How to
  • The Making of an Illuminated Manuscript

    The Making of an Illuminated Manuscript:

    Psalm 121

    First the the parchment is cut, guidelines and margins are marked (drawn with a lead stylus or pressed in with a bronzed stylus or penned with brazilwood ink) Once this is done, the writing is completed with a goose quill and iron gall ink. leaving space for the illumination and capital letters.

    Once the calligraphy is complete, the capital letters are drawn with a lead stylus (or pencil)

    Once the capitals are drawn, the remainder of the illumination is drawn, attaching it to the capitals.

    After the lead point or pencil drawing is finished, all of the underdrawing is inked with iron gall ink and a goose quill.

    Once it is thoroughly dry (about a day) the lead point is erased with stale bread (or th pencil is erased with a rubber eraser)

    The size (or glue) for the gilding is laid down, this is typcally gesso, gum ammoniac, or garlic juice and glair.

    It takes 3-5 layers of gum ammoniac to give a lightly raised surface texture to the page, and about 1 day of drying.

    All of the details that need to be gold must be layered with size.

    Once the underlayment is dry, the size is lightly breathed on to make it sticky again, and the loose leaves of gold are layed and pressed onto the artwork.

    It takes many sheets of gold to complete a piece this size, each square inch to be guilded taking special attention.

    Once the gold has been left to dry for a day, it is lightly burnished and then a brush is used to remove the loose gold

    Each outline is then cleaned up with a scribe's knife to remove any gold that is sitll hanging on in the details and crevices

    Once the gold is cleaned up, each base color is mixed by adding the pigments to egg yolk or glair, and then painted on.

    One color at a time

    Once all of the base colors are finished, detail work can begin

    The details involve highlight colos of each base color mixed with white, as well as just white. and some darkening with black and darker corresponding colors.

    The final step is to outline everything with black

    It is now a completed page, here is an image showing the detail of the historiated initial.  The entire page is 9x11 inches, which is quite large for a historic manuscript.

    Jan 04, 2018

  • Making Iron Gall Ink - In pictures!

    How to Make Iron Gall Ink

    First you need a recipe, conveniently we sell a kit that includes the following recipe

    • 40 g of powdered Aleppo oak galls
    • 25 g of iron (II) sulfate (with three drops of clove oil added to it)
    • 25 g of gum Arabic
    • A pair of gloves
    • 2 storage bottles
    • Coffee Filter/filter cloth
    • Plastic Spoon(s)
    • 1 cup (120 mL) of water (distilled, or reverse osmosis filtered preferred)
    • ¾ cup (180 mL) vinegar (white, cider, or wine)
    • ¾ cup (180 mL) of wine (old is fine)

    Note: Mix all ingredients with a plastic or stainless steel utensil (wooden utensils will be ruined). Wear Gloves through this entire process as the ink will stain your hands, clothes, etc.

    Well, let’s go through this a step at a time.

    You need to gather all of your materials, to get oak galls, iron(II) sulfate, and gum Arabic, I recommend buying the medieval ink making kit from Scribal Work Shop on Etsy. (shameless marketing)

    The kit also includes your filter cloth, gloves, and spoons, a couple of ink bottles, etc.

    You also need water, ideally, distilled or reverse osmosis filtered water, though you can use tap water in a pinch.

    (Imagine a picture of water)

    Next you need vinegar: white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, wine vinegar, just grab some vinegar

    And next you need some wine: White wine, red wine, old wine, new wine…

    All-righty, now that we have all of the ingredients, lets measure…wait…PUT YOUR GLOVES ON!! This stuff can stain your skin and is slightly toxic.

    Great job following safety protocols!

    Ok, now we can measure the ingredients.

