Scribe at workGallery 4Scribe at work

The Making of a Scroll

All images copyright 2003. All artwork remains the property of individual artists, and may not be reproduced in part or in full in any medium without written permission from the artists.


 Patent of Arms (Knight) for Sir Inigo Missaglia by Mistress Rohesia le Sarjent

Finsihed scroll (138 Kb)

This page shows the main stages in execution of a large scroll (60cm x 24, approximately A2) on goat parchment, with gilding on plaster-based gesso.  Before any of the actual work begins on the scroll itself, there are many hours of research involved.  The time-period for the scroll must be decided, and exemplars of the style studied.  This scroll is based on the Bible Historiale, from around 1357, and is in the style known as "International Gothic."  

The design itself must then be worked out--not only the elements to include, but the overall layout.  The design here is of St George slaying the dragon--a fitting knightly quest. The small miniatures represent the knighly virtues:  measure, justice, courage, humility, loyalty, courtesy and magnanimity.

The calligraphy must be written out (sometimes several times) until the scribe is sure it fits the space allotted (or the design adjusted until it fits the calligraphy, as appropriate).  A full-size line drawing will be made on paper, any final adjustments and corrections made, and this design then transferred to the parchment itself.  

Parchment can be a tricky medium to work with;  it is very sensitive to relative humidity and tends to buckle in unexpected places.  It may need flattening several times under weights while it is being worked on, unless it is fastened firmly to a board.  Care must be taken not to over-wet it, as this can raise a nap which is difficult to flatten out again.

Finally, there are the ink and paints themselves.  The scroll was written with Chinese ink and illuminated with gold leaf, gold powder and period pigments.  Red tones are made from brazilwood and dragon's blood, flesh tones are red ochre and zinc oxide with some egg shell.  Blues are lapis lazuli, some with a little black nightshade juice.  Greens are Malachite or veridigris, and some parsley juice.  Yellow is made from saffron, white from zinc oxide.  These paints must prepared by hand, grinding them finely and binding them with gum arabic or glair.

Gesso laid for gilding (43 Kb)

Initial drawing and gesso laid for gilding

At this stage the design has been pencilled onto the parchment, and the plaster-based gesso on which the gold will be laid has been painted on in several layers and smoothed.  The gesso is coloured pink with red ochre and naturally pink egg shell to give a warmer base for the gold.


Large image (82 Kb)

Gilding and text (55 Kb)

Gilding and text completed

The scroll text has now been written, and the gold laid and burnished to a mirror shine.  Rehydrating the gesso sufficiently for the gold to adhere properly can be quite tricky;  success is dependent on relative humidity.  Gum arabic, tinted with a little saffron, was painted onto the gesso as the gold was laid.  The work must be done in a very still environment as gold leaf is very delicate and can be blown around by the slightest draft.

Large image (135 Kb)

Reds and Blues blocked in (76 Kb)

Red and blue blocked in

The main areas of red and blue paint have now been filled in and the base colours for the grisailles--pale grey, flesh tone and pale green--have also been laid.   At this stage the paint is quite flat, with no details or highlighting.

Large image (187 Kb)

Greens and yellows blocked in (89 Kb)

Green and yellow blocked in

The green and yellow shades have now been painted in, similarly to the reds and blues above.

Large image (193 Kb)

First grisaille paitings done (56 Kb)

First grisailles completed

Details of the grisaille images are starting to be painted.  Grisaille is a technique of painting in monotone, or with very few highlights in other colours as in this case, which demands great skill from the artist.  Extra shading has also been added to the coloured backgrounds, and the device is essentially finished.


Large image (190 Kb)

Finsihed scroll (138 Kb)

Finished Scroll

The scroll is now finished.  Diapering has been added to the backgrounds of all the miniatures, and to the mantling and arms.  Tiny shadow angels and demons have been drawn in to the background of the main panel.  The ivy leaves have been shaded, and white highlights and dark outlining added to the all miniatures.  The entire design has also been outlined in black ink with a tiny brush.

The end result is simply spectacular.

Large image (438 Kb)


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Authored by Jehan, Giles, and Yseult AS XXXVIII (2003)