Painted to last

For several years now I have been fascinated by Illuminated manuscript. It all started when I came across a modern copy of the Book of Kells in my local second hand bookshop. Further research led me to the works of Geraldus Cambrensis a medieval chronicler who wrote two ethnographies on the people of Wales. Although he concentrated on the people he encountered on his travels with the Arch Bishop of Canterbury, Baldwin of Forde, in 1188, he did make a detailed description of some of the fauna he saw on this journey. I doubt that he illustrated species such as the woodcock, but my imagination allows me to ponder how they would look had he done so. 

The combination of Illuminated writing with a detailed study seemed an attractive design and so I set about learning how to apply gold leaf to watercolour paper. The results were good, but the clean bright watercolour paper I used spoilt the impression of antiquity I was looking for.

After a few attempts to stain the paper to give it an aged look I decided to go the whole way and use Vellum. This is a material derived from calf skin and has been used throughout history as a medium for documentation. The Torah Scrolls a early Hebrew record of the commandments testify to the longevity of this medium. Hansard, the daily record of the business of Parliament has always been written on vellum. A recent proposal to move to paper was defeated on the grounds that vellum is far more durable. The only company in the UK still making vellum is William Cowley, who make ti in the traditional way using calf or goat skins.

Vellum has proved to be a great medium on which to paint watercolour, it has a very fine surface which allows great detail it is also easier to gild than watercolour paper.

So far I have tested the medium on a few small piece of vellum, and being happy with the result I plan to order some big sheets and get to work.

'Lepus' Watercolour and gold leaf on vellum.

'Lepus' Watercolour and gold leaf on vellum.