    Measure ¾ cup of vinegar

    ¾ cup of wine (I like red the best)

    And 1 cup of water (Double what is in the picture)

    Mix them all together

    Measure 1 cup of this mixture

    Place it in a pan

    Add the Oak galls to this pan

     Boil it for about 5 minutes

    Measure ½ cup of your remaining liquid

    Pour it into an appropriate container

    Add the Iron(II) Sulfate to this

    And stir to dissolve

    Measure ½ cup of your remaining liquid

    And add it to an appropriate container

    Add gum Arabic to this liquid

    And Stir to dissolve

    Allow the oak galls to cool, and filter the liquid through a cloth into a jar

    Add the final ½ cup of liquid to the oak gall mush

    Filter this liquid through the cloth again

    Squeeze out the remaining liquid

    Until the oak galls are dry

    You should have about 1 cup of oak gall extract

    Add the iron(II) Sulfate solution to this extract (don’t forget your gloves!!)

    This should now form a dark black/grey liquid

    Now add your gum Arabic solution/suspension

    Stir this all together thoroughly and you have made ink.  I like to filter it once more through the filter cloth after I have made the ink to get any large clumps out. (this part is extremely messy and not entirely necessary, but it helps smooth out the ink concistency)

    Aug 04, 2015

  • Iron Gall Ink - The nerdy parts

    So you want to make ink.

    We commend, applaud, and rejoice with you for choosing to take on this perilous quest. First in your quest to make ink you search the vast resources of the world’s libraries (er…the internet?) and you find recipes like the following:

    To make inke to write on paper.

    Take halfe a pint of water, a pint wanting a quarter of wine, and as much vinegar, which being mixed together make a quart & a quarter of a pint more, then take six ounces of gauls beaten into small pouder, and sifted through a sive, put this pouder into a pot by it selfe, and poure halfe the water, wine and vinegar into it, take likewise four ounces of victriall, and beat it into pouder, and put also into a pot by it selfe, whereinto put a quarter of the wine, water & vinegar that remaineth, and to the other quarter, put four ounces of gum Arabike beaten to pouder, that done, cover the three pots close, and let them stand three or four daies together, stirring them every day three or four times, on the first day set the pot with gauls on the fire, and when it begins to seeth, stir it about till it be thouroughly warme, then straine it through a cloath into another pot, and mixe it with the two other pots, stirring them well together, and being couered, then let it stand three daies, till thou meanest to use it, on the fourth day, when it is settled, poure it out, and it will be good inke. If there remaine any dregs behind, pour some raine water (that hath stand long in a tub or vessel into it, for the older the water is, the better it is, and keepe that until you make more inke, so it is better the clean water.

    To make inke for parchment.

    Make it in all points like to the inke aforesaid, only take a pint of water, & of vinegar and wine more, that is of each halfe a pint.

    From: A Booke of Secrets: Shewing diuers ways to make and prepare all sorts of Inke, and Colours: as Black, White, Blew, Greene, Red, Yellow, and other Colours. Also to write with Gold and Silver, or any kind of Mettall out of the Pen; with many other profitable secrets as to colour Quils and Parchment of any colour: and to graue with Dtrong Water in Steele and Iron. Necessarie to be knowne of all Scriueners, Painters and others that delight in such Arts. Translated out of the Dutch into English, by W.P., London, 1596.

    It isn’t exactly eyes of newts and the blood of a dragon stewed together under a waxing gibbous moon or anything, but it doesn’t feel far off from that. And this recipe is one of the most straightforward I know of to our modern “follow this recipe, have success making cupcakes” mentality. Frankly, that wasn’t the mentality in the middle ages and renaissance. The mentality was, “here are some guidelines, take these and everything you learned from your master when you apprenticed” and you will succeed. But enough of the history of technical literature and recipes…

    Right…so allow me to translate this recipe into terms we might better understand


    1 cup of water

    1 ¾ cups of wine

    1 ¾ cups vinegar

    6 oz (by weight) of oak galls, powdered

    4 oz (by weight) of Iron(II) Sulfate

    4 oz (by weight) of gum Arabic, powdered

    1.)    To a pot add ½ cup of water, 7/8 cup of wine, and 7/8 cup of vinegar, and powdered oak galls

    2.)    Bring this boil to a mixture and allow to cool.

