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.

Byzantium and conspiracy theories: because Prokopios – another short essay.

Continuing on my “I have all these ridiculous topics I’ve written about” side quest, additional digging into the bowels of my external hard drive has produced this gem.

Note that this one delves into the more complex nature of religion during the Byzantine period, but does little to define them for folks that are unsure of how the early church dealt with heretical sects. It’s not something that you see a lot of in the SCA side of things, because it’s incredibly dense material, and my paper only discusses them briefly. If this isn’t something you are familiar with, don’t be afraid to visit Wikipedia or other open source site that can help you understand these terms better. Hell, even my brain starts melting out of my ears when it comes to this level of study. My professor who taught us the basis for heresy in graduate school had gone to divinity school, and STILL couldn’t fully grasp it. This is some heavy stuff.

Again, any citations needs to be done from the paper directly, not my blog. Academia.edu link:

https://www.academia.edu/36922619/Prokopios_conspiracy_theory_Justinian_versus_the_Heretics


 

Prokopios’ conspiracy theory: Justinian versus the Heretics.
The religious reforms of Emperor Justinian I would continue to resonate through the Byzantine Empire well after his time, with his fingertips still reaching into the modern doctrines of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. His combative stance against paths of Christianity labeled as heretical was notable, and his increased support of the Chalcedonian doctrine is what no doubt elevated him to Orthodox Sainthood. Though the eyes of the controversial 6th Century writer, Prokopios, a glance of Justinian’s attempts to win over the opposition can be seen, and blame is cast directly on the imperial monarchs for exacerbating the situation beyond control, perhaps for nothing more than to legitimize their rule.

Justin I’s reign presented a struggle in returning the doctrine of Chalcedon to the forefront of Byzantine Orthodoxy. It was clear that his successor, Justinian, would follow in these footsteps and continue the pro-Chalcedonian rhetoric from the throne, despite stiff opposition from outlying areas such as Egypt and Syria. Even before his ascension to the throne in 527, it was clear that the Chalcedonian doctrine was a cornerstone in his policies.[1] Despite evidence in that his wife, Theodora, may have been a follower of the anti-Chalcedonian school, and that he was willing to work with opposing doctrines as a way to find peace, the ultimate goal of Justinian was to appease the Pope in the west, not only to legitimize his rule, but also to create a smoother transition as he pushed to regain the lands lost once belonging to the Classical Roman Empire, and unifying his New Rome with Old Rome once more.[2]

The anti-Chalcedonian doctrine perceived the embodiment of Christ as being one person, one hypostasis, and one nature that was entirely divine, whereas the embodiment as codified by the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 421, stated that Jesus had two natures: one divine, and one mortal. Another idea, Nestorianism, which is described as the true antithesis of Monophysitism, believed that Christ was even more complex by having two forms of hypostasis, mortal and divine. This view was rejected by Chalcedon, but many Monophysites believed that it was this Nestorianism that had won in the council. This was incorrect, and Justinian did attempt to correct this misunderstanding as an attempt to coax the anti-Chalcedonians into accepting what he was asserted the true orthodox doctrine. This failed, and the emperor was forced to save face and appease the Pope in more desperate measures.

Justinian’s marriage to Theodora may have been used as a method of reaching out to the anti-Chalcedonians. Prokopios, found this to be an appalling technique of policy when writing his Secret History. He claims that Justinian and his heretic wife did nothing independent of each other, but he believed that by pitting the opposing doctrines against each other in rival circus factions, that they may have deliberately prolonged the controversy, and created the illusion that the struggle was far direr than it appeared.[3] Surely, a marriage to a Monophysite could have and should have helped the tension between the opposition dissolve, but that was not the case, at least according to what Prokopios claims to have witnessed not just with the in-city violence between factions, but also in the alleged persecutions that the emperor performed against heretical sects. He paints the picture of a blood-thirsty demonical tyrant, out for the accumulated wealth of these practically backwater churches, for no reason but to attempt forced conversion, and the joy of spilling blood.[4] However, Prokopios contradicts his own views here within his Wars, were he expresses his dislike of the heretical doctrines, and also accepts them as false.[5] He never gives his support of the emperor’s alleged violence against these groups in Wars, but in Secret History, Prokopios seems to believe that it was all constructed by Justinian for his own benefit to legitimize himself on the throne. By pushing the doctrine of Chalcedon even in the most violent way, Justinian could effectively show the Pope that he was doing right, and perhaps as previously mentioned, regain control of the Italian peninsula with greater ease.

