Last year I worked on an Illuminated page of the Armenian Alphabet
for an exhibit commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. I remember being very lost in the process as I cannot read or write Armenian and the Alphabet seemed very strange to me. But after the exhibit, the framed piece came home to me and it had become one of my most cherished pieces of artwork. In February of this year, I started working on a similar project but this time illuminating the Italian Hand alphabet. I need to be clear, that a pointed pen alphabet with a heavily illuminated border, raises questions and eyebrows. I was told from the minute I started learning illumination techniques, that it could not be combined with pointed pen. But to be honest, I really didn't care what anyone else thought as this is a personal piece that I wanted to work on for myself. I started with no clear plan. Just penned my hybridized Italian Hand alphabet on the Fabriano paper and then designed the border around the alphabet. I used measurements for the border that I had seen on other illuminated pages from the Renaissance as well as flower and foliage that are typically seen in Renaiassance manuscripts.
After the lettering, the next stage is always the gilding. I used Miniatum ink and 23K Czech gold leaf. The next stage of development is the underpainting. This is the stage where you start to bring life to the work.
This is always the trickiest part of the work for me as you really can't see a clear picture of what your colour choices will do to the final piece. I stuck with bold colours for the design but utilized pinks and olive greens rather than bold Cadmium red and Viridian or Hooker's green. I wanted some of the colours to be pulled back from what would be typical in Renaissance manuscript work. In hindsight, I should have used an Opera Rose instead of Rose Dore which would have given a more intense pink. Next time!!! This underpainting stage is known as the ugly stage of illumination. Nothing is clear. Paint looks dreary and the gilding looks flat and lifeless. Many students of illumination get discouraged at this stage thinking this will be their final look. But it is only a building stage. This work will continue to evolve.
Slowly the intensity of the colour is built up in layers. I try not to apply a thick wash of colour but prefer to gradually build the intensity. I added some Payne's Grey to the French Ultramarine Blue to add some depth. Burnt Sienna was added to the Quinachridone Gold to add depth to the gold tones and Alizarin Crimson deepened the Rose Dore. I should add that all of this is watercolour and not Gouache. I have been challenged by some artists to use Gouache rather than watercolour but it is absolutely my preference to build up these layers with silky appllictions of watercolour rather than the more velvety look of Gouache. The preference is personal and I feel I have more control with watercolour than with Gouache. The Olive Green was overpainted with Holbein Shadow Green to add depth to the leaves. Bleedproof White and McCaffery Brown Filigree work make up the final stages of the piece.
The Bleedproof white adds dimension to the foliage and the inking stage is the final clean up to the piece as well as making the design look more complex and ornate. It was a pleasure from start to finish and a learning piece throughout. The piece took me over 2 months to complete but I only worked on it for short periods of time. Skills evolved and changed as I worked on the piece. More skill was gained over the brush and consistency of paint. It was so much fun to be totally immersed in a personal project like this. And I still have the pleasure of searching for a frame.