    3.)    Strain through a cloth (muslin, an old t-shirt, paper towel will all work), collecting the liquid

    4.)    Mix the remaining water, wine, and vinegar.

    5.)    Split the remaining water, wine and vinegar into two parts

    6.)    Into one half of it dissolve the Iron(II) Sulfate

    7.)    Into the other half dissolve the gum Arabic.

    8.)    This dissolving step may take overnight.

    9.)    Once the gum Arabic and iron(II) sulfate have dissolved, you should have 3 liquids without any solids in them.

    10.) Mix all three liquids together.

    11.) Allow this mixture to stand for 3 days, stiring it 3-4 times a day. Transfer to your ink storage container (Sealed preferably)

    Translated, no problem… this recipe is a sound recipe, and should work quite well (a little heavy on the gum Arabic for my taste, but it will work).

    Now for the sciencey part and WHY this is a good recipe. If you don’t care about the experimental archaeology and the chemistry of ink…er…I’m sorry you accidently read this far?

    The chemistry behind the ink: Why it changes colors

    In the ink solution the Fe2+-gallic acid complex are soluble, and have little to no color. When things are acidic, and the Fe2+ oxidation state if favored over the Fe3+ state when the solution is acidic.  Once the iron oxidizes from Fe2+ to Fe3+ and you get the Fe3+-gallic acid complex you get a black, insoluble pigment. It is this pigment that forms when you write and see the color change from grey to a rich black color when writing with iron gall ink.  This is the “sludge” that forms in the bottom of the ink jar, as well as the skin that forms on top of the ink when you leave it open for too long or when you first make it.  (The film that is fuzzy from setting around for a very long time is called mold….we will talk about how amazing that is later)

    Now let’s see how each ingredient contributes to this process, and what was used in the middle ages:

    Water: The carrier for the ink so it isn’t too thick

    Water is water right? Nope. Most historic ink recipes call for rain water, or fresh rain water, or old rain water, or some sort of freaking rain water.  What this means for you is that you should be using distilled or reverse osmosis purified water. Why you might ask? Because your tap water, and the water they had access to in streams and rivers have a myriad of minerals (mostly calcium, magnesium, iron) that can and will completely ruin your ink. Calcium in particular causes things to come out solution and precipitate as solids in our ink.  You might think, hey, I already have iron in there, what does a little more hurt. Iron is tricky like that, in your water it is Fe3+ ions we need Fe2+ in our ink to start. (don’t get me started on iron oxidation states, it gets ugly) Long story short… use distilled water, not drinking water, not spring water, and probably not rain water either, it is way dirtier than it used to be.

    Wine: flow modifier, preservative

    Wine hasn’t changed a lot over the years…take some grapes, let them rot, filter/decant/rack the liquid off of the solids, add some sulfite preservative so that a higher percentage of bottle make it to market, bottle and drink.  Ok so the preservative part has changed… but honestly it won’t hurt this process very much. You can go out and buy imported old world wine that doesn’t have preservatives in it if you want (I have) but it doesn’t change the noticeably. Also, not only can you use wine that has gone “bad” (aka tastes like vinegar), but it is actually the best wine to use for making ink. Red wine tends to work better than white wine, as it helps the flow of the ink, it also pairs better with the taste of parchment.

    Vinegar: Volatile oxidation state stabilizer for Fe2+ ions

    You almost reached for a bottle of distilled white vinegar didn’t you, and then you decided that I would be picky about this one. Now you can’t decide if the organic apple cider vinegar good enough and you desperately hope I don’t recommend your $50 bottle of imported balsamic vinegar.

    Historically wine vinegar was probably the most common vinegar, but as long as you are using some wine, white vinegar works just fine for our purposes. We need an acid, that can, and will evaporate once you write with the ink, allowing the ink to oxidize and become water proof and permanent. Any vinegar will contain acetic acid which fulfills this purpose.

