Blank Borders Then And Now

Blank borders – the illumination only scroll part – are used when Their Majesties give a spontaneous award. But did you know there’s a historical precedent for them? 


Egerton 2076  f. 31v  Initial and borders

You can find illuminated manuscripts with completed borders without writing later in the SCA period. They served a similar purpose to our SCA blank border scrolls. They were waiting for a scribe to fill in the words.

The reason you find more blank borders later in period is that booksellers then parted out section “gatherings” or page pairs by the tasks needed. While it was still better to do the calligraphy before the design it wasn’t required.

If the text didn’t fit within the available space it flowed onto a page with limited illumination. You’ll also find pages having a large amount of blank space after the text for the same reason.

Period blank borders allowed manuscripts to be sold by illuminated page quantity and quality. More prosperous buyers – or those wanting to appear so – could buy more lavish books. And the book dealers could make more money. It was a win-win.

Every stage in an illuminated book’s creation still required intensive labor. And sometimes multiple collaborating workshops. Parchment made from dried animal hides cut to size, inks mixed, quills prepared, designs planned, pages ruled. But no longer were illumination and calligraphy done in a specific order.

Additional 21412, f. 3 
 Foliate border

This system originally developed in Paris for university textbook production. It spread to other university towns such as Bologna, Oxford, and Cambridge. University book dealers became hubs for this organization method. The system then expanded to include romance and Books of Hours for private buyers. And book sales exploded.

The overall book design was still set forth by the master. The decoration plan was carefully followed by the different artists and workshops completing the pages. Quality must be controlled.

Blank Borders In The SCA

Blank Borders From The Coronation Competition

SCA blank border scrolls give scribes more than they seem.

  • They’re a good transition from preprints to original scroll creation.
  • They’re a low-stress project if you’re concerned about meeting deadlines. 
  • If you just have an itch to paint or want to try a new style they fit the bill. 
  • And a blank border scroll is the perfect way to contribute largess to your Kingdom.  

There are things to consider when you create a blank border project. First, even though you don’t know its recipient you want to have a consistent illumination style and a medieval feel.

You can use any inspiration sources when choosing your design elements. But if possible look at several manuscripts from the same country and era.

When planning your design leave ample room for the text and margins. Royal Scribes prefer at least an 8×10″ text area if the paper is 11×14″. And your margins should be no smaller than 1/2 inch. I prefer even more.

I try sizing mine to fit a standard-size frame. This saves the recipient money by avoiding custom framing. If they want they can choose one that’s stock.

Whatever margin you determine for the scroll’s top and sides leave twice as much on the bottom. The Monarchs need room for their signatures and extra for overlarge Kingdom seals.

When you’ve determined your margins, I recommend you lightly draw a line limiting your illumination space using a 4H hard pencil and ruler. This helps keep you within your sketching boundary and definitively saving space for the Royal Scribe.

Avoid painting into your margins. But if you do slightly it’s not a sin. This is only a recommendation.

Lastly, my blank borders usually have illumination only on the top and left side. This makes it easier for the calligrapher whomever it is. They won’t have to work around motifs protruding into their text.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, suggestions, or considerate musings, feel free to leave a comment below.

Related Prior Posts:

Categories: Illumination

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