A point that may support Prokopios’ idea that Justinian and Theodora played the game of opposing each other for furthering their agenda would be Theodora’s own outreach to her fellow Monophysites in Constantinople. John of Ephesos, a Monophysite who according to Anthony Kaldellis in footnote 80 of his translation of The Secret History, was actually a missionary for Justinian sent to preach against Jews, heretics, and pagans, wrote a volume known as The Lives of the Saints, in which he praises Theodora for her good works in protecting Monophysites within the imperial capital of Constantinople.[6] If Justinian was so adamant on crushing these anti-Chalcedonians as virulently as Prokopios claims, why would he have allowed his wife to give sanctuary to heretics within the capital of his empire? In the same chapter, John of Ephesos states that Justinian continued to look after these Monophysites in the capital after Theodora’s death.[7]  Prokopios in that case may be correct in assuming that such consistent head-butting between the imperial couple was deliberate, and that Justinian overall did not generally oppose the idea of anti-Chalcedonians living safely, but was simply creating the illusion that actions were being taken to quash the heretical theories.

Prokopios’ views on Justinian’s actions against the anti-Chalcedonian heresies of the 6th Century may contain evidence that strife between the opposing Christian doctrines were deliberately escalated by the ruling heads of Byzantium in attempt to legitimize what the author felt was a farcical rule. By creating the illusion of consistent struggle against the heretics, Justinian could appease the Pope in the West, prove to the Chalcedonians that he was working in their best interest, and be successful while creating his own struggle with his anti-Chalcedonian empress in attempts to prolong the fight.

Bibliography

Prokopios, The Secret History with Related Texts. Translated by Anthony Kaldellis. Indianopolis: Hackett, 2010.

Prokopios, History of the Wars Books III and IV. Translated by H. B. Dewing. Cambridge: Harvard, 1916. Project Gutenberg Edition 2005. Accessed September 30, 2015. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16765/16765.txt

Maas, Michael. Editor. The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian. New York: Cambridge, 2005.

 

Notes

[1] Patrick T. R. Gray, “The Legacy of Chalcedon”, in The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian, ed. Michael Maas. (New York: Cambridge. 2010), 228.

[2] Ibid. 229.

[3] Prokopios, The Secret History with Related Texts. Trans. by Anthony Kaldellis. (Indianopolis: Hackett, 2010), 10.13, 48.

[4] Ibid, 11.14, 52.

[5] Prokopios, History of the Wars Books III and IV. Trans.by H. B. Dewing. (Cambridge: Harvard, 1916), 5.3.5-9. Accessed September 30, 2015. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16765/16765.txt.

[6] Secret History, 53, and page 145 in “related texts” of same volume.

[7] Secret History, 148.

Insult “Culture” and Violence in Early Merovingian Gaul – short essay

I have a treasure trove of weird, short papers I’ve done throughout my academic and professional career. Every now and then, I revisit my folders to find a source, and run into an occasional gem of an essay that was either an assignment, or a way for me to start additional research that I never followed up on.

My persona is most definitely not Merovingian, nor do I play one on TV, but I’ve spent more time reading Salic Law than I want to admit. This article is a very short paper I wrote examining the use of insults to incite feuds. After Pennsic, I think I’m going to revisit this topic and expand it into something more suitable for publication in an SCA context, because insults!