    Oak Galls: Where the gallotannic acid comes from

    There are numerous varieties of oak trees and gall wasps, and therefore numerous varieties of oak galls. You have to know what you are working with before you can create a sound formula for ink.  In medieval Europe the Aleppo galls from the Aleppo oak tree in the Aleppo region of Turkey were considered the best galls.  And they still are. But why? The gallotannic acid content of oak galls vary widely from 3% to 90%. Aleppo oak galls are in the 80-90% range. What this means is that you get more of what you want, and less other stuff to contaminate the ink. You can successfully make iron gall ink from sumac leaves and acorns.  Sumac leaves have to many polysaccharides and therefore varies over time and rots something bad.  Ink made from acorns is downright oily from all of the oil and lignin content of the acorns themselves.  Aleppo oak galls just make a better, more consistent ink.

    Iron (II) Sulfate: where the magic happens

    This is the metal salt that makes the magic happen. It is also known as green vitriol, copperas, ferrous sulfate, vitriol of iron, etc. Honestly all we really need is an iron (II) ion of any kind, Fe2+. The reason we use Iron (II) Sulfate is that it is what is historically used, and is still the cheapest source of these ions for our purposes. Historically the purest form of the hydrated salt was created by soaking raw iron sulfate in water and growing green copperas crystals on ropes suspended in barrels.  ACS/USP grade modern stuff is 98-99% pure, which is close enough for us.  The biggest issued that used to occur was copper contamination in the iron (II) sulfate which will cause your ink to eat through parchment. How much iron(II) sulfate depends heavily on how much gallotannic acid you have in your oak galls, an ideal amount is around 70-90% of the equal molecule amount (stoichiometric amount). This is because free iron will cause rusting and premature degradation of the parchment or paper. Mass wise, if you are using Aleppo galls 100 grams of Aleppo galls needs 60-90 grams of ferrous sulfate depending upon how the crop of Aleppo galls grew that year, when they were harvested, how dry they are, etc.

    Gum Arabic: The thickener, the flow modifier

    Gum Arabic has always been a flow modifier, thickener, and sticking agent in inks and paints.  That is exactly what its purpose is here.  It doesn’t have to be gum Arabic though. Gum Arabic comes from the acacia tree, but many fruit trees such as plum, peach, and almond trees will produce a perfectly acceptable water soluble gum. But gum Arabic produces its effect with less gum needing to be used, and is available in larger more cost effective quantities.

    Clove oil and thyme oil: Preservatives

    Historically clove and thyme oil are used as preservatives in inks, paints, elixirs, and balms. Thymol and clove oil are still sold and used as natural preservatives.  Although this particular recipe doesn’t list these as preservatives, they are listed in many other historic recipes for iron gall ink.

    Mold and time: Secret Chemical agents

    Mold is your friend when making iron gall ink. But it’s nasty and yucky and smells bad right? Well, mold takes the tannic acid in your oak galls and converts it to gallic acid. You see, tannic acid complexed with iron produces a dark brownish-black color, and gallic acid complexed with iron produces a rich blue-black shimmering color.  Mold is good for your iron gall ink, just not for you. You won’t see much difference between letting your oak galls mold first, or letting the ink set afterwards, but when I make iron gall ink, I let the oak galls mold for a month before I make ink from them, which prevents mold in the bottles as well as lets me skip the step of powdering the oak galls.

     Another post, soon to come,  will include instructions with pictures on how to make ink using our ink kit.

    Aug 03, 2015

  • Mulling Paint: A beginner-ish guide

    Mulling paint is a time honored tradition that all artists and scribes alike must undergo.  It is the process of suspending pigments in your chosen medium.

    Wait... what do you mean you buy yours as a paste? From where? Wal-store or Hobby Entryway or Mike's?

    Kids these days, not willing to put in the effort to make their own paint.  Anyway, apparently people don't know how to mull paint, so I'll teach you.  First you'll need a spatula/spoon/pallet knife, a plate, a muller, powdered pigment, something to put the paint in, and your medium of choice. I guess I should explain to the uninitiated what each of these is, but first a picture.

