Beginning SCA AoA Award Painting

Baronial Preprint

Looking back over my posts I realize I haven’t told you about painting AOA award scrolls. 


Whether your Kingdom calls them “preprints” or “charters” they are a great way to learn illumination. And as you’re learning you’re doing a priceless service for your Kingdom or Barony. 

Monarchs of any SCA kingdom need hordes of preprint scrolls to present during their reign. Way more than one scribe can do by themselves. 

So, what do you need to get started? 

  • Brushes
  • Paint 
  • AOA scrolls, distributed by your Royal Scribe
  • palette, water cup, paper towels, maybe an eye dropper
  • decent lighting

Brushes: Everyone has a favorite size and brand of brush. I use Winsor and Newton Sceptre Gold II watercolor round brushes. (Round brushes come to a point.) I like the way they feel on the paper, their spring. They are a less pricey artist grade brush because they blend red sable and golden synthetic fibers. I have them in the smallest 101 series round size 00 up to a 4. Use whatever brush feels comfortable to you. 

Brushes come in numbered sizes; the larger the number, the smaller the brush point. The more zeros, the smaller the brush. 0 is small, but 20×0 is extremely small. 

You can buy brushes in a variety of animal hairs, Sabel being the most expensive. They are wonderful to work with, but synthetic or student brushes work well too. Start with something serviceable. In brushes, more expensive is not necessarily better. 

Paint: I recommend you use non-acrylic Gouache, a watercolor-type paint made from a mix of pigment, water, and gum-Arabic binder. Watercolor paints can be used, but gouache is more opaque and covers better. You don’t want to use acrylics, crayons, markers, oil paint, pastels, or colored pencils. 

Most beginning scribes start with a Reeves or Daler Rowney paint tube set. They add single colors of artist quality Windsor and Newton gouache as they use up what came in their starter kit.  Better paint is worth the money, each paint tube lasting years. 

Preparing Paint: Squeeze a pea-size paint dab out of the tube onto a palette or small plate that isn’t metal. As the paint comes from the tube it is ready to use with only a drop or two of water to thin it. You want the paint to have a heavy cream consistency. If you paint for hours you will want to add water as it drys to keep it creamy. I use tap water, but many scribes use distilled water, to avoid impurities. 

Your paint filled palette is reusable. When your paints dry, you can reconstitute them by adding water. I use an eyedropper or large clean brush to add water a drop at a time, one color at a time. 

What colors do you want? That depends on the current Monarch’s style. A 10th-century Celtic scroll design series is intended for a different color set than a 15th-century French style. You can get by with a basic color set. 

If you begin with Windsor & Newton gouache paints I suggest:

  • Ultramarine blue 
  • Spectrum red 
  • Spectrum yellow 
  • Permanent white 
  • Ivory black  

You can mix other colors from these few.

If you want to afford more colors I would add: 
  • Windsor green 
  • Spectrum violet 
  • Burnt umber 
Not all scribes work with these colors. As you progress you will explore and add your own choices. It’s difficult to refrain from buying more. But I have no control when paint shopping.

Before I tell you about paint application, you should know something about color mixing with watercolor paints. 

Mixing colors: Eventually you will want several palettes to have enough wells for all the paints plus color you mix yourself. When you mix a color note that it’s very difficult to mix the same color a second time. Make more than enough the first time. 

Start by mixing a tint and a shade from your colors by adding small amounts of black to darken and white to lighten. In some colors, you won’t get the color you want, such as when you add white to red. As you know you don’t get a lighter red. Instead, you get pink. Depending on the kind of black you use, adding it to yellow won’t give you a darker yellow. Unbelievably, you get a green or brown, because blacks aren’t truly black.

Red Yellow Blue Color Wheel

To mix colors and make a lighter red you add a bit of yellow. It will be orangier, but it’s a lighter red that isn’t pink. To darken red add a bit of blue. You will get a darker red that has a purple tinge. The trick is to not overcorrect and mix a real orange or purple. To darken yellow add purple. It’s the one directly across the modern color wheel from yellow and the most contrasting.

Paint application: When you put color on the paper in one layer the effect remains flat and two dimensional. When you stroke paint colors in several layers over the flat first layer you produce a three-dimensional effect. It gives your illumination depth and dimension. 