If you are interested in citing this, I’ve posted a version of it on Academia.edu here for access, please do not cite my blog:

https://www.academia.edu/36922447/Insult_Culture_and_Violence_in_Early_Merovingian_Gaul


Insult “Culture” and Violence in Early Merovingian Gaul

Gregory of Tours made his opinion of the Merovingian rulers quite clear throughout his Historia. These Frankish kings and queens were nothing more than brutish, blood-thirsty, and revenge-driven maniacs who turned a blind eye to the Church and its teachings, much to the chagrin of the bishop holding the pen. Gregory’s words were rather scathing, but in between the lines of disdain toward the violence inherent in the line of Long Haired Kings, the Bishop of Tours provides other clues as to what was going on to bring about such ensanguined entropy. The paper will argue that intense gossip and insults may have been used as a tool to provoke feuds, and incite violence in aristocratic Merovingian society.

Salic Law, during which the first draft was composed under Clovis I around the year 500, has an entire section devoted to insults, and the fines (wergeld) that they carry.[1] These insults range from being rather base by accusing somebody of homosexuality, or accusing them of being an informant or calumniator. This speaks a great deal of how strongly an insult was taken in the Frankish kingdom for it to have been codified in law. If these accusations were strong enough to incite the paying of wergeld to the victim, then what would the odds have been that such pejorative phrases would incite violence as a response, and that the laws were conceived in attempts to stop this response?

Autumn Dolan explores this avenue in her paper on the topic, “’You Would Do Better to Keep Your Mouth Shut’: The Significance of Talk in Sixth-Century Gaul.” Dolan states that the social ramifications of such things could have gravely damaged reputations more so than a sword could.[2] Dolan herself focuses more on just the culture of verbiage that is evident in Salic Law, but also reverts back to Gregory’s histories. Gregory served up the tale of Firmin, the Count of Clermont, and Caesaria, his mother-in-law, in Book IV of his Historia, during which Firmin was “offered serious insults” by Chramnus, and forced to seek sanctuary in the cathedral with his mother-in-law.[3] Chramnus then orders to have them taken from the cathedral, and does so by send a man to basically lie to them in attempts to get them to leave. As soon as they were within arm’s reach of the open cathedral doors, they were taken into custody violently, and sent into exile.

Dolan uses this as only one example of how insults could be dangerous, but fails to mention that the use of the insults, and subsequent lying to coax the two from the church, was a gateway to a violent end. Using the insults here was a catalyst, not the be-all-end-all technique to scare somebody away. Firmin and Caesaria were not just told to go away, they sought sanctuary because they knew that they were in immediate danger due to the defamation of their character. Since the insults were from the mouth of the king, versus anybody else, the idea of receiving compensation went just as easy as they were plucked from the door of the church. In the end, Chramnus got what he wanted. It is possible that if Firmin had taken the insults and immediately fled into exile, that they would not have been pursued, but the fact that he chose to stay in Clermont meant that he believed there was a sliver of a chance for a fight, either legal or physical, but in the end it took nothing more than the bishop to turn his back, and devious lies to draw them back into danger.

The laws pertaining to certain infractions against women may also demonstrate how such attacks could be taken not just as defamation against the woman in question, but also to her family. Dolan alludes to this in her paper as well, and offers a quote from Gregory, when Chilperic exclaims that the “slander of my wife is considered my shame.”[4] Referring back to Salic Law, an interesting excerpt involves the releasing a woman’s hair from its restraints. This would cost the assailant a wergeld of thirty solidi, no small fine by any means.[5] It would seem obvious that, with the law written in such a way to discourage violence, that heavy fines were put into place in order to discourage this behavior knowing that the shaming of an aristocratic woman could result in subsequent bloodshed in the form of a feud. This of course doubles back to the chapter on insults.

Laws are written for a reason. With dedicated chapters on insults in Salic Law,  and Gregory of Tours’ interesting accounts of violent happenings in sixth century Gaul, it appears that an actual culture of shaming individuals as a way to spark feuds may have been a common occurrence in what Gregory described as a violent society. Whether it be a way to get under the skin of a political rival, or a backhanded attack by pulling a woman’s hair, the Merovingian’s certainly had a dark way of dealing with their business.

