Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Sam goes medieval!

Three things have happened recently which lead me to today's slice of pen nerdery!

Thing the 1st - I went to see the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition at Bristol Museum, and it rocked my tiny world.  How did he get those amazingly subtle marks with a dip pen?  Got me wondering about old drawing techniques....

2nd - I went up to Durham, and spoke to Dr Keith Bartlett, who is very knowledgable about such things, not least because he is an expert on the Lindisfarne Gospels.  I subsequently read up a bit on the Lindisfarne Gospels...awesome is an overused word but if it applies...

3rd - I found what I think is a buzzard feather on my way to work.  I also own a penknife, so with a little help from my son's Horrible Histories book I had a go at making a quill pen.  
Me and the kids quickly set to a bit of scribbling.  Please note the sunlit photo and the brightly coloured vase of flowers...I am getting better at this blog lark.

Now let's get a few things straight..this was something of a bodge...if I remember my chat with Dr Bartlett right,  I should have left the feather to mature for about a year, rather than 2 days.  I also should really be using the 1st or second wingtip feather from the right hand...or maybe left hand.. wing of a goose (being as I'm right handed).  You will see that as it was the pen was more than a tad awkward to hold.

Then I had a go at the Leonardo bit...how did he achieve those amazingly subtle lines?  The answer is that, well...he was quite good.  But also drawing with a quill is a massively different proposition to using a metal dip pen.  See the scribbles below, which were all done with the same quill - you get a much softer line, and can go from very thin to very thick in one stroke without gouging a hole in the paper.

It's a joy to draw with...and all adds to my nagging and well documented feeling of having been born in the wrong century.  Now where's my calligraphy book?


June said...

This is such a fun post Sam :o)

So... 'look out' any passing Goose. Sam wants your wing feathers!

I must check out the Leonardo exhibits myself. His work has always amazed me.

Frances Cony said...

So Leonardo "was quite good", was he, Sam?

Actually, I wasn't that bothered about going to see the exhibition, but maybe I should after all.

As June said, nice post - all that serendipity - exhibition/Durham/feather...

Sam Church said...

Yep, Leonardo..apparently a pretty clever chap but couldn't do smiles :)
Don't worry June, I am not planning a side career as a goose botherer. Although I might have a chat with the keepers at the zoo...don't know if pelicans moult?

Here is the true level of my pen nerdery..i even went in the museum shop to see if I could take the biro bit out of those horrible dyed feather imitation quills so I could make them into real one (alas no).

Had to buy a novelty eraser instead.

Keith said...

Great post.

I have made a few ( botched) quills in my time. Especially on the period jobs, you know... just knock up some writing to dress this desk here. Every so often I get it right and the pen is great, but the scratchy splatters along the way are many and violent.

It's the constant dipping that wears me out ( oh Matron ) i can never get the reservoir right and it is either just a gnat's drop that you can't even write gnat with, or a quivering swimming pool of ink that holds just until your optimism thinks you have cracked it, then splots all over your lovely work.

Looking forward to more of this adventure.

And never knock the novelty eraser.

Sam Church said...

Dude I'm not knocking the novelty eraser..it's one of the large contributing factors towards me sticking with illustration.

I think I had a touch of beginner's luck with the quill (after an initial splatter!)- held a decent bit of ink and was allokay apart from the fact that the nib wore out pretty quick (I gusee that's wherre the leaving it to mature a bit comes in).

Where do you procure your feathers from by the way - is it a case of stalking swans or do you have a dealer? Blimey that sounded like a coded message...realy wasn't!!

Keith said...


Cygnet left upper wing primary Gov'nor ? One careful owner, virtually untraceable....say no more..."


Brillustration said...

loving the scratchy penwork sam ..i am sure i remember being agog at a blue peter programme where they showed how to do it …off to raid my old blue peter books…i kid you not i still have a stash of them !
sorry i have to sign in as brillustration as i have forgotten my password …again…