The Beginning And The Evolving Scribe

“Is what I’m doing good enough to be accepted?” I hear this question often. Sometimes more than once from the same person. I’ve even asked it about my own work.

It is one reason some scribes stick to AoA or baronial level scrolls. The scrolls are needed, but they’re also less intimidating because the designs are usually done by another scribe. 


…humans evolved to be fearful – since that helped keep our ancestors alive – so we are very vulnerable to being frightened and … intimidated by threats, both real ones and “paper tigers.” (1)

Lilies War XXX Scribal Class 

If painting only preprints or doing only calligraphy is your thing, enjoy it to the fullest. Being comfortable with your scribal ability is important for providing you a solid creativity base. Vivat!

Many scribes want to progress, to take their abilities to ever increasing skill levels than what they currently do. Some, like M. Rolf Hobart, have an internal need to always know more and attempt different methods. A thirst to learn.
If you are like that, how do you satisfy your desire? As Ian the Green blogs, “How do you take the next step“?
For me, the tough part is knowing what I don’t know. What’s out there to learn about scribal skills or any craft? Finding out the possibilities may take some searching. If there were a “scribal possibilities master list” you could then pick those that are the most thrilling for you to work toward. 
That’s essentially how I began. As I posted before, I wanted to have a painting from the Manesse Codex and I couldn’t find anyone to do it for me. So I had to learn myself. I was driven to find and learn the skills for that.
Taking your scribal craft to a more advanced level is similar. 
  • Determine specifically what you want to learn. (As Ian posts, “Make a list.”)
  • Determine the steps and goals to make it happen.
  • Develop a plan to fulfill the individual steps and goals.
  • Do one step at a time on your quest to make it so. 
  • Then do another.
This is easy when you have the passion and drive to create a certain thing, like my Manesse page. Even so, it helps to know the possible means to make it happen. 
First, just start. Do something less flabbergasting than a scroll or intricate manuscript page. Start small and slowly expand from there.
I recommend bookmarks. Find medieval illuminated borders you like and trace the design outline in pencil onto cardstock or Bristol board that is about 2″x 8.5″. Using a fine black Sakura Pigma Micron Pen, go over your pencil design. You can buy it at most craft stores. Now paint it as you would a color book or award preprint. You’ve just taken your first step.
The Illuminated Alphabet
You could also use the above technique but design and paint a large decorated capital letter. These are called “versals”. Try one from my”Puzzle Versal”  Pinterest board.
If you prefer guide book instruction on versals, check out the book The Illuminated Alphabet by Timothy Noad and Patricia Seligman.
To start calligraphy small just write names. Perhaps tags for your immediate friends and then expand to those in your local group. Move on to lettering sentences such as favorite quotes or adages. Try lettering song lyrics or poetry. Nothing is as dispiriting as repeatedly writing the same letter. I’d rather practice with pangrams
I was lucky when I started. I had a close art teacher friend that jump-started my scribal learning. If you don’t know a scribe or can’t meet up with one connect through FaceBook. Calontir has the Falcon Scribes group. While it is private, a request to join is easily granted. You can also connect with scribes by the public SCA Scribes group. Scribes with either group will gladly guide your journey online or maybe by phone. 
Books have been teaching scribal skills since the middle ages. Today many historic books have been printed for current use. A great one is the Goettingen Model Book. While the modern reprint is pricey, you can borrow it through interlibrary loan. You can also find the original German pages digitized online.
Once you know the skills you want to pursue, you might try some online classes. Trimaris College of Scribes lists online scribal lessons. I’m sure you will find inspiration in one of the listings. 

When you feel comfortable be bold and risk learning more. Challenge yourself. It’s daunting but rewarding. 
If working to a looming deadline is holding you back, connect with your Kingdom’s backlog scroll clerk. While there is a commitment to finish the assigned scroll the end time is more flexible. You may also arrange to share the task with another person. You might do the lettering and the other the illumination. Or perhaps someone else may do the gold-leaf if you’re not comfortable with it yet.
I am still nervous when I take on a new scroll. The intimidation doesn’t go away because I want each work to be inspiring and imposing. I’ve learned my brain tricks me into making poor assumptions. Exaggerating threats, discrediting opportunities, and devaluing the skills I have. I talk myself into it becasue I want to learn more.
So don’t worry about your efforts being “good enough”. Just start somewhere and do it for the learning fun. 
Related Prior Post:

Categories: Musings

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