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Posts Tagged ‘Illuminated Manuscripts’

One of the most fascinating aspects of illuminated manuscripts is the range and diversity of the borders.  Elements can include stylized and naturalistic foliate drawings, (flowers, ivy, leaves, buds), geometric shapes and pen sprays often growing from border bars anchored to illuminated initials.

This demonstration will look at a few basic structures and incorporate various common elements found in manuscripts to create simple borders with added layers of complexity as a starting point to either creating your own designs or researching manuscripts to recreate “authentic” styles.

The border designs in this demonstration are a simple Symmetrical Border, a Repeating Spiral Border and a Border Bar with Ivy.

I have also included references to a few manuscripts from the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts for each design to give you an idea of the use, range and diversity of the elements.

Drawing Borders

What you need:

  • graph paper (refer to Calligraphy Resources page)
  • pencil, eraser
  • pointed pen nib and ink or fine point marker (e.g. Sakura Pigma Micron, Staedtler Pigment Liner)
  • tracing paper

We’ll start by working out basic structures on graph paper, but consider drawing these borders free hand to give a more dynamic, less mechanical look to your designs.

These designs use very simple shapes that are easy to draw.  If you don’t think you can draw, practice the shapes a few times – you might be surprised at how well you can draw!

Basic Shapes

The basic shapes to construct the borders are lines, circle, diamond, oval, hook and a squiggle:

Basic Shapes

Line, Circle, Diamond, Oval, Hook and Squiggle

We will also be using a simple flower, acanthus leaf and ivy:

Flower Construction

Flower Construction

Acanthus Construction

Acanthus Construction

Ivy Construction

Ivy Construction

Symmetrical Border

A very simple design containing a primary element (e.g. flower, leaf, etc.), a secondary element and pen sprays.

Manuscript References:

Lansdowne 851 f.54v
Yates Thompson 52 f.23v
Stowe 23  f. 62

Step 1:

On graph paper, draw a line for the center line.  Draw alternating long (first) and short (second) branches evenly spaced from the center line.  It might be easier to turn the paper vertically, and use the graph squares to help create symmetrical lines.

Step 1: Main Stem and Branches

Step 1: Main Stem and Branches

Step 2:

Draw diamond shapes for leaves on the ends of the long branches, and circles for berries on the ends of the short branches.  Try to make the leaves follow the direction of the stem.

Step 2: Leaves and Berries

Step 2: Leaves and Berries

Step 3:

Draw the hook shape (pen sprays) between the branches a little shorter than the berry branches, and following the same direction.

Step 3: Pen Sprays

Step 3: Pen Sprays

Step 4:

Above the berry circles, draw two short lines and finish with a squiggle stroke.

Step 4: Berry Pen Sprays

Step 4: Berry Pen Sprays

And we’re done!  Now we can transfer the design for painting or just add a few details.

Finished Border

Finished Border

We can make a variety of borders by simply changing the elements and pen sprays.  The border below uses the same structure and substitutes flowers for leaves, oval-shaped leaves for the berries, and berries for the hooks:

Border with Flowers and Leaves

Border with Flowers and Leaves

We could keep adding details such a pen sprays:

Border Variation with Pen Sprays

Border Variation with Pen Sprays

Of course, borders do not have to be straight – try adding some curves or have the borders “grow” from an object:

Border Variation

Border Variation

Repeating Spiral Border

A simple design that is easy to repeat around a page.

Manuscript References:

Harley 24 f.1
Harley 44 f.2
Harley 2966 ff.27v-28 – Symmetrical and Spiral Borders

Step 1:

First we’ll use the graph paper to plot out a spiral shape.

Step 1: Plotting a Spiral Shape

Step 1: Plotting a Spiral Shape

Step 2:

Connect the “dots” by drawing a curved line through each point.  Draw an acanthus leaf at the end of the inside line.

Step 2: Spiral with Acanthus Leaf

Step 2: Spiral with Acanthus Leaf

Step 3:

Trace the design on tracing paper, then flip it and copy it:

Step 3: Repeating the Design

Step 3: Repeating the Design

Step 4:

Now we can start building elements starting with a few evenly spaced nodes – these are simply a “curved” variation of the ivy shape:

Step 4: Adding Nodes

Step 4: Adding Nodes

Step 5:

We can continue adding elements such as berries and pen spray hooks:

Step 5: Adding Berries and Pen Sprays

Step 5: Adding Berries and Pen Sprays

Step 6:

Add a few details such as lines from the berries, and we’re done!

Step 6: Finished Repeating Spiral

Step 6: Finished Repeating Spiral

Border Bar with Ivy

Ivy vines and leaves are generally attached to border bars and initials.  These can be very simple or quite complex and often are combined with other elements and design styles.

Manuscript References:

Harley 2899 f. 34v – spiral design
Egerton 3035  f. 38 – alternating style
Egerton 3037  f.193 – simple symmetrical

Step 1:

Draw parallel lines about one graph square apart for a border bar.  Draw a second smaller width line outside the bar for the main vine line.