    Pigment in jar, palette knife, shell, muller, and plate

    The pigment is just that, powdered pigment.  They can be everything from a reddish dirt, to synthetic organic particles.  I either buy pre-ground historic pigments or make my own. Here we are using real vermillion.

    The plate is just that, a plate of glass or marble or granite or ceramic etc. The plate roughed up a bit with a grit of some kind.  Silicon carbide, sand, diamonds, or whatever else you have lying around. (if you have diamonds just lying around please see our custom work page and we can work out a trade)

    The muller is in the upper right of the picture and is kind of like a pestle with a large flat surface, which makes it better for dispersing and worse for grinding.

    The palette knife is for moving the pigment paste around and scraping everything into the shell.

    The shell is... well... it's a shell to be honest, not sure how else to put that.  Sea shells are the traditional paint pots of the medieval world.  If you notice a paint pot likes a bit like a better balanced shell.

    Your medium is where you can add variety. If you are into oil painting, use linseed oil/walnut oil/poppy oil/not-corn-oil-because-it-won't-dry-ever, if you are into water color, you can buy water color medium, the same goes for latex, etc. I use a weak water color medium made from gum Arabic, honey, and water. It makes for a fine water color, but has the ability to be usable in egg tempera as well (my preferred medium).

    Ok, enough about tools and supplies.  Here is how it works.  First you make a pile of pigment in the center of your plate. I know this is completely unexpected, but just hold onto your seats because it gets crazy from here. Next you put a little hole in the center of the pile like it's a tiny pile of toxic, powdered mashed potatoes.

    A pile of pigment perforated perfectly per precise prescriptions

    The next step is to pour your chosen medium into the well you dug so daintily down...ok, enough alliteration. Pour the medium like the gravy into your tiny toxic pile. How much you use depends on the pigment, how fine it is ground, and how much you put on the plate.  It's easy to add medium, it is hard to remove it.

    Tiny toxic pile with water color medium in it

    Using your palette knife, mix the pigment into a paste, the idea here is to dampen all of the pigment so that it doesn't cause you to stir up dust with your muller.  And because, well it's easier to mix with a pallet knife than a muller and if you do the easy bits easily the hard bits don't take as long.

    Close up palette knife action in splendid 2D

    Your next step, if you haven't given up already due to you preferring to buy your historic pigments from these people, is to begin mulling your pigment into the medium, by sweeping your muller on the pile of pigment paste in a figure eight and/or swirling motion.  You have to use your pallet knife to scrape the muller periodically and to move all of the pigment back into the center of the plate.  Depending upon the pigment and medium this takes between 5 minutes and 5 hours. (remember the people who do it all for you?)

    Mulling the pigment, in figure eight motions

    You mull the pigment until it is a smooth paste, a little thinner than toothpaste, and ideally less gritty.  This can take a while.  As I mentioned before, you can add more medium to get the right consistency.

    Mulled to a smooth paste, adding more medium to get the right consistency

    Once everything is smooth, consistently and flows the way you want, use the palette knife to scrape the plate and muller and transfer it to a shell or paint pot or tube or whatever you want to use to store it.  I prefer a shell as I let it dry out and have a watercolor/half-tempera cake ready for me to use for illumination. Just add water and egg yolk/glair and I'm ready to paint. 

    Transferring the paint to a shell for later use

    Why would you want to do this you might ask?  Well, it is hard to get historic pigments already made up into the medium you want, and it is hard to guarantee it was done right unless you a.) do it yourself or b.) know a guy.  The other reasons are because you WANT the experience of making your own paints from start to finish, or making your own pigments, which sure you COULD send them to some friend of yours who writes blogs about this sort of thing to make paint for you, but wouldn't you rather experience it from start to finish?  

    Oh, wait, you don't make your own pigments? We'll have to work on that later.

    Scribe and Chemist,

    Lucas Tucker

    Aug 15, 2012