To paint a flat beginning layer, load your brush with paint and gently touch its tip to the paper, so the paint makes contact with it. Make s
trokes with the brush, pulling the paint across the paper filling your intended space with color. Continue this over the area you want to cover, loading the brush with more paint as you need. You use the brush loaded with paint to avoid “dry brushing” and give the appearance of one even, continuous color area. 

To be sure your highlights and shades don’t mix with your base paint layer let it dry completely before going further. It should dry several hours if not overnight.
M. Rolf’s red palette.
He has a palette like this

 for each color.

Add depth to your work by shading with dark colors and highlighting with light, giving the appearance of receding and advancing shapes. Becoming aware of these details in period manuscripts is important.

To work with dimension, start by placing your single chosen color in three palette wells. One well of your chosen color you leave as is. Using a method appropriate to your chosen hue darken paint in one well and lighten it in the third one. Experienced scribes may take this a step further having two or more shaded colors and a lighter one as in my photo. You will usually use white to highlight as well.

Next, imagine a light source for your picture, your “sun”. Where is it coming from?  What direction does it flow? You want it to come from the same place and direction for your whole work. I commonly have my imaginary sun’s rays come from the upper left corner and head toward the lower right. 

Acanthus Painting for HO6.jpg
Pretend the sunrays come from the
upper left corner to the lower right.

Knowing your light source, add many tiny strokes of the darker color shade to areas away from your “sun” or any that you want to seem hidden from it. Use thicker strokes or more of them in the most shaded places like the deeper clothing folds or more hidden leaves. Let this layer dry. 

Last, add your lighter color tone to highlight parts you think are closest to your sun or that seem curved toward the light. Your lightest color usually is white, but on Medieval greens you often see yellow. Use thicker strokes or more of them in the lighter places like the more revealed tree leaves. Let this layer dry, too.

Tip: Be careful you don’t overwork brushing as the paint’s moisture may buckle the paper. 

White Work Examples

Details:  You can add details with a tiny brush. One easy, common type is “White Work”, fine white lines, curves, and dots stroked on a fully dry paint layer. You find these as borders or text line-fillers. 

Tip: When doing white work on a red or red-purple base layer the red may bleed through the white turning your fine lines pink. Be sure your detailing is done with “Permanent White” gouache and the base layer has dried overnight.

There are other detail types. In Celtic manuscripts, you find red dots around a painted area’s outlined edge. And you often see diapered repeating background patterns. These are groups of small, repeated geometrical motifs set adjacent to one another within a grid.

Viewing period manuscripts is the best teacher. Online you can zoom in to see the fine details and numerous strokes. They’re so inspiring and give you a reason to want to do more.

Scrolls sometimes have the award’s or kingdom’s heraldry in the design. For your scroll to possibly be used you want to paint any heraldry on your preprint in the official colors of the award’s’ device. In Calontir you find the Kingdom’s devices on the Kingdom’s heraldry webpage and the awards here

Final outlining is your last step and usually done in black. In preprints this neatens the previously printed lines making the edges crisp and clean. Using a small brush and black paint or black ink such as a 01 size, black Sakura Pigma Micron pen you want to go over major design lines. 

Tip: If you use the Micron pen over dried paint it may clog. To unclog it stroke it over scrap paper. If that fails, you can briefly soak the tip in water and try it again.

Now all you need are blank awards. For AoA scrolls to paint contact your Kingdom’s Royal Scribe. The Royal Scribe changes each reign, but you can connect him or her through your Monarch’s retinue when you’re at an event. 

Because each reign creates its own scroll set, more completed awards are needed within its first two months. The last two months enough accumulate to easily finish out the reign. Get your blank scrolls early and complete them in a timely manner. If something comes up and you can’t finish them early, hand them off to another scribe who will. 

When you’re done with your scroll sign the back. You volunteered your time and effort, let others know you did. Write your SCA name lightly in pencil at the top or middle of each scroll. G
ive your completed works to retinue at the next event or to someone in your local group who can. 

There’s no better way to begin award painting than doing preprint AoA level scrolls. While every journey begins with your first step, improving takes lots and lots more. Remember “Constant repetition carries conviction.” -Robert Collier

Related Prior Posts:
Brush Basics and Buying
Nuturing Your Scribal Visual Awareness

Categories: How-to

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