Cherry-picked Scribal Books

Do you like books? Real books? I bet you do.

Books are my crush. And I’ve acquired quite the collection of C and I books over the years. I went through my shelves and picked out the nine best instructional books I think are best for scribes like you. The ones that strengthen most your scribal skills and knowledge.

Usually I post a shopping book-list before 12th Night, gift giving season. But a cherry-picked SCA scribal book-list warrants repeating. And for those of you who have these already I’ve included one for beginning scribal teachers, too. So there’s something for everyone.

A Primer in Calligraphy and Illumination Complete Anachronist #47 available from the SCA Market Place. A basic introduction to calligraphy and illumination for beginning SCA scribes. This is where it all began for me.

The Art of Calligraphy: A Practical Guide To The Skills And Techniques, by David Harris, Dorling Kindersley, New York, 1995. I love this book for the way it shows different colored inks for each letter’s separate pen-stroke. It also gives you equipment details including: brushes, pens, pencils, paper, and ink. And 26 step-by-step scripts from Roman times to modern days with their history and original examples. But the colored strokes are its best trait.

The Art Of Teaching Craft: A Complete Handbook by Joyce Spencer and Deborah Kneen, 1995. When you get to the level of teaching classes this is your practical guide. It details how to set up your space, plan your class, provide teaching aids and – if you want – how to keep records. It might be over the top for SCA teaching, but it’s still very helpful. And I haven’t found any other resource on teaching crafts.

The Illuminated Alphabet: An Inspirational Introduction to Creating Decorative Calligraphy by author Patricia Seligman and calligrapher Timothy Noad. Although not a beginner calligraphy book it covers stroke directions of five capitals-only alphabets. It also provides basic recipes to make your own washes and gesso. The best thing I think this book does is walk you through gold leaf projects step-by-step. Although they do take time and patience. I love this book and feel it’s a perfect start if you’re wanting to learn illumination.

Illumination for Calligraphers: The complete guide for the ambitious calligrapher, by Marie Lynskey, Thorsons, London, 1990. I recommend this book for many things, particularly the way Lynskey shows how to create medieval hands and faces. Those in manuscripts don’t look like today’s cartoon faces and neither should those on scrolls. She also gives you a wide variety of illumination techniques. They include: decorative borders, filigree pen-work, diaper patterns, gilding, miniatures, knot-work designs, and decorative maps. I used her diaper pattern instructions when I first started teaching as a resource for my own classes.

Medieval Calligraphy It’s History and Technique, by Marc Drogin, Dover Publications, New York, 1989. I don’t know any SCA scribe who doesn’t consider this book to be the premier SCA calligraphy source. It presents 13 historical accounts of Western European scripts from the 4th to the 16th century. They include: Roman Rustic, Uncial, Carolingian Minuscule, Early Gothic, Luxeuil Minuscule, and Gothic Littera Bastarda. This is a must for any SCA scribe. I have two, one for me and one to loan.

Medieval Illuminators and Their Methods of Work, by Jonathan J.G. Alexander. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1992. If you have only one book on early manuscript creation methods it should be this. It
surveys European manuscript illumination from the 4th to the 16th century with examples from all over Europe. In it you learn about medieval illuminator’s methods, workshops and communities through a range of image sources–original, adapted or new. When I serve as an A & S judge I always look to see if this book’s included in the entrant’s documentation.

A Palette Of Period Pigments. Complete Anachronist #43 available from the SCA Market Place.. This great SCA booklet tells you about the colors used by medieval artists and the modern recipes that reproduce them. The best thing in it is the color Pantone (PMS) reference. You can use it to take to your closest gouache supply store to help you pick you first non-Reeves paints. I still refer to it and also its bibliography.

Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts, A Guide To Technical Terms, by Michelle P. Brown. The J. Paul Getty Museum in association with The British Library, 1994. When you’re first learning about manuscripts or forget a term like I do this book is a great help. This beautifully pictured book gives you definitions of manuscript techniques, processes, and materials. Its term explanations are concise and also readable cover-to-cover as a story not a dictionary.

You can’t go wrong with these books. If you don’t already have them I highly recommend you add them to your collection. These books will help you on your scribal journey.

But the best advice I can give you about your scribal learning journey is to enjoy your practice. Yes, use structured resources like books and online resources, but let yourself have fun. As you start to get the hang of it all take on engaging projects. Build on each step one at a time. As long as your practice is enjoyable, you’ll continue honing your skills.

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Categories: Resources

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