 

Bibliography

Gregory of Tours. “History of the Franks”. In From Roman to Merovingian Gaul. Edited and translated by Alexander Callander Murray. University of Toronto Press: Toronto. 2000.

Gregory of Tours. “History of the Franks”. In The Internet History Sourcebook. Edited by Paul Halsall. Translated by Ernest Brehaut. https://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/gregory-hist.asp. Accessed November 22, 2015.

“The Salic Law (Lex Salica.)” In From Roman to Merovingian Gaul. Edited and translated by Alexander Callander Murray. University of Toronto Press: Toronto. 2000.

Dolan, Autumn. “‘You Would Do Better to Keep Your Mouth Shut:’ The Significance of Talk in Sixth Century Gaul.” In Proceedings from The Western Society for French History 40 (2012.) http://quod.lib.umich.edu/w/wsfh/0642292.0040.001?view=text;rgn=main. Accessed November 22, 2015.

 

Notes

[1] “The Salic Law (Lex Salica.)” In From Roman to Merovingian Gaul. Ed. and trans by Alexander Callander Murray. (University of Toronto Press: Toronto. 2000.) 552.

[2] Autumn Dolan, “‘You Would Do Better to Keep Your Mouth Shut:’ The Significance of Talk in Sixth Century Gaul.” In Proceedings from The Western Society for French History 40 (2012.) http://quod.lib.umich.edu/w/wsfh/0642292.0040.001?view=text;rgn=main. Accessed November 22, 2015.

[3] Gregory of Tours. “History of the Franks”. In The Internet History Sourcebook. Ed. by Paul Halsall. Trans. by Ernest Brehaut. https://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/gregory-hist.asp. Accessed November 22, 2015. Located on page 308 in the Murray edition, however it is abridged. The Internet History Sourcebook has the complete chapter.

[4] Dolan, 5, Gregory of Tours, VI.49.

[5] Salic Law CIV 1-3, as noted by Dolan.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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That’s Harald Hardrada, Varangian kitty, King of Norway, Maine Coon superfoof.
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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.

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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.

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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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Icon-a-long with Anna 1: Boards

I have a few commissions coming up, and I decided I wanted to blog(ish) the process rather than keep it under wraps, since they aren’t gifts. I had to decided if I was going to do it on Facebook between my personal account, or my SCA persona page (which I rarely post on), and decided that I should just put it here, so it’s more accessible for those that don’t spend their day on social media as much as I do. It will also help me be more accountable in making regular updates.

So, to begin, let’s talk about the actual surface on which to be painted.

Icon boards, in their most simplest, are layers of gesso (calcium carbonate and hide glue) on a sanded and prepped wooden surface. Well-made boards have a layer of linen glued to the surface of the board before application of the gesso. In early period, this was mostly basswood. In early-modern and modern icons, it’s typically poplar. Both woods are still available today, of course. Basswood is not that durable, it’s a soft wood used for wooden models. I do have a panel of it somewhere I plan to paint someday, but until then, I spend money and have other people do this for me.

I have made my own panels. They are not good, but I did it. Using pre-sanded and drilled birch panels from an art store, I had a heck of a time applying gesso and sanding. This is not the job for me. And that’s okay, because the creation of icon boards is an artform in its own right, and was probably done by a different person in period than the actual painter. The Norman has more experience with woodworking and patience than I do, so my own boards are on the horizon, just not imminently so.

I purchase my high-end boards commercially. And by “commercially”, I mean, from Pandora Icon Supplies, which is a subsidiary of the Prosopon School based here in the states. They are not “manufactured”, because, much like high end papers for the C&I community, it requires a level of craftsmanship, and the price reflects this, so I’d call them more of a purveyor of fine art supplies.  I just recently made an order after scrimping and saving for 2 years just to buy new materials, but they’re worth every penny. Sometimes there’s a turnaround time, sometimes they ship right away. These are handcrafted, so you have to anticipate some leeway.  Pandora offers a lower-cost alternative in the form of the birch gessoed panel, which is still professional grade, but does not have the same thickness or carved surface of the fine icon board. Their larger fine board will have the slats in the back to help control the inevitable warping over time. Smaller boards, like the one I have below, do not. I can’t currently justify the cost of a larger, high-end board until I use up my supply on hand. I already want to start hoarding these like fabric.

