Illuminating Details


British Library: Sloane 1975  f. 10v
12th century

Decorative dots date back to the Roman Empire in the first century AD. They work well with many illumination styles from from Insular knotwork to 15th century White vine-stem. You find them in line fillers, geometric designs and diaper patterns. Here they’re used to enhance the plant’s edge.

When you look at manuscripts zoom in on the dots. You’ll see some are actually micro-circles. And they’re in clusters usually of white or black paint, but not always.

You can add dots easily using a tiny fine pointed brush or a toothpick. The toothpik makes a rounder shape but period dots weren’t always round.

After you apply your underpaint let it completely dry, maybe overnight. You also want the paint for your dots to be almost tube consistency, not watery.

Dip just the very tip of your brush or toothpick into your paint. Too much paint and you’ll have a blob on the page not a dot. Use light pressure to press down to make your dot. And you can make several dots before you refresh your paint again. The dots will be slightly different in size and paint density, but that’s the look you want.

When you paint your dots in clusters remember they’re commonly found in threes. Although sometimes you find them in sixes. They may be in a triangle or a straight line. sometimes you find them in a small circle of six with a seventh dot in the center. It depends on the manuscript style and the space they fill.

Geometric Patterns

British Library Royal 15 D III  f. 197
15th century

You find these decorating long, thin, straight spaces. They’re often seen on French manuscripts with gold-vine and leaf rinceaux done in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

After you apply your underpaint let it completely dry, maybe overnight.

To make each zig-zag or other pattern mark each element’s center. Use a pencil and ruler to lightly mark consistent increments – usually about .25″ – up along the painted area. To alternate the pattern properly mark the other side directly across from the marks on the other side in the same size increments.

Paint zigzag or continuing S white-work lines using a light brush stroke. The lighter you press your brush to your support the thinner your lines. The harder the thicker your lines.

Add details between each zig-zag such as triangles that correspond to the main line’s shape. This can be used to measure for a variety of shapes.

Highlight And Shadow

Highlight and Shadow Lining elements like vines and leaves in white is an effective and simple way of making a scroll visually interesting. Black – or a darkened version of your base color — can also be used opposite white in order to create a shadowed effect. A using a lighter version of your base color can be effective in layering highlig The example here (from The Ascension, done in Italy in 1450, from Illuminated Manuscripts lso, hts. 3 , cover art) uses all of these techniques, as well as some more complicated shading using the lighter color over the base, or simply shading with white to create the same effect. Shading with white or black and not mixing separate colors requires more control over the thickness of your paint to vary the translucence.

Lining a vine or other long element involves choosing one side, and following the outline, whether it curves or not, until it ends. Leaves can be lined on just one side, or follow the outline all the way around. Note on lines: You do not have to make your entire line in one stroke! If you need to pick up your brush, make sure to go back a little but and start ‘on’ the existing white paint, then draw down and push out with the brush lightly until the line continues at the same width. Some charters work better with just the simple line, sometimes it works well to go more detailed, whatever you prefer.

If you want to make your line more visually interesting, and add more shape or depth to your design there are several things you can do. Option 1: You can layer a lighter color of your base (mix the base with white to get the color you want) between the base color and your white line by putting it down first and the white over it. Make this lighter color a thicker line than your white so that it shows up. Option 2: Use black along the opposite side of your element than the white line. These can be applied straight or, if you feel comfortable, once they are on you can use a slightly wet brush to blend your black or white into your base color.

Another, more period, blending technique involves using your color on your brush and doing tiny ‘hatch marks’ that overlap your base color to make it look blended without having to try and actually blend the two colors. On straight vines and spaces with the full shading, it is not uncommon to have subtle patterns painted over this as well. (Not illustrated here) Basic White Line White Line with Color Base Black, and White with Color Base White Lines on Leaves Black and White detailing on Leaves.

Something important to remember; when painting is that modern mundane ideas of precision are a much different standard from those held by the painters of these pieces. If you look at period details, they are not always ‘perfect.’ Dots are not always completely round and may vary in size. Coloring is not always completely even. Lines are not always exactly straight. The overall effect is the goal, not necessarily that everything looks exactly right even up close at the range we have painted it. Strive to do well, but do not be afraid to mess up and try again! Those little details add character to a piece! It is the effort that is put into it that will show through in the end

Categories: How-to

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