SCA and the Scribal Arts
When I first joined the SCA and became interested in calligraphy and illumination, I could not have chosen a better time to do so. The Rokkehealden Scriptorium was just starting up so there was a plethora of support from experienced scribes. Without their advice and encouragement, I'd still be on the sidelines, looking at all the “pretty scrolls,” and thinking — “Hmph! I could never do that!”
My advice to new scribes, if you're like me and can't draw — Yes, you can! It may not be perfect — and God knows I dismay that my work isn't — but the result will surprise you and you will see improvement, learn techniques, and most of all have fun.
Some SCA members do not have the good fortune to live in an area with an active scriptorium or scribal guild. If you always wanted to try your hand at the scribal arts but didn't know where to start, here are a few tips and resources I've learned along the way.
- Get a copy of your SCA Kingdom's Scribal handbook. Many are available online. The Middle Kingdom Scribal Handbook is available in PDF format on the Middle Kingdom College of Scribes Website.
- Attend a scribal class or workshop at an event, collegium, or symposium. Beginning scribal classes can often be found at events in the Middle Kingdom. The Middle Kingdom Heraldic and Scribal Symposium is run twice a year throughout the kingdom and is a wonderful opportunity to meet other scribes and learn a new technique.
- Find out if your kingdom or region has a scribal email group. If you are in a remote location with very little personal contact with other scribes, this will prove a great resource for getting answers and advice about the scribal arts. I've listed a few to get you started: Middle Kingdom Scribes, SCA Scribes List, CyberScribes
- Contact your regional or kingdom Signet to be placed on the list of scribes who do scrolls. You will be contacted prior to an event to see if you can volunteer to do any scrolls.
- Get the basic supplies you need to get started and buy the best quality equipment and supplies that your budget allows. You will accumulate supplies before you know it but you do not need much to get started. Getting a good quality pen, brush, or paint will be less frustrating to work with and you will get better results. Buy the best you can afford so that you don't end up replacing lower quality items later.
- Use your library or invest in some books on calligraphy and illumination. There are amazing collections of illuminated facsimiles available online and in books, use these for ideas for period style designs.
- The quintessential book for a SCA scribe is Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Technique by Mark Drogin. Run — do not walk — to the bookstore or library and get your hands on a copy. Not only is it filled with information on the history of writing, but the exemplars of the various hands (scripts) are wonderful. If you only get one book on calligraphy — THIS is the one to get.
- The Art of Calligraphy by David Harris is another useful calligraphy book. It is a good reference for creating Lombardic capitals — useful for those illuminated letters. It showcases many different hands and highlights each step in the letter creation with a different color.
- Calligraphy and Illumination (A History and Practical Guide) by Patricia Lovett. This is a handy reference book, not only for calligraphy and illumination techniques and examples, but it also has a very intensive section on heraldry, as well.
- The Gutenberg School of Scribes is one of the best beginner sites I've found for illumination. The site breaks down many of the processes to create borders, leaves, etc. If you can draw well, this may be simplistic but if you're like me and can't, you'll find this an invaluable resource. When I first started doing illumination, I printed out the pages and carried it with me to scribal nights.
- There are many books that are essential to the SCA scribe. Some that have been extremely helpful to me are Paint Your Own Illuminated Letters by Stefan Oliver, The Visconti Hours by Millard Meiss and Edith W. Kirsch, The Illuminated Page by Janet Backhouse, and Codices Illustres by Ingo F. Walther and Norbert Wolfe.
Where to Get Calligraphy and Illumination Supplies
These are some of the places I've found useful for purchasing scribal supplies.