34017803_10155849494563143_6107643386984923136_n
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).

33923748_10155849494928143_7986623697026809856_n

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.

34087442_10155849494618143_8935374473700311040_n

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 5: Highlighting

There’s not going to be many pictures from here on out, because I need to concentrate. So I probably won’t make another post until I do the finishing touches in a couple of days.

Anyways, the next step is layers of highlights and lowlights. This could be as few as two, or many, many more. So far, I’m thinking this is going to be a 3-highlight layer icon, but I could be surprised. Some areas, like the landscape, won’t need a ton of work, but the horse and skintone will take much more work. The detail lines are saved for the last day, along with the inscription and the outer border.

The trick with the egg tempera is to create different viscosities of the color to get the achieved effect. So you mix your color, then add water until you get what you need. This doesn’t always work smoothly and can take some time. Likewise, I had to go back and darken some of the more solid areas where the paint dried patchy. I lightened the background to create more contrast from the dark yellow ocher, and put back in the linework. Skin color takes on a chalky look, which is why the beggar looks a bit…weird, if not skeletal, this will soften up with the next layer.

This is when egg tempera gets fussy.  While it dries fast, it takes overnight to cure. If you go back over a spot that’s wet, or didn’t cure, fresh paint can take it right up and leave you a hole straight to the gesso. You can see that on the horse’s haunch in the picture below. The best thing to do when this happens is LEAVE IT ALONE. Let it cure overnight, and then revisit it the next day. You really only get 2-4 hours to work on it anyway before this starts happening pretty much everywhere if you keep touching things, hence why the daily limit is so important. This is when patience is key, but it’s also a lot of fun as each day you get closer to a finished piece. I worked on the board for about 3 hours.

I’ll see everyone in a couple of days when I’m ready to finish it, and set up for the long cure before oiling.

No automatic alt text available.

Icon-a-long with Anna 4: Egg Tempera and Painting

Egg Tempera is a great medium, but it takes some getting used to. As far as iconography has gone, I have never used a ready-made paint. I have always used dry pigments mixed with egg binder, even in my not-so-great early pieces. I’ve since learned the quirks of it, but I still have a bit to go.

The binder is easy to make: egg yolk and white wine. The wine is optional, but it helps emulsify the egg a bit, as well as act as a preservative. Still, you only get a week, tops, with this stuff in the fridge after a day on your table.

stuff1
First, gather your supplies! The wine name made you giggle.

My mixture this go around was 2 yolks and about “that much” of white wine. I’ve gotten to the point of knowing the color I want for the right mixture. You can separate the yolk from the white by transferring the goop back and forth between the broken eggshell halves. Then you pop the yolk with a folk, and let it slowly drain into the jar, catching the membrane in the process. If the membrane goes in, it’s not a huge deal, but you just need to make sure you don’t suck it up in the dropper later.

As you can see, it’s not a ton of liquid in a standard size mason jar, but a little goes a long way. You use drops, not tablespoons.

20180526_14041320180526_140421

Once I get the magic liquid made, I go ahead and set up my table. I already had most of this out when the gilding started, but here you can see my collection of pigments, and that I taped wax paper down to protect my work surface. All of my pigments are from Earth Pigments or Natural Pigments, are are 100% natural earth or mineral colors. Mostly oxides, but also some crystals. The bagged jars are my quarantined toxic vermilion (mercury sulfide) and minium (red lead) pigments.

20180527_145752

20180527_145903

Egg tempera is backward from watercolor, you start dark and then add highlight layers. It seems weird, but it works. In iconography symbolism, you continue to “play God”, and build the paint up from the protoplasm, into a glowing, holy image.

Starting with the sankir, or base skin tone first. I mixed Antica Green Earth, and Roman Black. Think about the skin color of the Greeks and Middle Eastern people where this artform originated: olive based. Again, start dark, build up to light.

20180527_150122

20180527_150145
Dry Antica Green Earth.

 

Egg tempera can be fickle depending on how fine some of the pigments are ground, the material they’re made from, and how much moisture they suck up. Antica green is fickle and kind of grainy, so I had to adjust as I went along with more pigment, egg, or water, depending on my needs.

I made a ton of sankir, so I painted all three icons with it. This isn’t always the best approach and it sort of busted my flow for the rest of the day, but they all have the same base mix, which is good. The rest of this icon-a-long will be for St. Martin.

I don’t have pictures of work on Martin, because, well, I was painting. It’s a time consuming process, and it takes hours. Total amount of work today alone was about 4 hours.

20180527_152514
You work the paint in tiny brush strokes from a small drop on the board, rather than long strokes.

20180527_15320120180527_154535

The perfect cloak red in icons comes from vermilion, real vermilion. I have a few different reds, but nothing paints like the real thing. So the real thing needs precautions. I keep it quarantined in its own baggy, with its own tools. Instead of using one of my palettes, or shells (I do have shells, the porcelain is just easier to clean) I use a plastic spoon that I can keep separate. While vermilion is considered inert once painted, the dry form is still toxic, it is still mercury, and needs to be controlled.

20180527_200828

Of course, once I got started with it, a warm fuzzy thing decided to distract me.

20180527_201442
That’s Harald Hardrada, Varangian kitty, King of Norway, Maine Coon superfoof.
20180527_201005
That red, though.

I had to use a tiny bit of the minium as well. It’s one of my favorite colors. As shocking orange as you can get, and a fully period color.

20180527_203352

After getting tired, taking a break halfway for dinner, and coming back to it, and still getting tired while finishing up the background, which is okay, because more coats will make it more opaque, but I’m bushed. I know it looks super weird, but over the next few days, the icon should “appear” as I add the highlights.

20180527_205716

 

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.

 

Displaying 20180524_110245.jpg
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.

Displaying 20180524_111220.jpg
Michael’s halo partially burnished to a high shine.
20180524_110425
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?

20180524_112058
So shiny!
Displaying 20180524_112126.jpg
Wax on…
Displaying 20180524_112133.jpg
Wax off.
Displaying 20180524_112305.jpg
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.

Displaying 20180524_112749.jpg
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.

Displaying 20180524_115553.jpg
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.

Displaying 20180524_152225.jpg
Shiny enough to reflect my phone and then…ACK!
Displaying 20180524_153106.jpg
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.

Displaying 20180524_151755.jpg
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.

Displaying 20180524_151825.jpg

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.