View Full Version : An illumination in progress -longish post, tons of picts-

04-01-2008, 03:52 PM
Hi there !

I'm usually roaming the WearableArt forum but as i do a lot of illuminated manuscripts these days and even teach every week, I'll just keep motivated by posting in progress stuff in here !

It's a sort of DIY illuminated manuscript tutorial of some sort... ish.
I hope I'm not totally out of line by posting this here, if I step on someone' else's toes, please yell at me ! :eek:

Initial P in Italian Renaissance style and a rather funny Celtic knotwork :
from the Book of Kells *so, no gold*

Prepare boards. 8x11 massonite boards are cool.
Cut paper and tape it to the board *masking tape, like the painting stuff*
Pick a design. Either on paper or tracing paper. Use sanguine chalk on the back and wipe off the excess. Tape it to your paperboard.
Redraw the design with a thin/hard pencil...


The design is here but is very faint. You have to fix it. Choose a lining colour according to your future colours.. Warm if you go for warm colours, cold for cold or a mix. Here, I use walnut stain.


Choose brush accordingly : thick enough to hold pigment but thin enough to produce thin lines. Length of the brush may vary. I tend to prefer short brushes but if they are short, they do not hold pigment for long.. Hence, you have to dip the brush again and go back at your work. This often creates "hatched" lines. Quite unpleasant.


Don't forget to rotate your board so your hand keep the most natural movement and your lines feel smooth.. Do not overpaint. It is not an outlining, it's just "fixing the design" time. Once you're done, erase the sanguine leftovers. I highly enhanced the contrasts because my ink is very pale.


A tip : Do not use your brush on the paper as soon as you dipped it. Try it and wipe the excess on the tape or on a paper. It will get rid of the excess ink and you'll practice thin lines. This might take a few trials and errors. Holding your breath helps. Don't sweat if you've got thin/full lines. If you wanted regular straight lines, you'd use a tubular pen but imho, it's too perfect hence boring.


Well, same thing for the Celtic stuff, only way bigger... Don't forget to breathe once in a while.


Rotate rotate rotate and follow the design. If you're into knotworks, don't let the thread go. Think of the design as a whole, not tiny bits of noodles.


Lining sort of 3/4 way done


Various coloured applied. I usually should only use the highlighting white in the end but it was late and I wanted to have fun so, the bird is already into the "highlight" process.. :p
Colours are Azurite pigment for the blue, Chrysocolla for the green and Iron Oxyde. All prepared tempera *egg yolk* and Arabic Gum.
The white is either transparent *diluted titanium white* or opaque *gouache + mother of pearl powder. That doesn't really make the white stupidly shiny, it just makes it brighter*
Chrysocolla is splendid but very tricky. This version isn't finely ground, it's very dimensionnal and it's like working with sticky sand but it's the price to pay for a gorgeous colour (natural pigments are lighter as the grains are thinner)
The brown dog *yes, obviously, it's a male* is iron oxyde, the cat is Azurite with a touch of candle black.


As you can see, it's still far from being perfect but it will highly improve when the outlining will begin. there is always a period of time when "in progress" illuminated manuscripts look just like a pizza plate. Usually, outlining and highlighting come to the rescue before students hurl themselves through the nearest window.
And the classroom is ground floor anyway.

To be continued.

04-02-2008, 10:04 AM
These are lovely!

Especially interested in seeing further progress on the Renaissance "P". :thumbsup:

Of course, I'm peering *really* closely at the Kells piece... is it your own composition or ... ?

I work in colored pencil & with pens, *not* brushes (shaky hands, lack of patience, etc. :rolleyes: ) so it's *great* to see a more traditional approach to illumination here!
Looking forward to the next post!


04-02-2008, 10:55 AM
Very cool!

04-02-2008, 01:01 PM
thanks so much , this could not have come at a better time. I spend a grate deal of time lurking. I want to work with colored pencils but I cant draw. while looking in cp link I came across knots 101 and thought this is it! now I have sent for books Tess recamended. I have been working with graft paper but I cant 101 info with me as my printer is not working. I am going to try working in cp on gourds but will practice on paper.

04-03-2008, 11:14 AM
Sophie, This is great. I love your brushwork (I have trouble making straight lines with a micron pen let alone a brush). You are not stepping on toes here. Please post ... the closeups are much appreciated and the tips you provide are excellent. - Chris

04-04-2008, 08:44 AM
Sophie, great work....love the colours.:thumbsup:

04-04-2008, 05:37 PM
Initial S from Très Riche Heures du Duc de Berry and Initial P, white vine Italian style.
These 2 projects will be my students nightmare over the next week-end.. starting tomorrow morning arharh.

Apply gesso. You can use traditionnal one, I usually use a modern one made in UK, named Improved gold body. It's not a paint, just drop a.. well... drop and stretch it to the desired shape with either a very thin brush or anything pointy.. Do not scratch the paper !


Begin to apply transfert gold leaf when the gesso is dry. Reactivate it by blowing through a rolled bit of paper. I always proceed bits by bits for better control. Proceed till completed and then apply one or 2 layers of loose gold leaf. Don't burnish the first transfert leaf. There is way not enough gold to burnish without tearing it. Wait till you have "matter" to burnish with the loose leaves. If you have too much loose leaf, just fold it over and burnish it again.. extra coat never hurts.


When gold is ok, proceed with colour. Here I chose Azurite.


Then Malachite and Alizarine crimson. This style asks for tiny white dots *by pack of three*. On the malachite/green, the dots are gold powder *with arabic gum*


Then a light outlining *oxyde red and carbone black* and voila. Italian white wine renaissance style.