Basswood, poplar, and birch are all Old World AND New World woods. In Europe, “linden” is the name of basswood, and “aspen” is used for some poplar variants. Black poplar is probably the one that was used most for boards in period, and that also grows here in North America. The taxonomic differences are probably minimal, which means that if someone were to go to a hardwood supplier here in the states, they would get wood suitable for making panels, without having to spend an exorbitant amount of money importing something we don’t have.

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My current collection. The top row I have 2 11″x14″ Pandora “BGP” (Birch Gessoed Panels), which is a more affordable way to invest in a well-made board without breaking the bank, next to my own smaller panel that is currently getting worked on with St. Nicholas. At the bottom, you have a larger 10×15″ BGP still wrapped in paper, and a fine, 8″x10″ poplar panel with a kovcheg (recess). The BGPs pictured here were $60 a piece, and the fine board was $80. My 8″x10″ panel was like $20 of supplies a lot of swearing.

 

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The backs of the board so you can see the exposed grain of the wood. The birch is nice, but the poplar is mesmerizing.

My upcoming projects are a commission of St. Martin of Tours, and St. Michael the Archangel for myself, because I need to start keeping some art. St. Nicholas of Myra as the patron saint of sailors is for my husband.

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Coming next: Patterning the icon, and preparing the surface for gilding.

Dressing the husband: Variations to the Manazan Cave Tunic

I barely sew men’s Byzantine clothing. I know where to look, where to point friends, but for the most part, I personally haven’t touched it. My husband is a Norman. He wears riding tunics, and basic linen gored tunics with keyhole necklines. He likes them, and looks good in them. His complexion and appearance echoes Anna Komnene’s description of Bohemond I of Antioch in the Alexiad almost verbatim. It’s disgusting how Norman he is.

But we have a deal: I sew it, and he wears it.

Up until this project, I’ve made him 1 “SCA Byzantine™” tunic, made from lovely wine colored thick linen with potamia and fancy cuffs, but it’s sewn to his usual Northern European tunic style, versus anything actually Byzantine. I’ve also made him exactly one Roman tunic, and one later Roman dalmatica with clavii stripes for when the weather is stupid hot. He mostly stays in his period, with long sleeves on in warm weather because he’s very fair. Lightweight linen is his friend.

I’ve been meaning to try this pattern for a while, so, one day, I decided to sew things, and that he was going to deal with it.

The mummies of the Manazan Cave City date from the 9th-13th Century, though I believe more recent studies are putting it at the end of this period. Manazan is located in the region of Cappadocia, in Anatolia, present day Turkey.  This shirt is based on the mummy at the Karaman Museum.

The pattern I used that I felt had the best walkthrough, is here, by the folks who used to run Birka Traders in Lochac: http://members.ozemail.com.au/~chrisandpeter/manazan_shirt/manazan_instructions.htm

They haven’t updated their site since 2014, but if you’re reading this, thank you, Christobel and Peter, you helped me figure out pieces to my mental puzzle in constructing this based on Dawson’s descriptions.

I haven’t really ever seen this done in the SCA. At least not in my parts, aside from a member of my household, who I think I may have given the link to. I knew that the standing collar was seen in some Byzantine art, but I always kind of avoided it, since I hate being choked and didn’t know what was going on. After finally making a series of these for my husband, I gained a better understanding of how the shirt works, and feel like a ditz for not trying it sooner.

The Manazan tunic is, on the most basic level, a keyhole neckline with a placket over it. That’s it! Once you get that in your head, you look at the picture and go, “Oh.”  Trust me, this is way easier than it looks at a first glance.

