Sunday, August 26, 2007

Blogging my art

Hi everyone, I'm Melesse.

After a number of years of cranking out illuminated pages, I am attempting to collect images of some of these pieces. Many of them were never scanned or photographed. Some, I have photographs that I will scan in (just as soon as I find that binder... I think it is still in a box somewhere). So anyway, there will be an odd combination of low and high end pieces shown here. Pieces that took a day and pieces that took months. Pieces done over the better part of a decade. My early work will look like early work... it goes to figure. Everyone has a learning curve and none of us start as masters.

If you happen to own a piece I have done, I'd really be interested in getting a digital photo. If you can help me out with that, I'd appreciate it.

It's kind of sad to know that at least one of my best pieces has been mostly destroyed due to carelessness, and I never did get a photo of it finished and whole. Another piece went to a person who will probably never speak a civil word to me again... so I'm not holding my breath for a photo on that one.

I am still amazed that you can put so much effort into a single page for a person, and they will tell you that they love it, but after years of begging you may never get a photograph of your art from them. A word to the scribes out there, photograph your work yourself... even if you are sick of looking at it now... someday you will care and kick yourself. Just like me. Never expect anyone to photograph it for you after the fact. You'll probably just end up disappointed.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Cherish, Countess

This page was from yet another unremembered French book. Too bad I didn't write any of this down while working on these pieces. I guess deadlines were looming and when time is running short who has time to blog?

The piece itself involved a lot of miniatures, and I have to say I was never happy enough with the capital miniature... but I could never figure out what it needed. The whitework in the capital and throughout the leaves made me much happier.

Slightly more amusing however, this image of me painting was captured by one of my roommates. Yes, this is actually how I work. A litter of paints, pallets, and diet coke cans surround me. I prefer to work directly above pieces which involves me standing, but my feet get tired so I swap off. One knee on the chair and then the other. It looks perfectly ridiculous. I fully admit that. If you have a piece of illumination I have produced, this image is probably indicative of how it was produced. If you can just mentally fill in the loud Depeche Mode in the background, you mostly have it.

Odo, the Bad Monkey

Odo needed a Duchy scroll and had spent the better part of his reign tormenting me. For months I had been telling him he was a bad monkey.

As he had no preferences on what I painted... I painted bad monkeys. The one at top left is scratching his backside. The one at bottom left is stealing a jewel while flagellating himself. The one at top right... well his hand is interesting position and he looks quite happy about it.

The original piece was French and actually included all of these elements. Even the very naughty monkeys. Isn't that handy?

Gunnar's rock

Not your ordinary scroll. We needed a Duchy for a Viking, and as we know, Vikings liked to carve things on large rocks to commemorate big events. We took a chip out of their granite.

This 'rock' is a hydrocal (nearly concrete) cast made from a plaster mold that was created from an original piece carved in a closed cell hard foam. This was a huge undertaking between myself, Gwenhwfyr, and Jeanette du Lac based upon the Jelling Stones of Denmark.

First we started with the text. I based the verbiage upon the opening of Beowulf attempting to maintain the same rhythm and kennings (compound words) as the original. Then I translated it into Futhark, truncating the text as necessary to make it fit on the 'stone'.

In English, the text reads:
Kings are made for honor, not for long life.
Praise to the warrior, leader of spears
Gunnar son of our three sea land
Once and twice in might did he rise
Konnunger of swords and great eagle prince
Led he Trimaris to glory and battle
Gave he the rings of gold gleaming bright
Now Cherish his sister with Bytor her King
Let these runes be cut for memory sake
Are raise high this stone for Yarl and Hertig
To name Gunnar Duke on their reign’s first day

Gwenhwfyr and I sat on my back porch using all manner of odd implements to carve the foam. Wood carving tools, steak knives, and even a feather quill. Gwenhwfyr worked the top section of the piece, carving the designs. I carved the text. It was not much fun, to say it gently although Gwenhwfyr is a masochist and seems to remember enjoying it more than I can recall.

As I had never made a mold of anything before, I worked with a non-SCA friend who is a great sculptor and mold maker. We mixed the plaster and poured in over the foam. A day later I began the laborious task of 'evacuating the foam from the mold' which roughly translates to making your fingers bloody trying to dig foam out of the plaster cavities. Once finished with that it was time to cast the final piece. I mixed hydrocal (a quick-set concrete like product) with fiberglass for strength and a concrete dye which stained the concrete a medium grey. I coated the inside of the mold with soap to help the final cast release once it had dried and then poured the dyed hydrocal mixture into the mold.

One day later we attempted to crack the mold away from the final cast. Here is where things went terribly awry. The plaster held on... like a face hugging alien... and refused to let go. I asked nice, I begged, and I think I cried a little. All to no avail. I then resorted to the use of tools. Hammers, chisels, screwdrivers, etc. Once I broke away the large portions of the mold I had to pick the tiny chunks of plaster out of each letter and design groove. It took days.

I finally finished and Jeanette came over to do some finish work on the rock. The overall grey color gave it a look of being concrete, so she used all of her powers of faux finish to give it the look of an age old rock, slightly moss covered. It worked.