04-04-2008, 05:50 PM

On to the Initial S, same process with gesso but with tons of extra bits... It's a tricky design, as it is on a white background, no way to conceal the mistakes.. brrr :mouth18:


Take care, some parts will be quite hard to gild. thin layers will reactivate difficultly.. be patient..


Apply transfert gold then loose gold. Don't hesitate, don't be cheap ;) ALWAYS wait before burnishing. Let the poor gesso rest for a while ! *can be anything between 30mn to overnight depending on many factors* Same thing for loose gold, fold the extra bits and burnish again.


On we go with pigments, I used the same ones as the previous initial, because I don't want to waste stuff :p so.. Azurite it is ! Be extra precise with the application. Sometimes, when these leaves are correctly made, you do NOT need outlining them. The red is Alizarine crimson with a drop of oxyde red to tone it down.


Black outline, white highlights and voila !


I'll see how the students will survive tomorrow :p

04-04-2008, 08:57 PM
Excellent! From a prior illuminator, really glad to see some professional-quality illumination tutorials appear here! Beautiful work!

-- Linda

04-05-2008, 06:26 AM
Fantastic!But can gesso be made at home...i mean with traditional materials, and if so what are they and their proportions?would like to try this.

04-05-2008, 04:55 PM
Beautiful Sophie!! Thanks for the close-up pictures. I'll be studying this thread like a schoolboy in his favorite class.

04-05-2008, 06:35 PM
Many thanks all :)
This gesso isn<t a traditionnal one. It's more "elastic" and very easy to live with even if you really have to reactivate it for a long time... but it's a nice medium and is pratically bubble free :p

Tanjoreartist > You can make your own "illuminator" gesso *or even buy some* but it's tedious and quite dangerous considering you'll be manipulating Ceruse *lead*.
I made illuminations with traditionnal illuminator gesso, it's true that the results are amazing but it's way trickier than this one... And of course it breaks ! *while this one doesn't ...*
Though, I could give you a recipe if you really want to try.

04-07-2008, 04:41 PM
somk, I knew that name was familiar, I saw your jewellery in deviant art,together with your drawings.They are really good.

Also your illuminations are great, you seem to be having the same book as me, because theyre so alike.

I hope you keep posting more images.

04-07-2008, 05:45 PM
^ of course, they are well known models ! :) These are exercices for a week-end class, I can't start with personnal works :p
The initial P was taken from Tomothy Noad's book and as I mentionned it, the S is from the "Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry" although I have a soft spot for the "Petites Heures" but hey... so many manuscripts !!
I thought these 2 examples would provide a few interesting techniques. One has a good volume and a plain background, the other with its white vines seems complex but is by far the most forgiving of the 2 !

I will have picts soon from yesterday session. It went very well and quite a few students were VERY talented ! I'll post the results. :clap:

04-13-2008, 03:47 AM
Really beautiful work Sophie, I am glad that we have someone with knowledge on illumination. Many people will be interested, as I am, in learning the techniques of gilding, this WIP is much appreciated. What is that 'hook' that you are using to apply the gesso?

04-14-2008, 12:44 PM
Thanks Marie !

As the gesso isn't a paint, you do not need to 'paint' it.. You want it to be as smooth and 'in volume' as you can get it.. So, I just drop a blob of it in the shape I want to cover and I stretch the blob delicately.. I use either a very thin brush or metallic tools like this one.
It's a dentist's tool.
Hey, we're paying their houses in the south or their yachts, they can give us their old tools ;)

05-03-2008, 12:10 AM
Hi sophie,
somehow I missed this thread , for some time.thanks for the information about the gesso.But in India, we have been making our own gesso, with french chalk,chalkpowder and arabic gum.And it works well.I read about the traditional gesso,and yes it is tedious and toxic.Anyway I am presently in Richmond,vancouver, and is that "Improved gold body' you've mentioned available here, in Micheal's or Opus or any other store?I want to try that.
Your illuminations are marvellous!I want try one like that too.
You can see my works here,


09-23-2008, 05:36 PM
Beautiful! I just checked the Noad book out of the library a couple of weeks ago, just for fun, and found myself intrigued, and then found this thread! It seems actual instruction on illumination is hard to find on the 'web--there's plenty ABOUT illumination, but very little on how to actually DO it.

Anyone know of any non-online sources for shell gold/water-soluble gold, or am I stuck ordering off the 'net?

09-23-2008, 07:14 PM
I'm SO GLAD Kat12 brought this post back to the board! I gasped as I worked my way through it. I'll go back and read it more carefully but I had to say how impressed I am and just how beautiful this work is! :clap:

Beautiful! I just checked the Noad book out of the library a couple of weeks ago, just for fun, and found myself intrigued, and then found this thread! It seems actual instruction on illumination is hard to find on the 'web--there's plenty ABOUT illumination, but very little on how to actually DO it.

Anyone know of any non-online sources for shell gold/water-soluble gold, or am I stuck ordering off the 'net?

10-02-2008, 04:14 PM
Anyone know of any non-online sources for shell gold/water-soluble gold, or am I stuck ordering off the 'net?

The answer will greatly varies depending on your location alas... I find shell gold at my local artstroe department after I bugged them enough till they order it :p
Gesso is a bit tricky but you even can make your own provided basic safety rules.. or go through the web.
In the US, john Neal book seller or paperinkarts seem to have some decent ones.
In Europe: Cornelissen (UK), Le comptoir des ecritures and Le calligraphe (France) have some pretty good one but the list could surely go on for ever...