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Lessons for Beginner Scribes on How to Paint SCA Scrolls and Maiolica

by Gael Stirler AKA Mistress Dairine mor o'uHigin of Atenveldt

The Gutenberg School of Scribes (GSS) is not a school but a series of classes I used to teach in my home on a variety of arts practiced within the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). GSS was based in my home in the Barony of Tir Ysgithr, Atenveldt (Tucson, AZ). GSS is now just available online and is still dedicated to encouraging artists of all levels to serve their kingdoms by painting original and pre-printed scrolls. GSS also has lessons on making ceramic dishes to be used as prizes in a style called Maiolica and making silk banners to fly over our encampments using many of the same skills and designs used in illumination. I took the name of the school from the founder of modern printing, Johannes Gutenberg.

Go to Maiolica introduction
Go to Silk Banners introduction

Introduction to Illumination

Gutenberg was the first to use moveable type to print text in 1452 A.D. Of over 200 bibles that were printed in his workshop in Mainz, Germany, 47 are known to be in existance today. The text was printed on paper with black and red ink. He left open spaces within the text for artwork. Then artists, under his direction, would hand-illuminate the pages with capital letters, miniatures, leafy borders, and other colorful designs. Like Gutenberg we combine the use of modern technology (photocopiers) to duplicate the text and some of the designs on SCA scrolls--leaving room for the illuminators to work their magic. We use heavy bond or card stock with a vellum finish in white, cream, and ivory colors. If you are wondering if pure white paper is period, take a look at this page from the Gutenberg Bible. When I visited the Gutenberg museum I was amazed by the whiteness of the paper and the vibrance and variety of the pigments used.

Since Gutenberg's workshop was a place of business and not a monestary, his artists had to produce elegant work on a deadline for wealthy patrons. In the SCA we often have to create award scrolls that are beautiful in a very short time. So the GSS scrolls are mostly done in same 14th and 15th century continental style that characterizes the height of the illuminator's art.

Here is an interactive animation of how illuminated books were made from the Fitzwilliam Museum.

The ideals of the Gutenberg School of Scribes are to:
  • involve more people in the fun of creating beautiful and useful art.
  • to teach this style in an easy step-by-step method
  • provide original and pre-printed scrolls of high quality to our Crowns and coronets.
  • make scrolls in sizes that are easy to frame (i.e. 8"X10", 8.5"X11", and 11"X14")
  • document the efforts of our students so that they may get recognition

The inscription on the portrait of Gutenberg reads Und es ward licht which translates “And there was light” but it also has a double meaning of “And it was easy.” This is the motto of our school as well because painting with light (illumination) is easy!


Once you are confident in your illumination and ready to work with expensive materials I recommend buying Winsor & Newton goauche, watercolor tube paints, real gold leaf, and archival quality papers or parchement substitutes like Pergamentata. But for beginners I recommend a less expensive kit. To get started you will need —
  1. paper
    I recommend buying sheets of 11" X 17" Bristol finished card stock like that used for newsletter covers or 11" X 14" Bristol or Vellum finished heavy drawing paper, sold in pads
  2. A student set of tube watercolor or gouache paints like Reeves, Coteman, Marie's, Koi, or Talens
    $6 to $20 from Jerry's Artarama, Blick Arts, Michael's, or Walmart.
  3. Three sable or acrylic, round watercolor brushes sizes 0, 2, and 4
    about $3 to $5 each at any art supply store (Do not buy them in sets of 4 or more in a package.)
  4. Liquid Leaf gold ink or gold metallic watercolor, or gold gouache
    $5 to $8 from Michael's, Blick Art, or other art store.
  5. No. 2 pencils (avoid using their pink erasers, though)
  6. pencil sharpener
  7. kneaded eraser (the gummy, grey type)
  8. a cup for water
  9. A plastic or ceramic palette, a saucer or white plastic lid will do.
  10. paper towels
  11. a carry box to hold your tools
  12. a portfolio, plastic envelope, or folder to transport your art so it isn't harmed
  13. a 3-ring binder with plastic sleeves for keeping copies of your work, lesson print-outs and documentation.
Once you have mastered the techniques you should graduate to using better quality papers, pigments, and 24 K gold leaf. Since we are only concerning ourselves here with illumination I have not said anything about supplies for calligraphy like pens or ink. I use Osmiroid cartridge calligraphy pens and perfer the smallest nibs but I have also used Sheaffer cartridge pens, and Mitchell, Brause, and Speedball dip pens successfully. For drawing lines I prefer a crow quill nib but I also use Sanford Uniball pens in fine and ultra fine.

Go to Lesson 1a: Introduction to color mixing
Go to Atenveldt Scroll Texts and Notes on Texts
Go to Table of Scrolls.

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© 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009 Gael Stirler all rights reserved.
The Gutenberg School of Scribes 1-800-730-5464
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Unless otherwise noted all art is the work of Gael Stirler.
AKA Mistress Dairine mor o' hUigin

This page was last updated

Tuesday, 23-Jun-2015 12:30:40 CDT