When presented to Gunnar in court, a group of his squires carried it in on a shield. I picked up the rock and balanced it on my knee. Gunnar had no idea what we were doing for his scroll. His jaw fell open and a communal gasp went up from the crowd. We were all pretty proud of our work, and our recipient was entirely stunned. Success at last.

Someone asked me that night if I would make something similar. I responded with a 'hell no' and then revised that to "ask me again in a decade when I have forgotten this experience."

Gospels of Gladzor: Brenna's Pelican

I believe this was my first attempt at a page from the Gopsels of Gladzor (Armenian, pre 1307). Although it is incredibly intricate, I fell in love with the geometrics and the patience required to render this page in my own hand.

The pelican in the top center replaced some style element I cannot recall. The rest of the page is quite true to the form of the original, colors and whitework included.

In this piece I especially liked the sweeping curves found at the top of the page. Circles appeal to me, I guess. If I remember correctly, this page was reproduces at about an 8x10 size.

I have produced three pages from this book and have found that I need some time between each one to forget the amount of work required by the previous piece. Although beautiful, these pieces are heavily time intensive and often leave me questioning my sanity.

However, when I look back at them, they are some of my favorites... as long as I don't think too much about my cramped and clawed hand.


Mira calligraphiae monumenta. One of the last great examples of calligraphy and illumination. Georg Bocskay laid down all the text, hands from the past and present rendered exquisitely, some so small that the eyes water just looking at the and your hand begins to ache with sympathy. It is a masterpiece of calligraphy with some of the most difficult and intricately woven script hands laid down page after page.

Thirty years after the calligraphy, Joris Hoefnagel illuminated each page with breathtakingly realistic inspirations from nature, each rendered almost hyper realistically. The common becomes uncommon as a tiny snail can capture your imagination in the perfect gleam of light from its moist shell. The ever complex columbine flower takes on the forms of a masterwork and one can appreciate the subtlety created by the painter. On each page, a passion shines through. Each item is breathtakingly transformed almost as if a prayer whose voice can be heard all this time later. A lily, a tomato, a damselfly, a frog, a tulip, a spider... things which we encounter every day but rarely notice Hoefnagel took something common and raised it up as breathtaking and then put it down on those pages for all of time to love and revere it.

Obviously, I have a passion for this piece. The first time I set my eyes upon those pages, my breath caught and I thought to myself "Now that is beauty... can I paint like that?" I quickly discovered this as my favorite style, much preferring it to the giant empty eyes of ancient Spain, the complex and unrealistic zoomorphs of Ireland, and even the flat figures lacking depth that seem to hang on pages from Paris.

So far I have done six pages from this book, a Rose scroll with a knot worked cross that was the text, Gianetta's Laurel, two awards for Finneadan, and two wedding certificates. I believe that I only have pictures of three of those.

Ginanetta's Laurel was some of the most challenging calligraphy I have ever done. The center body of each letter had to be put down first with the ascenders and descenders being added last. The letter knot themselves together in wide loops and tight turns. The last image a detail of that calligraphy. It appears pale on the page as it is rendered in a gold ink. It catches the light beautifully in person, but never photographs well.

Octavio's Musical Laurel

I'm digging up old photos of pieces I did and attempting to collect them here.

Here is Octavio's Laurel scroll. The original was a page from a medieval antiphonal. It was fun and left a dramatic amount of whitespace on the page. I am still not used to a piece this big being so empty.

To make sure the music notiation was correct on this (as the recipient can read music and I cannot), I lighttabled the notatation up from the original.

The singular illumination on the page, the capital, lent itself wikll to the shape of the laurel wreath and his device fit bvery neatly inside.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Gospels of Gladzor

The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor was produced sometime before 1307 and provides serious challenges for any illuminator.

The page pictured here was inspired by a canon table of this Gospel. I removed the central support column which divided the text area in half, but otherwise the piece is largely unchanged from the original in color and in content.

Each color portion of the page is heavily whiteworked as in the original. The entire page uses gold and 5 colors: red, green, blue, black and white. There is a small portion of grey in the bird that sits atop the golden palm and some pale red detailing in the birds at the top, but otherwise only five colors.

Codex Aureus... so far.

These are scans of the original pages from the Codex Aureus that I have used for inspiration. Looking back I question what I was thinking to suggest these pages. The devil is in the details on this one.

This image is the full view of the page upon which I have been working. The 'gloss' portion of the text, the major capital, the knotwork and spirals, and some further detailing are still to be added.

There are some distinct color changes made to accommodate the preferences of the recipient. Instances of pink have been removed and replaced with a pale green.

Some other Easter eggs: Behind the pelican you can just make out faint markings that are a pseudo asian script... inspired by The Matrix.

The female figure in the right hand rondel represents Baroness Ysabela. In the imame she is holding 'George' her beloved 2x4 with a 9 inch nail driven through the end. The background is a play on her arms that includes red goutes, turned white for contrast but still reminiscent of blood spray.

The figure on the left represents Baron Taly. He holds a scroll with an alpha and omega and pictured behind him is the Big Bang. He's rather venerable. His response to seeing this was 'Grandbaby, the Big Bang looked nothing like that'.