Step 1: First Lines

Step 1: First Lines

Step 2:

Draw a wavy line at the top and bottom extending the smaller vine lines.

Step 2: Extending Vine Lines

Step 2: Extending Vine Lines

Step 3:

At the bottom and top of the first outside line, draw a few scalloped shapes and connect to the inside lines of the extended vine lines.

Step 3: Extending Outer Lines

Step 3: Extending Outer Lines

Step 4:

Add a second vine at the center of the bar attached to the outside vine.

Step 4: Drawing Center Vine

Step 4: Drawing Center Vine

Step 5:

Draw alternating stems and leaves attached to the vines.

Step 5: Drawing Stems and Ivy

Step 5: Drawing Stems and Ivy

Step 6:

Draw section lines around the center vines and to separate scallops at the top and bottom.

Step 6: Adding Section Lines

Step 6: Adding Section Lines

We can continue adding a few details such as pen sprays on the ivy and vines, and the design is ready to be transferred for painting.

Finished Ivy Border

Finished Ivy Border

Painting Borders

Borders are usually (but not always!) painted and they are very easy and fun!   What you do depends on your design requirements whether it is a simple touch of color, elaborate layers with detailed white designs, incorporating gold leaf, grisaille, etc.

These are just a few simple suggestions using a limited palette of colors that are easy to paint.  Try substituting the Yellow Ochre with a metallic gold artist paint or metallic gold gel pen!

What you need:

  • round brush (medium and small)
  • mixing palette
  • gouache paint (Opaque White, Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Red, Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber)
  • paper suitable for water-based media
  • pointed pen nib and ink or fine point marker (e.g. Sakura Pigma Micron, Staedtler Pigment Liner)
  • ink

Optional:

  • Metallic gold paint or gel pen

Start by using tracing paper and a pencil or another method to copy a design on to the painting paper.  After you having finished painting, you can outline the design using a pointed nib with ink or a fine point marker.  Try to make the lines thin and not too heavy or it will look too “cartoonish”.

If the black outline looks too dark, thin out the ink so it is a gray tone, or mix a bit of brown gouache such as Raw Umber for the outlines.

Sample Symmetrical and Repeating Borders

These borders generally follow the same steps when painting:

Step 1:

Paint any areas you want in “gold” first – either with Yellow Ochre or a metallic gold paint.

Step 2:

Paint the flat areas of color (e.g. red, blue).  If you are mixing a color such as green (Yellow Ochre with a bit of Ultramarine Blue), mix enough to paint all the flat areas so the color is consistent.

Step 3:

Use Opaque White to paint details in the flat colors once the paint is dry.

Step 4:

When the paint and paper are completely dry, outline the design if desired, and add in the pen sprays.

These are just a few suggestions and variations:

Sample Flower Border

Sample Flower Border

Sample Alternating Design

Sample Flower Variation

Sample Spiral Repeated

Sample Spiral Repeated

We could also use one color and paint a monochromatic design for a grisaille effect:

Sample Grisaille Style

Sample Grisaille Style

Sample Bar and Ivy Border

Step 1:

Mix up a bit of Yellow Ochre and paint center section, top and bottom scalloped areas on the bar.  You can also add a bit of Raw Umber and paint a few darker strokes to make it look like gold.  Paint a few ivy leaves around the border with the same color.

Step 1: Painting Gold

Step 1: Painting Gold

Step 2:

Bar and vine colors generally alternate, so we will use Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Red to paint the top of the bar red, the bottom blue, and switch the colors for the vine.  Note that the vine color changes about halfway at the center gold section.  Paint the remainder of the ivy leaves alternating red and blue.

Step 2: Painting Blue and Red

Step 2: Painting Blue and Red

Step 3:

Mix up Opaque White, and paint a line down the center of the vines.  You might want to mask out the areas as discussed in the Calligraphy Layout: Designing a Certificate post.

Tip: Another method of painting straight lines without masking is to use short, connecting strokes rather than trying to paint one long, straight line.

Step 3: Vine Center Lines

Step 3: Vine Center Lines

Step 4

Using a small brush and Opaque White, add details to the border bars by painting straight lines in geometric shapes on the red bar, and curved line shapes on the blue bar.  You can paint these as simple or as complex as you like – try adding a few white dots in the shapes, painting double lines, etc.  Paint a few highlights on the edges of the blue and red ivy leaves.

Step 4: Painting Bar Design and Ivy Highlights

Step 4: Painting Bar Designs and Ivy Highlights

When the paint and paper are completely dry, outline the design with a thin line of black ink or brown gouache and finish up other details such as pen sprays.

Sample Bar and Ivy Border

Sample Bar and Ivy Border

These are just a few simple suggestions to get you started – try different structures, colors and elements with variations.  Study manuscripts to recreate an authentic border to match a particular letter style, or create something completely contemporary!

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