I made him three types, in this order:
An indigo linen version, without the standing collar, knee length.
A white linen version as an esoforion/undershirt, with the collar, knee length.
A swanky silk version as a court garment, ankle length.

I had a surplus of weird, secondhand linens I wasn’t afraid to screw up something on, so I decided that the first version would be out of a mid-weight linen with a rich indigo color that straight up reminds me of blue jeans. (In retrospect, I’m pretty sure it’s real indigo dye, talk about a luck out.) I like the idea of wearable mockups. If it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work, but if it does, then you have a finished garment.

The way it works, is that the collar has to be completed before attaching the sleeves and side gores. The dark linen makes it hard to see details here, but here’s some photos of the construction.

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Placket closed.
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Placket open.
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Kind of a weird closeup, but when I attach facings on the inside, I use a hand invisible hem stitch. This stops the bold lines of machine sewing being visible on the front, and tacks it down securely. The machine zigzag is lazy finishing on the edge of the facing.
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Finished and laid out on my table so you can see how high the gores go under the arm.
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On the Norman. Following the instructions of the pattern to determine measurements gave us a very wide tunic, but when you see period garments, they are rather baggy, if not “bulbous” on men’s figures.

 

Adjustments made after the first tunic:
-Take in the measurements a couple of inches on each panel
-Re-calibrate the neckline gauge for a tighter fit (I added a half inch when I didn’t need to.)

Onto the full construction with the band collar out of crisp, white linen that took me 6 washes to get it usable. The white allows a more visible depth to the layers on the collar, so I have more pictures.

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There really is no easy way to avoid handsewing on this pattern. You can if you want, but it won’t look right. After I attached the facing inside with the blind hem as seen above on the indigo tunic, I also attached the band collar to the inside by hand.  You can do a machine running stitch when you initially attach it at the base, but when you flip it up and close it to the inside, hand is necessary, otherwise the outside will look ugly. I’m planning on handsewing a whole one for myself.
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View from the inside looking out, so you can see the keyhole neckline, the facing, the placket, and the collar.
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The same view from the outside.
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Let’s face it, this is basically Byzantine Han Solo.

I actually screwed up. I made the band too short because I read the pattern wrong. I repaired this by adding another length of band, versus taking the whole thing off and starting again. My husband destroys collars because his sweat contains amine, a chemical used on submarines to purify the air that also dyes everything a gross shade of rust, so he kills tunics and bedsheets by the dozen. I’ll replace it once it gets gross.

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On the board, puffy before ironing, with the repaired collar.
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Actually on. I used a small white glass bead to make the toggle. Doesn’t it look so much more crisp than a normal keyhole?

Things learned from the full construction:
-Taking in the couple of inches doesn’t matter, this is a wide tunic.
-Pay attention to the taper on the sleeves, men have forearms that women don’t typically have. I made them a little snug, but not uncomfortably so.

For the grand finale, I wanted to see how I could really jazz it up. I had 3 yards of beautiful silk broadcloth in my stash reserved for when Gieffrei decided to dress like civilized folk, as well as my usual stack of  dupioni remnants for trim, and a brocade I had stashed from when Sartor had a sale last year.

The broadcloth was narrower than the panels I had used on the blue tunic, and just about where I cut them on the white one, so I lucked out. I was nervous that the longer length would screw with his stride, but it did not. Instead of putting the facing on the inside, I put it on the outside for some pizazz, and made the placket from the brocade. Added some cuffs with the dupioni, and bottom trim with the brocade, and voila.

The alb of the Holy Roman Empire was my inspiration for his look, only sans all the pearls. (I did buy pearls, I just haven’t sat down and gotten busy with them yet.)

Alb of the Holy Roman Empire
Kamision of the Holy Norman Jeff.
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Detail on the neckline before I finished it.

I don’t have good pictures of him fully dressed head to toe, that’s next on the agenda.

Here’s an extremely flattering shot of us both at East Kingdom Coronation, where you can see the band collar peeking out. The chain is tarnishing and already ruined it, so, I get to replace it sooner than him sweating amine, I guess. Boys are gross.

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