Here are some pointers that you should know which apply to all of the Award blanks. They include information on calligraphy, illumination and heraldry.
Always start with the calligraphy, even if you prefer to paint (especially if you prefer to paint).
Before starting any calligraphy, draw faint guide lines in pencil for all of the fill-in text. Always draw the lines to the same width as those in the blank - this is essential for all of the designs. Nothing looks more unfortunate than a piece of beautifully illuminated work with poor and/or uneven calligraphy.
Then pencil in the text to make sure it fits easily and make any adjustments. If the script is penned with a particular slant and you are not confident of producing evenly angled (or vertical for hands such as gothic textura) characters, then draw in lines at the correct angle as well. Always go lightly with the pencil though, since you will need to remove all trace of your guide marks after you finish. If you find you have to erase too heavily to remove the pencilled lines, you will notice the ink may also lift.
Make sure you are using the same width pen as the original text and very black ink, so that it will look as similar as possible. Practice your hand on scrap paper until you are confident, then fill in the blanks. Don't try to fix mistakes that cannot be corrected imperceptibly, particularly at the start of the calligraphy. If you make a mistake, start on a new blank. It's worth it in the end and the College of Scribes will understand. You can always use the discarded blank for practice.
Before you begin the illumincation, ensure that all of the calligraphy has been completed, and that it is correctly worded with no spelling errors. Double check against your assignment and the Heraldic details. If you find errors, start again.
When the calligraphy is complete and dry, cover the text with a piece of paper as protection against loose paint, persperation and other potentially dangerous substances. Remember, if something can go wrong it probably will. Secure the paper with magic tape or an equivalent adhesive that can be lifted after you have finished with no tear away effect. You're now ready to start illuminating.
It is useful to draw, ink and colour the device before starting the rest of the illumination. You will no doubt be making numerous stylistic decisions as your work progresses, but the one factor that won't change too muhc is the emblazon of the Arms. Here you can't say "Let's do the field in purple lake to tone in with the rest of the border". The tinctures in the emblazon are constants. It therefore makes sense to colour the device first, to aid you in other colour choices to be made later in your work.
Always consult the submission sheet that came with the assignment before drawing in the device. Sometimes it contains vital information from the recipient regarding how to draw a charge, or whether to use metalic colours of Or and Argent (Yellow/Gold and White/Silver). If the submitter was a particularly competent artist, stick with the way he/she has drawn his/her charge(s) - you could even trace over the charges if they are done in a particular style. If they were of the "stickfigurist" school you'll need to do some further research. Cheating here is perfectly acceptable. If you have a book on Heraldry by one of the many reputable authors (eg A.C. Fox-Davies), don't be afraid to take what you need from the heraldic art there. Enlarge what you need to the correct size (an enlarging photocopier is useful) and trace it through the use of a light table or other such means onto the blank. Try and fill the available space with the final emblazon - nothing looks more awkward than a tiny indistinguishable charge surrounded by a great expanse of monotonous field. Once you are happy with your sketch of the device, ink it in. When the ink is dry, rub out your pencil lines and lay your colour.
You are then ready for the rest of the illumination. Each of the following pages describes suitable colour schemes and decorations for the various styles. Some are very strict; others very flexible.
Now you've almost completed your blank, and what a masterpiece it is. Do you really have to give it away? Sorry, such is the lot in life of a scribe in the SCA (don't worry though it happened in period as well). Write your name in pencil on the back (softly) and what particular elements you completed eg "Calligraphy by Lady Ima Dabbhand and Illumination by Lord Henry Masochist on DD/MM/YY". Remove the paper that is of course covering the calligraphy, pat yourself on the back, and send it off to me or your local College of Scribes coordinator and we will ensure that it gets a nice home. Then take 10 and start all over again....